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Olaudah Equiano (1745 - 1797)

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Slave who bought his freedom and fought against the trade in enslaved people
Known for
Olaudah Eqiano
View full size imageOlaudah Equiano. © NMM

Olaudah Equiano was the first political leader of England’s black community. According to his famous autobiography, Equiano was kidnapped at an early age and sold into a life of slavery.

The ill-treatment he received and the suffering of his fellow enslaved Africans inspired Equiano to fight the slave trade.

He published his autobiography, ‘The Life of Olaudah Equiano the African’ in 1789. This was the most important literary contribution to the campaign for abolition.

Port Connection
Equiano was well travelled throughout the British Empire and his varied career frequently led him to the port of London. He first arrived in London as Captain Henry Pascal’s slave. He was taught to read and write by relatives of his master before being sold and shipped abroad again. In 1767 he returned to London as a free man after buying his freedom in 1766. He worked closely with Granville Sharp and Thomas Clarkson in ‘The Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade’.
Interesting Facts

When Equiano was purchased by Captain Henry Pascal he was renamed Gustavas Vassa. This act was typical of slave owners who asserted power over their slaves by trying to impose a new identity. Equiano was beaten until he answered to his new name.

Equiano tried to persuade George III and leading politicians to abolish slavery by sending them accounts of enslavement in America. Despite his efforts the Royal family remained against the abolition of the trade.

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Life Story
Note: Details of Equiano's early life have been the subject of debate. This information has been taken from his own account.
1745 Born in Isseke, Nigeria
1756 Kidnapped at the age of 11 and sent to Virginia
1757 Bought by Captain Henry Pascal. He is renamed Gustavus Vassa and sails to London
1758-62 Serves in the Royal Navy during the Seven Years War
1759 Baptised at St Margaret’s Church
1763 Sold to Robert King. Works on trading ships in the West Indies
1766 Buys his freedom
1767 Shipwrecked in the Bahamas on his last mission for his former master
1773 Goes on expedition to find an Arctic passage to India
1774 Unsuccessfully tries to save his friend John Annis from being tortured to death in the West Indies
1775 Takes Communion at Westminster Church. Travels to Nicuaguara to establish a plantation and Christianize the native population
1788 Presents an antislavery petition to the Royal family
1786 Appointed commissary to Sierra Leone
1787 Helps organise the Sons of Africa in London
1789 Publishes his autobiography, ‘The Life of Olaudah Equiano the African’
1792 Marries English woman, Susan Cullen
1797 Dies in London
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National Maritime Museum/Royal Observatory Greenwich New Opportunities Fund  
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