Abdul-Rahman ibn Ibrahim Sori was a Torodbe Fulani Muslim ruler (amir) born in 1762 in the city of Timbo, now located in Guinea. His father, Almami Ibrahim Sori consolidated the Islamic confederation of Futa Jallon in 1776, with Timbo as its capital, where Abdul Rahman lived and studied. "He was learned in the Islamic sciences and could speak at least 4 different African languages, in addition to Arabic and English, and in 1781, after returning from study in the renowned city of learning-Timbuktu, Abd'r-Rahman joined the armies of his father." At age 26, he was made an Amir of one of the regiments that conquered the lands of the Bambara and in 1788 his father "made him the head a 2000 man army whose mission was to protect the coast and strengthen their economic interest in the region. It was during this military campaign that Abd'r-Rahman was captured and enslaved." He was sold to the British who brought him to Natchez, Mississippi where he labored on the cotton plantation of Thomas Foster for more than thirty-eight years before gaining his freedom. In 1794 he married Isabella, another slave of Foster’s, and eventually fathered a large family: five sons and four daughters.
By using his knowledge of growing cotton in Futa Jallon, Abdul-Rahman rose to a position of authority on the plantation and became the de facto foreman. This granted him the opportunity to grow his own vegetable garden and sell at the local market. During this time, he met an old acquaintance, Dr. John Cox, an Irish surgeon who had served on an English ship, and had become the first white man to reach Timbo after being abandoned by his ship and then falling ill. Cox stayed ashore for six months and was taken in by Abdul-Rahman's family, where he was tasked to teach Abdul-Rahman English. Cox appealed to Foster to sell him "Prince" so he could return to Africa. However, Foster would not budge, since he viewed Abdul-Rahman as indispensable to the Foster farm. Dr. Cox continued, until his death in 1829, to seek Ibrahim's freedom, to no avail. After Cox died, his son continued the cause to free Abdul-Rahman.
In 1826, Abdul-Rahman wrote a letter to his relatives in Africa. A local newspaperman, Andrew Marschalk, who was Dutch, sent the letter to United States Senator Thomas Reed from Mississippi, who was in town at the time, and Reed forwarded it to the U.S. Consulate in Morocco. Since Abdul-Rahman wrote in Arabic, Marschalk and the U.S. government assumed that he was a Moor. After the Sultan of Morocco Abderrahmane read the letter, he asked President Adams and Secretary of State Henry Clay to release Abdul-Rahman. In 1829, Thomas Foster agreed to the release of Abdul-Rahman, without payment, with the stipulation that he return to Africa and not live as a free man in America.
Before leaving the U.S., Abdul-Rahman and his wife went to various states and Washington, D.C. where he met with President Adams in person. He solicited donations, through the press, personal appearances, the American Colonization Society and politicians, to free his family back in Mississippi. Word got back to Foster, who considered this a breach of the agreement. Abdul-Rahman's actions and freedom were also used against President John Quincy Adams by future president Andrew Jackson during the presidential election.
After ten months, Abdul-Rahman and Isabella had raised only half the funds to free their children, and instead left for Monrovia, Liberia, without their children. He lived for four months before contracting a fever and died at the age of 67. He never saw Fouta Djallon or his children again.
The funds that Abdul-Rahman and Isabella raised only bought the freedom of two sons and their families. They were reunited with Isabella in Monrovia. Thomas Foster died the same year as Abdul-Rahman. Foster's estate, including Abdul-Rahman's other children and grandchildren, was divided among Foster's heirs and scattered across Mississippi and the South. Abdul-Rahman's descendants still reside in Monrovia and the United States. In 2006, Abdul-Rahman's descendants gathered for a family reunion at Foster's Field.
He wrote two autobiographies. A drawing of him is displayed in the Library of Congress.
In 1977, history professor Terry Alford documented the life of Abdul-Rahman in his ground-breaking book Prince Among Slaves, the first full account of his life, pieced together from first-person accounts and historical documents. In Prince Among Slaves, Alford writes:
Among Henry Clay's documents, for the year 1829 we find the January 1 entry, "Prince Ibrahima, an Islamic prince sold into slavery 15 years ago, and freed with the stipulation that he return (in this case the word "return" makes sense) to Africa, joined the black citizens of Philadelphia as an honored guest in their New Year's Day parade, up Lombard and Walnut, and down Chestnut and Spruce streets.
In 2007, Andrea Kalin directed Prince Among Slaves, a film portraying the life of Abdul-Rahman, narrated by American Muslim Yasiin Bey (better known by his stage name Mos Def).