He was an ex-slave who enthralled London. He was also a slave ...

World

He was an ex-slave who enthralled London. He was also a slave trader

Boris Johnson has challenged received wisdom about Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, so what is the real story?

Matthew Dennison

He was an American slave who found himself the cynosure of London society and met King George II. Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, a native of Senegal, so impressed Britain’s elite with his “genius and capacity ... good nature and affability”, that the king’s wife herself, Caroline of Ansbach, presented him with a “rich gold watch”.

A biography of his adventures, published in 1734, inspired a long tradition of slave narratives. And the handsome young Muslim even sat for the portraitist William Hoare – creating the first painting of a freed slave in British art.

When this portrait was sold at auction to a Qatari museum in 2010, the painting was considered of such historical importance that the  UK government imposed an export ban to give British galleries a chance to raise the funds to keep the work in the country. And that decision reflects an unequivocally positive view of Diallo that has held sway since the 18th century. Or it had until Monday, when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, writing in The Telegraph, challenged received wisdom by pointing out that Diallo or, as he was known in England, Job ben Solomon, a biblical anglicisation of his name, went on to be a slave trader when he returned to Africa in 1734...

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