Name: Olaudah Equiano

Alive: c.1745-1797

Bio: Olaudah Equiano was born circa 1745 and died 31st March 1797. He was a prominent African who, once freed, lived in London and supported the movement in Britain to end the slave trade. His autobiography, the book which made him famous, was considered highly influential in gaining the Slave Trade Act 1807. According to his book he was born to the Igbo people in what is modern day Nigeria. In his account when he was around eleven him and his sister were kidnapped and, upon being separated, was held by European slave traders. He was taken to Barbados with 244 other enslaved Africans and was later transported to the British colony of Virginia. This account has been debated by historians. Notably, Vincent Carretta argues that Equiano was actually born in colonial South Carolina on evidence of documents relating to place of birth. In Virginia he was bought by Michael Pascal a lieutenant in the Royal Navy and accompanied him as a valet during the Seven Years’ War with France. Upon gaining preference by his master Equiano was sent to Pascal’s sister-in-law in Britain so he could attend school and learn to read and write. After converting to Christianity he was eventually sold to Robert King, an American Quaker who traded in the Caribbean. While in King’s employ Equiano learned to read and write more fluently and eventually bought his own freedom around 1767. For the next 13 years he would continue to travel and make acquaintance with people like Dr. Charles Irving. By the 1780s he settled in London and became involved in the abolitionist movement in which time he wrote his autobiography. This autobiography became very popular and made Equiano one of the first black Africans to have a book published. His death is recorded in London in 1797 but the location of his burial is undocumented.

Quotes:

“I hope to have the satisfaction of seeing the renovation of liberty and justice resting on the British government, to vindicate the honour of our common nature.”

“The shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying, rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable”

Popular Culture:

“The Extraordinary Equiano” – film, 2007

“The Interesting Narrative of Olaundah Equiano” – film, 2007

Further Reading:

  • James Walvin, An African’s Life: The Life and Times of Olaudah Equiano, 1745-1797 (1998)
  •  Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African (2012)