Olaudah Equiano: The Man, The Slave, The Legend

Olaudah Equiano was a Nigerian Slave, who was born in 1745 in the area now known as Eastern Nigeria. He was born into the Igbo tribe and was soon kidnapped and sold into slavery at the age of eleven along with his sister. During his early years as a slave, he was sold probably one too many times. Later records show his shipment to Barbados and then to the Virginia colony in America where he began to form his political opinions on slavery. He was then sold again and moved to England with his new owner Michael Pascal.

During his time England, he learnt to speak the English language and was then sold again to the Caribbean a few years later. It was here that he was finally able to buy his freedom. His biography is considered to be one of the first slavery accounts documented by a former slave – and in it he etched his notable contribution to the abolition of slavery in Britain.

While I work on a more comprehensive article detailing the life and exploits of Olaudah Equiano, I wanted to present here an introduction. To give you a taste of what is to come in the our comprehensive cover of Olaudah Equiano, below are some known facts about him – the man, the slave and the legend.

Notable Things To Know About Olaudah Equiano

  • Olaudah’s father was a man of dignity known as ‘Embrenche” with markings carved into his forehead, and his mother was heavily involved in communal wars. His mother taught him self-defence.
  • Olaudah Equiano had six older siblings. When he was kidnapped the criminals also took his sister. They were separated and sold to different people.
  • Olaudah means good fortune and symbolizes one who is well-spoken.
  • When Olaudah arrived in the Virginia colony, after having been sold in Barbados, his new owner Michael Pascal renamed him Gustavus Vassa. Olaudah did not want to accept the new name but Pascal punished him until he accepted it.
  • Pascal was a Royal Navy member and took Olaudah back to England with him. He took Olaudah with him during the Seven Years’ War in France, making him haul gunpowder to the gun deck during battle.
  • Pascal took a liking to Olaudah and had his sister-in-law in Britain take him in and teach him English. Olaudah received an education and was baptized as a Christian in 1759.
  • Pascal sold Olaudah to Captain James Doran, who then sold him Robert King, an American in the Caribbean.
  • Robert King allowed Olaudah to save money to buy his own freedom, for forty pounds. He also encouraged Olaudah to keep improving his reading and writing skills.
  • Olaudah bought his freedom in 1767, and moved to England. He thought it was too dangerous to remain where he was as he had almost been kidnapped into slavery again.
  • Olaudah began to work with the Royal Navy in England, on the Racehorse ship, traveling on a route through the Arctic in search of a route to India.
  • While on the northern Arctic expedition Olaudah worked with Dr. Charles Irving who later employed him to pick the slaves in South America to work on plantations, which he was also hired to manage.
  • In the 1780s Olaudah became active in the British movement to end slavery.
  • Many fellow abolitionists encouraged Olaudah to write and publish his story, which he did.
  • Olaudah’s book was titled The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African.
  • His book was so popular it went through nine editions while he was still alive.
  • He married in 1792 and had two mixed-race daughters.
  • He continued to support the slavery abolitionist movement until his death.

Olaudah died in 1797 at the age of 52, a year after his 34 year old wife died. His four year old daughter Anna Maria died shortly after, leaving only Joanna Vassa, the youngest.

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