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Thomas Bluett
Some Memoirs of the Life of Job, the Son of Solomon, the High Priest of Boonda in Africa; Who was a Slave About Two Years in Maryland; and Afterwards Being Brought to England, was Set Free, and Sent to His Native Land in the Year 1734
London: Printed for R. Ford, 1734.


Ayuba Suleiman Diallo (1701-1773), known as Job Ben Soloman to American and European acquaintances, was born a son of the high priest of the Futa peoples in the West African state of Bundu at the mouth of the Gambia River. Diallo was a literate, young, Muslim merchant in 1731, when he and his interpreter were captured and sold into the Atlantic slave trade while traveling along the Gambia. Shipped to Annapolis, Maryland, Diallo spent two years there as a slave on a tobacco plantation. Following an attempted escape, Diallo was imprisoned in a Kent County courthouse some distance away from his plantation. There, Diallo was discovered by Thomas Bluett: an attorney, judge, and clergyman of the county. After Bluett returned him to his plantation, Diallo wrote a letter intended for his father, but instead it reached James Oglethorpe, the Director of the Royal African Company. Moved by this letter, Oglethorpe purchased Diallo's freedom and paid for Diallo to travel across the Atlantic to stay with him in London. During his stay, Diallo mingled with many members of London's social elite, including the Duke and Duchess of Montague. Although Bluett's account ends with Diallo sailing back to Africa, his story is continued in a separate account written by Francis Moore, an employee of the Royal African Company, who accompanied Diallo on his return trip. Diallo made it safely back to Africa, where he lived into his seventies.

Although he is best known for penning Diallo's narrative, Thomas Bluett (1690-1749) had acquired a measure of renown prior to their meeting. Born in Maryland, Bluett joined the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) in 1722. Later, Bluett became an attorney and judge in Annapolis, Maryland. After sending an account of Diallo in a letter sent to the Duke of Montague, Bluett published Diallo's narrative as a pamphlet in 1734, which was later reprinted in the popular compilation of travel literature A New General Collection of Voyages and Travels (1745). Bluett's account of Diallo's story is, thus, one of the first American slave narratives to be printed. Following his association with Diallo, not much is known about Bluett's life. He died in 1749.

Diallo's story follows a pattern all too common in slave narratives - capture, enslavement, escape - but its finer points challenge the traditional arc of the American slave experience. He suffered relatively little harm while enslaved, was freed by a prominent white man, and enjoyed luxury in London before safely returning to Africa. Perhaps most interestingly, Diallo himself was a slave trader in Sengal prior to being captured. It was Diallo's father, a high priest of the Futa peoples, who "hearing of an English ship at Gambia River, sent Job, with two Servants to attend him, to sell two Negroes." (p. 16). Diallo later sent these servants home and crossed the Gambia with Loumein Taoi, a man who understood the Mandingo language, and traded his slaves "for some Cows" (p. 17). While resting at a friend's house, the unarmed Diallo and Loumein were captured by several Mandingoes (enemies of the Futa people), had their heads shaven to mask their high social status, and were placed in the same ship that carried the slaves that Diallo had just recently sold. Diallo attempted to send word to his father that he had been captured, but his father was too late in delivering the ransom - Diallo's ship had already cast off.

Once Diallo arrived in Annapolis, Maryland, he was separated from Loumein and was purchased by a man named Tolsey, the owner of some tobacco fields on Kent Island. Initially, Diallo was put to work in the fields, but Tolsey "was soon convinced that Diallo had never been used to such hard Labour" and had him tend cattle instead (p. 19). In the summer of 1731, Diallo ran away from his master's farm until he reached Kent County, where he was imprisoned for being unable to prove that he was a free man.

In the Kent County Courthouse jail, Diallo encountered Thomas Bluett: an attorney, judge and minister. Based on his "affable Carriage, and the easy Composure of his Countenance," Bluett determined that Diallo was "no common slave," and found another African man to translate for Diallo (p. 22). With a knowledge of where Diallo had come from, Bluett quickly arranged for his return to Mr. Tolsey, who in turn gave Diallo ". . . a Place to pray in, and some other Conveniences, in order to make his Slavery as easy as possible" (p.22). This relatively indulgent treatment is at odds with the brutality present in most later slave narratives.

Diallo attempted to send a letter home to his father and, after passing through many hands, the letter was seen by James Oglethorpe, the Director of the Royal African Company. Upon reading the letter, Oglethorpe paid for Diallo's freedom and arranged for a ship to carry him to his lodgings in London. During the journey, Diallo learned some English from Bluett, who happened to be taking the very same ship to England, and also from some fellow passengers, enough so that "he was able to understand most of what [the passengers] said in common Conversation" and could be reasonably understood by others while speaking (p. 25). Furthermore, he learned how to read in English during the same passage.

Once in England, Diallo grew increasingly paranoid that members of the Royal African Company intended to either sell him back into slavery, or demand a large ransom upon his return to Africa. Though Bluett and other acquaintances found this scenario to be unlikely, they "gave in their charitable Contributions very readily" (p. 29) for Diallo: more than enough to ensure his freedom. With "Diallo's Mind being now perfectly easy, and being himself more known," he began to mingle with much of London's social elite, including members of the royal family, the Duke and Duchess of Montague (p. 31). Lord Montague later asked Bluett for an account of Diallo's story, and this request eventually led to the publication of Diallo's narrative. Bluett finished his description of Diallo's story following his final departure to Africa, with "hope [that] he is safely arrived, to the great Joy of his Friends, and the Honour of the English Nation" (p. 33).

Following his account of Diallo's story, Bluett details his perceptions of the peoples of Africa and his personal opinion of Diallo's character, concluding by attributing Diallo's good fortune to God: "When we reflect upon the Occasion and Manner of his being taken at first, and the Variety of Incidents during his Slavery . . . 'tis natural for us to conclude that this Process, in the divine Oeconomy of Things, is not for nought, but that there is some important End to be served by it" (pp. 54-55). Bluett strongly feels that if others act with kindness and compassion, as Diallo had during his unexpected journey, they too will experience manifestations of God's grace.

Works Consulted: Braddock, J. G., Sr., "Ancestors of Spicer Christopher," Southern Genealogical Exchange Quarterly 48.204 (2007); Gomez, Michael, "Bundu in the Eighteenth Century," The International Journal of African Historical Studies 20.1 (1987): 61-73; Horn, Patrick E., "Job Ben Solomon," Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History>/span>, ed. Edward E. Curtis, New York: Facts on File, 2010, 315-16.

Colin Stevens

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