Olaudah Equiano or Gustavas Vassa, the African
- a short chronology of his life

This is the very moving story of an African who was captured and put on a slave ship. Here are some extracts from his autobiography.
1745 (approx)
Born into the Ibo tribe in West Africa 'We are almost a nation of dancers, musicians and poets.'

Age 10, captured by two men and a woman, and sold as a slave several times. Saw a white person for the first time and was put on a ship. Experienced the horrors of a slave ship 'the shrieks of the women and the groans of the dying made a scene of horror.'

Arrived in Barbados and sold on and taken to a plantation in North America 'Many merchants and planters came on board. We thought we might be eaten by these ugly men.'

Bought by Michael Henry Pascal of the Royal Navy as a present for his friends. Saw people reading on board the ship 'I had often seen my master reading and I had a great curiosity to talk to the books as I thought he did. For that purpose I have often taken up a book and have talked to it and then put my ears to it, when alone, in hopes that it would answer me; and I have been very much concerned when I found it remained silent.'

Arrived in Falmouth, England, aged 12. Lived with gentlewomen as a slave and learned to read 'I have long wished to read and write and for this purpose I took every opportunity to gain instruction.'

1757 - 1762
Based in England but mainly worked on board ships as a slave and travelled to the Mediterranean.

1763 -1767
In the West Indies, sailing between the islands. 'I have since often seen in Jamaica and other islands free men villainously trepanned and held in bondage. These things opened my mind to a new scene of horror to which I had been before a stranger. Hitherto I had thought slavery dreadful, but the state of a free negro is equally so at least, for they live in constant alarm for their liberty.'

Bought freedom from slavery for 40, aged 21 in Monserrat, and is asked to continue to work on board ship as an able-bodied seaman. 'My intention was to make a voyage or two to please my honoured patrons but I determined that the year following, if it pleased God, I would see Old England once more.'

After a shipwreck in the Bahamas he purchased his passage to England. Became a hairdresser in London 'My wages which were 12 per year were not sufficient. I thought it best to try the sea again in the quest of more money.'

Now trained as a hairdresser, Equiano continued to serve on board ships. Sailed in the Mediterranean, to Turkey, Greece and Italy 'I was roused by the sound of fame to seek new adventure, and to find towards the North Pole, what our Creator never intended we should, a passage to India.'

Sailed to the Arctic, an extraordinary venture in the 18th century 'the weather now became extremely cold; and we sailed between north and east, which was our course, we saw many very high and curious mountains of ice; and also a great number of very large whales, which used to come close to our ship and blow the water up to a very great height in the air.' Engraving

Sailed back to the West Indies, to Jamaica where he encountered Musquito Indians 'the women were ornamented with beads and fond of painting themselves. the men also paint, even to excess, both their faces and shirts: their favourite colour is red. The women generally cultivate the ground, and the men are all fishermen and canoe makers.'

Returned to London and takes up the campaign to abolish slavery. Acted as a commissary for the Sierra Leone resettlement project 'May the time come when the sable (black) people shall gratefully commemorate the auspicious era of extensive freedom.'

Published his autobiography.

Died aged 52. Buried in Cambridgeshire.

SOURCE - The interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavas Vassa, the African 1789

adapted from a web site provided by the BBC Web Services

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