Olaudah Equiano

The Life And Time Of Olaudah Equiano, The African

This August marks the 500 year anniversary of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and we set it off with the inspiring story of Nigerian Slave Olaudah Equiano.


Olaudah Equiano Biography

According to his memoir, Olaudah Equiano was from Nigeria’s Igbo region where he was kidnapped and sold at 11...Though he spent a brief period in the state of Virginia, much of Equiano’s time in slavery was spent serving the captains of slave ships and British navy vessels. One of his masters, Henry Pascal, the captain of a British trading vessel, gave Equiano the name Gustavas Vassa, which he used throughout his life, though he published his autobiography under his African name.

He was purchased in 1763 by Robert King, a Quaker merchant from Philadelphia, for whom he served as a clerk. Equiano, was allowed to engage in his own minor trade exchanges, and was able to save enough money to purchase his freedom in 1766.

Equiano then published his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, the African, in 1789 and following the publication of his Interesting Narrative, Equiano traveled throughout Great Britain as an abolitionist and author.

He married Susanna Cullen in 1792, with whom he had two daughters, passing away in London in 1797.

The Middle Passage

Equiano’s journey begins when he is kidnapped from his village with his sister, from whom he is eventually separated. He describes a long voyage through various African regions.

Middle PassageA

He is eventually sold to the owner of a slave ship bound for the West Indies, and he goes on to describe the “Middle Passage”—”the journey across the Atlantic Ocean that brought enslaved Africans to North America.

His descriptions of extreme hardships and desperate conditions are punctuated by his astonishment at new sights and experiences. The narration occasionally reflects the childish wonder of the young Equiano at the time of his journey, but it also highlights his culture shock at his introduction to European culture and European treatment of slaves.

The Legacy of Olaudah Equiano

Although there is debate regarding whether Equiano was born in South Carolina or Nigeria, his experiences and work contributed to the Anti-Slavery abolitionist movement as he forced Western Society to confront the hypocrisy of its morality through his work.

In short, he humanized the Slave that had been dehumanized for profit, and in doing so challenged the conscience of Slave Trading nations, thereby paving the way for the eventual abolition of Slavery…Salute!

(c) Wilberforce House Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

A video of Equiano’s Biography The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, the African is available on our YouTube Channel.

Keep it locked as we revisit some of the most significant Slave Rebellions.


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