Ishmael is an African houngan. After being sold into slavery, he lives on Jamaica, where he inspires fear and awe in the maroons that live in the upland jungles.
Ishmael was taken from a barracoon on the Gold Coast of Africa, and traveled on the slave ship Persephone. He was taken from the hold to work as a galley mate, and was the only slave who survived a sudden squall, by clinging to a cask of alcohol that floated ashore on Great Inagua two days later. He then became a cook at Mrs. Abernathy's plantation Rose Hall, and prepared 'zombie poison' for her.
In June 1761, Lord John Grey meets Ishmael on Jamaica – Ishmael is a Houngan who turns people into zombies. He challenges Grey to a 'snake spirit' contest, and gets the worst of the bargain, losing part of his foot.
In spring 1767, Ishmael is fishing by the river when a pirate ship comes, and he is enslaved again. After the pirates attack Jamie and Claire's ship, the Artemis, the Frasers take Ishmael prisoner. They put him ashore on Jamaica in exchange for information on Scottish boys taken by Mrs. Abernathy, as they are looking for Jamie's nephew Young Ian.
A few days later, Claire meets Ishmael at Mrs. Abernathy's plantation, at the Crocodile's Fire.
Ishmael is mysterious and somewhat menacing in aspect, with a dark sense of humor.
Ishmael has deep red-black skin, characteristic of slaves from the Guinea coast. His face is narrow and wary-eyed, with a high forehead and tribal scars. As a result of a snake bite he is missing part of his foot.
Ishmael comes from the Hebrew name יִשְׁמָעֵאל (Yishma'el) meaning "God will hear".
- "Ishmael" was the name given to him by Geillis Duncan, who explains that he had a "heathen name [with] six syllables," so she gave him the name Ishmael after hearing his story of survival.