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.
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’.
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.