An Uncommon Slave

(5 customer reviews)


  • Author Name: Ray Dafter
  • Publication Date: 28/02/2020
  • Format: Paperback

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SKU: 9781913208219 Categories: , , Tags: , , ,


An Uncommon Slave is based on the remarkable true story of a Muslim cleric and trader of slaves and other goods in Senegambia in the early 18th century. He was captured, enslaved and transported to Maryland where, for a man of ‘soft hands’, he was made to undertake wholly unsuitable work on a tobacco plantation. He escaped and was recaptured and imprisoned before being released, thanks to a fortuitous meeting with men of influence.

Ayuba was then transported by the Royal African Company to England. Here he improved his English, mixed with the highest echelons of society, including nobility, was granted an audience with King George II and Queen Caroline, had his portrait painted and released from enslaved bondage. He was then transported back to Africa where he assisted the RAC in trading activities. His adventures did not stop there, for in the trade wars between the English and French he was captured and imprisoned again – only to become the centre of a diplomatic row. He was finally freed to continue his trading and religious activities into late life. 

His life history, never recounted in such depth, is factual, based on newly researched archival material and published information. It is the thoughts, anguish, elation and conversations of the slave Ayuba (also known as Job ben Solomon) that is imagined. The book is deliberately aimed at the general reader although it will also be of interest to the academic community as it provides significant new information, previously unpublished.

Ray Dafter lives in Kent and has been fortunate enough to spend almost 60 years writing about subjects that fascinated him. He started out writing for a West Country newspaper, which then led to an appointment at the Financial Times as a specialist writer. It was not long before Ray was given the challenge of covering another high-profile sector, the energy industry, at a time when the North Sea oil industry was beginning to flourish. He was not only appointed Energy Editor but awarded a fellowship at Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs. For over 25 years Ray has been a Trustee of the Young People’s Trust for the Environment. A chance stroll around the National Portrait Gallery in London led him to a  portrait of Ayuba. He was determined to find out more about his story and this book is the result.

5 reviews for An Uncommon Slave

  1. claire gray

    Ray has an amazing way of bringing stories to life, and making historical characters, identifiable to the reader. You can tell alot of love and attention has been poured into the writing of this, which is shown through the accurate detail of the ‘known’, as well as creating an exciting story of the ‘unknown’.
    You don’t need to be a historian to find this book fascinating and enjoyable!

  2. Philip Algar

    An Uncommon Slave, written by the experienced journalist and author, Ray Dafter, is an uncommon and admirable book. It is a self-imagined autobiography and true story about a West African cleric and slave trader. Ayuba Suleiman Diallo himself, then aged 29, became a slave in 1730. Later, he recovered his freedom but was subsequently enslaved again, briefly, after which he assisted a company involved in the slave trade. Substantial research reveals fascinating detail as he is shipped from West Africa to Maryland to London and then, some seven years after his initial capture, his return home. Here he learns that one of his two wives has remarried, fearing that, having been taken away, he was unlikely ever to return. The internal conflicts in his region prompt happy recollections of his stay in London but his efforts to return to England are rejected.

    The book could easily have been written as a straightforward piece of research but the author accepted the challenge of trying to assess how Ayuba Suleiman Diallo felt about not only his life as a slave but how he experienced living in London where he was highly regarded by high society and managed to demonstrate that black Africans were fellow human beings and worthy of respect. Dafter’s approach overcomes the possibility of imposing 21st-century morality on the 18th century.

    We are reminded not only of the abominable practice of slavery nearly 300 years ago but the daily challenges of living in war-torn West Africa. These are contrasted with the comfortable life enjoyed by the relatively liberal and wealthy aristocrats in their peaceful London. To our contemporary society, accustomed to instant communication and speedy travel, the details of life in 18th century West Africa are indeed daunting. The journey from England to Ayuba’s home in Africa was accomplished in one year.

    This is a remarkable book that illuminates not just the life of an interesting character but of two societies, many miles apart, and the lives that the hard-pressed in West Africa and the privileged in London experienced. This fascinating and eminently readable book, inspired by the author seeing a portrait of Ayuba in the National Portrait Gallery in London, should appeal to academics and general readers alike.

  3. David Walker

    A fascinating book that brings to life the person behind a striking painting. The author’s erudition and painstaking research shine through to produce an account of an amazing life lived in a world of which most of us will have had little or no knowledge, spanning very different societies and cultures.Part fact, part fiction (but a fiction drawing extensively on known facts), this is an illuminating work that I strongly commend.

  4. Harold Bolter

    The author set himself a challenge in seeking to achieve a piece of writing that could be read and appreciated by academics specialising in a range of disciplines and by people like me who can make no such claim. He has succeeded.

    I found the book a good read – and there is no greater compliment to any author than that in my opinion. The technique of telling the story through an autobiographical approach, which inevitably relied on documents and letters written in 18th century English, could have been irksome but I recognised that it was necessary to establish the authenticity of what Ayuba had to say.

    The genesis of the book was quite extraordinary – a casual visit to the National Portrait Gallery. This sparked an interest in the portrait of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo aka Job ben Solomon and led the author to want to find out more about the man and the times he lived in. What a life the man had.

    In summary, this book is both extremely well-researched and written. I can see a possible future for the book as the basis for a TV mini-series or a full-scale film.

  5. Karen Langston

    An Uncommon Slave tells a fascinating story, made all the more remarkable because it is true. The account of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo’s life reveals not only his incredible experiences – as a tradesman, as a captured slave, as a freed man in England among the intellectual elite – but also the person he was; a gentle man and a passionate scholar with unwavering faith.

    The author, Ray Dafter, has thoroughly researched Ayuba’s life story, providing illuminating insight into the social and cultural values of the time, as well as the historical context of international trade. Dafter’s sensitive voicing of the imagined elements – Ayuba’s thoughts, emotions, reactions – is the feature I found most striking. Dafter not only tells Ayuba’s remarkable tale; through his carefully crafted narration, his wholly convincing voice, he succeeds in bringing it to life. A thought-provoking, absorbing book; excellently written and thoroughly enjoyable.

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