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  • Haley Jensen

Olaudah Equiano/Gustavus Vassa

Olaudah Equiano/ Gustavus Vassa (1745–1797) was an author, abolitionist, and seamen. He most likely grew up in present day Nigeria. As a child Olaudah and his sister were kidnapped and enslaved. They were put on to the middle passage. He was sold to Michael Pascal, a Royal Navy Officer, and renamed Gustavus Vassa. He was enslaved on a ship with Pascal and the other seamen taught him to read and converted him to Christianity. He was a passionate Methodist.

In 1762 he was sold again and sent to work on a ship in the West Indies. He earned enough money to buy himself freedom in 1766. He moved to London as a free man where he worked as a hairdresser. He eventually returned to the sea traveling to many destinations abroad.

For example, in the summer of 1773 he was on a journey between the North Pole and Asia, meaning he never met Phillis Wheatley.

In 1789 he wrote and published The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, a very popular slave narrative novel. It is an autobiography of his life and the horrors he faced under enslavement. Equiano's novel remained popular and underwent a resurge of interest before the American Civil War as anti slavery campaigners promoted it.

Among his subscribers (people who paid to have his novel published) are people mentioned on this blog and their family members. For example, Granville Sharp, the Earl of Dartmouth, William who is the son of Ignatius Sancho, and John Thornton's son Henry were all listed as subscribers.

Both were apart of a network of black Methodist authors in the late 18th century. Equiano's writing and Wheatley's poems were very emotional and used in anti slavery campaigns.

The dedication to his novel

"To the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and the Commons of the Parliament of Great Britain,

My Lords and Gentlemen, PERMIT me,

with the greatefl deference and refpeft, to lay at your feet the following genuine Narrative; the chief defign of which is to excite in your auguft affemblies a {enfe of compaffion for the miferies which the Slave-Trade has entailed on my unfortunate countrymen. By the horrors of that trade was I firft torn away from all the tender connexions that were naturally dear to my heart; but thefe, through the myfterious ways A of

of Providence, I ought to regard as infinitely more than compensated by the introduction I have thence obtained o the knowledge of the Chriftian religion, and of a nation which, by its liberal fentiments, its humanity, the glorious freedom of its government* and its proficiency in arts and Sciences, has exalted the dignity of human nature. I am fenfible I ought to entreat your pardon for addreffing to you a work fo wholly devoid of literary merit ; but, as the produ&ion of an ualettered African, who is actuated fey the hope of becoming an inftrument towards the relief of his fuffering countrymen, I truft ihatJucJb a man^ pleading in fuch a caufe^ will be acquitted of bojdnefs and prefumption. May

May the God of heaven infpire your hearts with peculiar benevolence °n that important day when the queftion of Abolition is to be difcufled, when thoufands, in confequence of your Determination, are to look for Happinefs or Mifery ! I am, MY LORDS AND GENTLEMEN, Your moft obedient. And devoted humble Servant, OLAUDAH EQUIANO, OR GUSTAVUS VASSA*

Union-Street, Maiy-le-bone, March 34., 1789"


For more free information about Equiano here:

Listen to an emotional audio clip made by the Museum of the African Diaspora telling listeners about Equiano's life:

With a subscription to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biographies read about him here:

The dedication quoted above is from here: Equiano, O. (2013). The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano: Or Gustavus Vassa, the African (Cambridge Library Collection - Slavery and Abolition). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9781139583640

An alternative and free version of the novel is available on the Gutenberg Press website if you do not have access to the book above.

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