A prince and military commander born in Timbuktu, he was captured and sold into slavery in 1787. He endured almost 40 years of hard labour in Mississippi before he finally gained his freedom in 1826.
Before he travelled back to Africa in 1828, Abdul Rahman was granted an audience with John Quincy Adams and raised $4000 during a 10-month tour of various northern cities, to be used to free his family in Natchez.
He also sat for his portrait in New York, the artist Henry Inman (1801-46) painting him in the Moorish dress he often favoured in the hope of distinguishing himself from other black African slaves.
It was during the sitting that this note was written. The nine lines of calligraphic script in praise of Allah were penned by Abdul Rahman, with Inman adding some commentary below: “This was written in my presence, and at my request by Abduhl Rahhaman [sic] with a reed pen. The history of this man’s recovery of freedom was the subject of much interest at the time. An engraving was made of his head from a painting in Water Colours by me, H Inman, N York, October 15th 1828.”
According to an inscription to verso it was in 1833 given by Inman to a friend, R Gilmor Esq, and it came for sale in Nottingham with a provenance to Dr Frank Lester Pleadwell (1872-1957), a physician and bibliophile. It was estimated at £300-500 but such an emotive example of black Americana brought £7000 from an online bidder using thesaleroom.com.
On January 25 Gloucestershire saleroom Dominic Winter (22/20% buyer’s premium) sold a 5 x 3in (13 x 8cm) monochrome engraving of c.1805 titled Portrait of Alice.
Alice is thought to have been the first black person born in Philadelphia and was the child of Barbadian slaves. She was alleged to have been born in 1686 and have died in 1802.
She was sent to work on Dunk’s Ferry in Bucks County, where she collected tolls and managed the service for around 40 years. Eventually, Alice became a famed oral historian and trusted source of information, visited by many to hear tales of her life in 18th-century Philadelphia.
A lifelong worshipper at Christ Church, Philadelphia, she was known for riding a galloping horse to church while in her nineties.
Alice’s life was recorded in Thomas Isiah’s Memoirs of Remarkable Female Characters Ancient and Modern published in 1804 and other versions of her life story were published in the UK at the time of her death.
Alice was never given her freedom.
The saleroom said this portrait is based on an original painting sent to the UK from the US and the surrounding vignettes represent different aspects of her life.
The engraving is rare with only one other example discovered, held by the Barbados Museum and Historical Society. Estimated at £100-150, it sold for £2300.