Olaudah Equiano, who was known as Gustavus Vassa for most of his life, was a prominent African in London whose autobiography helped to end the slave trade in Britain.
Google marks the 272nd birthday of Olaudah Equiano, who was born in the Eboe province, in the area that is now southern Nigeria, on October 16, 1745.
His early life is unclear due to the absence of records, but he recounted how he was kidnapped with his sister when he was 11.
He was sold by local slave traders and shipped across the Atlantic to Barbados and then Virginia.
In Virginia, Equiano was sold to Michael Pascal, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, who renamed him ‘Gustavus Vassa’ after the 16th-century Swedish king.
Equiano had already been renamed twice: he was called Michael while onboard the slave ship that brought him to the Americas; and Jacob, by his first owner.Pascal then sold Equiano to a ship captain in London, who took him to Montserrat, where he was sold to the prominent merchant Robert King.
King set Equiano to work on his shipping routes and in his stores, working as a deckhand, valet and barber whilst also earning money by trading on the side.
In 1765, when Equiano was about 20 years old, King promised that he could buy his freedom for £40 (worth £6000 in the present day).
In less than three years, he made enough money and was freed in 1967. Equiano then spent much of the next 20 years travelling the world, including trips to Turkey and the Arctic.
In 1786 in London, he became involved in the movement to abolish slavery. He was a prominent member of the ‘Sons of Africa’, a group of 12 black men who campaigned for abolition.
Equiano was befriended and supported by abolitionists, many of whom encouraged him to write and publish his life story.
In 1789 he published his autobiography, ‘The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African’.
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 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.
The autobiography, published in 1789, helped in the creation of the Slave Trade Act 1807 which ended the African trade for Britain and its colonies.
In 1792, Equiano married an Englishwoman, Susanna Cullen, and they had two daughters.
Equiano died on 31 March 1797. via Mirror UK