Natchez, MS, Sept. 15, 1829: The widely known, controversial Natchez, Mississippi, slave named Ibrahima, who was an actual African prince and who was freed this past January, tragically died of natural causes, in July, on the coast of Guinea before he could make the trip inland to his tribal homeland, according to trans-Atlantic sailors recently returned to Natchez from Guinea.
Ibrahima’s death before he could cross into his African kingdom, after over 40 years of being a prisoner and a slave elsewhere, marks a sad, frustrating end to an even sadder life.
For the first 26 years of Ibrahima’s life, he lived as a prince in his father’s kingdom of Fouta Djallon, a district of Guinea, in western Africa. He was married with several children. He received a university education at the prestigious Islamic Sankore University in Timbuktu. He also became a mighty warrior in his father’s army. But, Ibrahima’s life took a down turn in 1788 when he was defeated in battle by a rival tribe, captured, and eventually sold into slavery. He never saw his father, or his family, again.
He first came to Natchez in 1809 and was bought by local plantation owner Thomas Foster. Foster knew he had a true leader and an exceptional slave.
Ibrahima was a slave under Foster for nearly 20 years. But, miraculously, a visiting doctor named John Cox, whose life had been saved by Ibrahima’s father when Cox had visited Guinea, recognized Ibrahima and tried to buy his freedom. Foster wouldn’t sell. Ibrahima was too valuable.
Dr. Cox died in 1816, but the doctor’s son continued to try to negotiate Ibrahima’s freedom. In the process and over many years of publicity, Ibrahima became somewhat of a national celebrity. But, it would take another 13 years and a lot of public pressure from Mississippi Senator Thomas Reed and Henry Clay, Secretary of State under President John Quincy Adams, before Ibrahima finally was granted his freedom by Foster in January, 1829.
A Mississippi newspaper, the Mississippi State Gazette in Natchez, raised money for Prince Ibrahima to return to his home in Guinea.
His trip home, of course, ended short of his life long destination. Prince Ibrahima was 67 years old when he died.
It would take nearly 40 more years, countless deaths of blacks in captivity, a bloody Civil War, and historic ratification of the US Constitution in 1864, before this heinous institution of slavery finally came to a legal end in America. Freedom came far too late for Ibrahima. However, there is no question that Ibrahima’s tragic life and frustrating death should still be a part of Southern Memories for generations to come.