This page is dedicated to Elaudah Equiano

““I still look back with pleasure on the first scenes of my life, though that pleasure has been for the most part mingled with sorrow.”

Who is Elaudah Equiano

According to his own biography, he was born in Ekassa, Nigeria, Africa in 1745. He was only 11 when he was kidnapped along with his sister and sold to two different slave masters.

In his book, published in England in 1766, he recalls his experiences as a slave and the horror and brutality that other slaves endured in Jamaica in the hands of the British slave masters.

Though he was a slave, Equiano showed his intelligence and eagerness to learn as he became a sailer and gained admiration from his master, a naval lieutenant  named Michael Henry Pascal.

Pascal named the young sailer Gustavus Vassa after a Swedish noble who was elected King.

Equiano would adopt his new name officially even though he was later known better by his African name Elaudah Equiano by his admirers.

The young Equiano was again sold twice, sent to England then back to the Caribbean. in 1765, He was able to make enough money as a trader alongside his last master, a man named Robert King, who saw him as a partner more than a slave. King accepted money, believed to be around 40 pounds, from Equiano as a price to buy his freedom.

Finding His Way To Fight Slavery

By By about 1768, Equiano had gone to England. He continued to work at sea, travelling sometimes as a deckhand based in England.

Here he seized his opportunity, having made a considerable number of friends and associates who are against the enslavement of Africans.

Equiano settled in London, where in the 1780s he became involved in the Abolitionist Movement. Equiano had been influenced by evangelism.

As early as 1783, Equiano informed abolitionists such as Granville Sharp about the slave trade; that year he was the first to tell Sharp about the Zong massacre.The Zong massacre was the mass killing of more than 130 African slaves by the crew of the British slave ship Zong on and in the days following 29 November 1781. The Gregson slave-trading syndicate, based in Liverpool, owned the ship and sailed her in the Atlantic slave trade.

Working With Anti Slavery Supporters

Equiano was befriended and supported by abolitionists, many of whom encouraged him to write and publish his life story. He was supported financially in this effort by philanthropic abolitionists and religious benefactors. His lectures and preparation for the book were promoted by, among others, Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon.

 

Writing His Anti slavery Book

Entitled The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789). The book went through nine editions in his lifetime. It is one of the earliest-known examples of published writing by an African writer to be widely read in England. By 1792, it was a best seller: it has been published in Russia, Germany, Holland, and the United States. It was the first influential slave narrative of what became a large literary genre. But Equiano’s experience in slavery was quite different from that of most slaves; he did not participate in field work, he served his owners personally and went to sea, was taught to read and write, and worked in trading.

Highly Influential Work In London

Equiano’s personal account of slavery, his journey of advancement, and his experiences as a black immigrant caused a sensation on publication. The book fuelled a growing anti-slavery movement in Great Britain, Europe, and the New World. His account surprised many with the quality of its imagery, description, and literary style. Some readers felt shame at learning of the suffering he had endured.

In his account, Equiano gives details about his hometown and the laws and customs of the Igbo people. After being captured as a boy, he described communities he passed through as a captive on his way to the coast. His biography details his voyage on a slave ship, and the brutality of slavery in the colonies of the West Indies, Virginia, and Georgia.

Equiano commented on the reduced rights that freed people of colour had in these same places, and they also faced risks of kidnapping and enslavement. Equiano embraced Christianity at the age of 14 and its importance to him is a recurring theme in his autobiography; he identified as a Protestant of the Church of England. He was baptized while in London.

Guided by His Faith

Several events in Equiano’s life led him to question his faith. He was distressed in 1774 by the kidnapping of his friend, a Black cook named John Annis, who was taken forcibly off the English ship Anglicania on which they were both serving. His friend’s kidnapper, William Kirkpatrick, did not abide by the decision in the Somersett Case (1772), that slaves could not be taken from England without their permission, as common law did not support the institution in England & Wales. Kirkpatrick had Annis transported to Saint Kitts, where he was punished severelyand worked as a plantation labourer until he died. With the aid of Granville Sharp, Equiano tried to get Annis released before he was shipped from England but was unsuccessful. He heard that Annis was not free from suffering until he died in slavery. Despite his questioning, he affirms his faith in Christianity, as seen in the penultimate sentence of his work that quotes the prophet Micah: “After all, what makes any event important, unless by its observation we become better and wiser, and learn ‘to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before God?'”

Leading The Fight

He became a leading abolitionist in the 1780s, lecturing in numerous cities against the slave trade. Equiano records his and Granville Sharp”s central roles in the anti-slave trade movement, and their effort to publicize the Zonc Massacre, which became known in 1783.

Back To Africa

Reviewers have found that his book demonstrated the full and complex humanity of Africans as much as the inhumanity of slavery. The book was considered an exemplary work of English literature by a new African author. Equiano did so well in sales that he achieved independence from his benefactors. He travelled throughout England, Scotland, and Ireland promoting the book. He worked to improve economic, social and educational conditions in Africa. Specifically, he became involved in working in Sierra Leon, a colony founded in 1792 for freed slaves by Britain in West Africa.

During the American Revolutionary War, Britain had recruited blacks to fight with it by offering freedom to those who left rebel masters. In practice, it also freed women and children, and attracted thousands of slaves to its lines in New York City, which it occupied, and in the South. When British troops were evacuated at the end of the war, their officers also evacuated these American slaves. They were resettled in the Caribbean, and in Sierra Leone in Africa, and in London. 

In 1783, following the United States’ gaining independence, Equiano became involved in helping slaves of London, who were mostly those African-American slaves freed during and after the American Revolution by the British. There were also some freed slaves from the Caribbean, and some who had been brought by their owners to England, and freed later after the decision that Britain had no basis in Common Law for slavery.

Equiano was a prominent figure in London and often served as a spokesman for the black community. He was one of the leading members of the Sons of Africa, a small abolitionist group composed of free Africans in London. They were closely allied with theSociety for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

 

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