A Face of the Middle Passage

August 7, 2014 9:46 PM

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A Face of the Middle Passage

Slave ships carried at least 11,000,000 captive Africans across the Atlantic, but we know the faces of hardly any of these people. Portraits of individual Africans who were enslaved and brought to the Americas are incredibly rare, and in virtually all instances the portraits were done long after those individuals had endured the horrors of the Middle Passage. There is one clear exception to this rule, however, a famous victim of the slave trade named Ayuba Suleiman Diallo.

Recently my museum had the good fortune to acquire a portrait of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, a Fulbe merchant and scholar who in 1731 was seized by his enemies in Senegal, sold to an English slaver, and transported to Colonial North America. Through a remarkable combination of luck, individual effort and...

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