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Comparing 18th-Century Futa Jallon to Antebellum Mississippi

When Abdul Rahman arrived in Natchez, Mississippi, in 1788, he had entered another world, a world very different from the world of Futa Jallon. Not only had his status changed from prince to slave, but he had entered a world with a new geography, economy, and culture. Find out more about life in the land of Abdul Rahman's birth and in the land of his enslavement.

What was 18th-century Futa Jallon like?

Futa Jallon is the mountainous heart of Guinea where six international rivers are born, including the Niger, the Senegal and the Gambia that sustain the lives of dozens of millions of people in West Africa. It is a lush region of grassland, trees, mountains, narrow valleys, and waterfalls, covering 30,000 square miles (a little less than South Carolina) and peaking at 5,000 feet. Futa Jallon is the territory of the pastoralist Fulbe (also called Fulani, Fulah, and Peuls) and the Jallonke farmers who gave their names to the region. Following the Jallonke, non-Muslim Fulbe herders from Senegal migrated to Futa in the 11th century, putting their cattle to graze in the highlands. Another wave of Fulbe migration followed in the 15th century; finally, in the 16th century, Muslim Fulbe from Mali made their way into the region.

In Abdul Rahman's time Futa Jallon was a thriving kingdom. Trade and religion closely connected it to the larger Muslim world, from North Africa to Mecca, where the most devout and valiant went on pilgrimage; and its economy was integrated into the Atlantic trading world. Futa Jallon remained a major independent power until the end of the nineteenth century when, after a failed attempt at expansion and unification, it succumbed to French conquest.

18th Century Futa Jallon

What was Antebellum Mississippi like?

We will focus on the city of Natchez, Mississippi. At the turn of the 19th century, Natchez, about forty miles upriver from New Orleans, was still a frontier town. It had begun as a settlement of the Natchez Indians on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River, with the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians settled nearby. Over the course of time, Natchez was held by several countries: France, Britain, Spain, and finally the United States, which gained control of the area from Spain in 1798 - a decade after Abdul Rahman's arrival.

As of 1817, the population in the town was about 30% African or African-American; about half of the town's white residents had been born in other countries, particularly Britain and France. Much of the land remained in its natural state. As late as the mid-nineteenth century, more than half of the land around Natchez was uncultivated. Wildlife abounded: turkey, rabbit, raccoon, opossums, and more served as food for rich and poor alike. Housing in Natchez was generally modest, though by the 1820s, wealthy cotton planters had begun to build opulent mansions -- a trend which continued over the following decades as wealth increased from cotton production under the slave system. Click on the other pages of this module to learn about politics, slavery, economics, education, religion, and family in Futa Jallon (West Africa) and antebellum Mississippi.

Antebellum Mississippi