A Prince By Any Other Name (1774-1829)
Henry Clay was the ninth Secretary of State of the United States of America. John Quincy Adams was the sixth President of the United States of America. The Sultan of Morocco Abd al-Rahman was a key diplomatic ally of our country. Abdul-Rahman Ibrahim ibn Sori (a.k.a. Abdul-Rahman) was an African person enslaved for 40 years in Mississippi. Thomas Foster was the man that enslaved Abdul-Rahman to work a small farm that would become a 1300-acre cotton plantation. He was known as Prince. But what would make any association between presidents and secretaries of state and an African slave from the American south possible in the early 1800s?
The man named Prince was a true African prince. He was born in 1762 in Timbo, Fouta Djallon. That region is now part of Guinea in West Africa. In 1774 he studied in Mali at Timbuktu. He was the leader of one of his father's army divisions. He was a Muslim that spoke, wrote, and read Arabic and other languages. He was ambushed, captured, and sold to enslavers in 1788 at the age of 26. From there, he was sold into slavery to Thomas Foster in Natchez, Mississippi.
On the Mississippi frontier of the late 1700s and the early 1800s, cotton became the crop that would one day make that state the richest in the entire country. And guess where else cotton had been grown and who knew how to grow it? It had been grown in Fouta Djallon and Abdul-Rahman had the knowledge of how to do it on a grand scale. That knowledge and Abdul-Rahman’s leadership skill would take Thomas Foster from being a shrewd dirt farmer that enslaved 2 people to being a wealthy plantation owner. And why? Because a Prince by any other name is still a Prince.
But what would account for the strange association of an enslaved person from Mississippi with people like the President of the United States? In a strange twist of events, an Irish Surgeon named John Cox and Prince recognized each other at a vegetable market in Natchez. And how did they know each other? Abdul-Rahman’s family had cared for Cox for 6 months after he was stranded in West Africa. He would spend the rest of his life trying to free Rahman so that he could return home to Timbo.
The President and the Secretary of State would gain Rahman’s freedom from Thomas Foster upon the request of the Sultan of Morocco. As a condition of his freedom, Foster required that Abdul-Rahman leave the United States. He left with his wife Isabella in 1829. He tried to take their children with them but could not. He would die in Monrovia, Liberia after 4 months and would never make it back to Timbo.
But he left a legacy. He left an economic legacy in cotton. He left a legacy of family in the American south and in West Africa through his five sons and four daughters born in Mississippi—and one son he had left in Timbo to board a slave ship.