Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano was the first political activist within Britain’s African community during the 18th century. According to his famous autobiography, he was kidnapped at the age of 11 and enslaved.

 

The ill-treatment he received and the suffering of Africans inspired Equiano to join the campaign to abolish the so called ‘transatlantic slave trade’.

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The Equiano Story

Equiano begins his “Narrative” in Africa, as a young boy. His parents named him Olaudah”, meaning  “Loud voice and well spoken”. Equiano’s father was a chief in the province, a position of status. The youngest son of a large family, Equiano was a favourite with his mother. In later years, Equiano reflected that he could ” Still look back with pleasure” on his childhood.

Equiano’s own words

Equiano’s family and neighbours grew produce on rich, fertile land, including vegetables and pinapples. Equiano also visited local markets with his mothe, where people from a different region came to sell a wider variety of goods.

Equiano’s own words

Equiano’s happiness came to an abrupt end when he and his sister were kidnapped. Quickly taken far away from home, Equiano’s despair deepened when he was separated from his sister.

Equiano’s own words

Now enslaved Equiano was transported towrds the coastline being sold many times. Movingfurther away from his homeland Equiano noticed the different customs and languages of the people around him.

Equiano’s own words

Six months after his kidnap, Equiano was brought to the coast, where a slave ship was waiting to collect more Africans for enslavement overseas. Having never seen the sea or white people before Equiano was confused and scared of what might happen next.

 

Equiano’s own words

Once on board, Equiano was frightened and miserable at the cruel treatment, poor conditions and the overwhelming stench of the ship.

Equiano’s own words

Ariving in Barbados, the examination and sale of the enslaved Africans began. In a terrifying ordeal Equiano observed the cruel separation of family and freinds. He remained unsold, probably because he was so young, and was transported to North America.

Equiano’s own words

Sold to a Mr Campbell, Equiano was giventasks on a Virginia tobacco plantation. Here, a merchant, Michael Henry Pascal, visited and persuaded Campbell to sell Equiano to him.

Equiano’s own words

Equiano sailed to England with Pascal, who renamed Equiano, “Gustavus Vassa”. On board Equiano began to learn English and became freinds with a fellow crew member, richard baker. On arriving in Falmouth, Equiano was amazed by new sights, including snow.

Equiano’s own words

Pascal rejoined the Royal Navy fleet when England went to war with France, talking Equiano with him to serve in key battles of the ‘Seven  Years War’. Equiano took part in action at sea, often carrying gunpowder to the canons.

Equiano’s own words

At the end of the war Equianowas shocked when Pascal sold him back into West Indian slavery instead of freeing him. Under his new master, Robert King, Equiano worked as a merchant’s assistant, trading around the West Indies and North America.

Equiano’s own words

On the trading voyages Equiano began to trade himself, in small goods. His master promised him his freedom for £40 so Equiano, over time, saved enough money to secure this. He also bought new clothes and paid for dancers to celebrate.

Equiano’s own words

As a free man Equiano continued to work on board ships on trading voyages accross the Atlantic and the Mediteranean. In 1773 he embarked on a voyage to the Artic, helping with scientific experiments and seeing polar bears and walruses for the first time.

Equiano’s own words

In 1773 Equiano converted to Methodism, after years of soul searching and exploring Christianity and other religions.

Equiano’s own words

By the 1780s Equiano was well established in London. In 1787 he was employed by the government to oversee provisions intended for the resettlement  of the black poor from London to Sierra Leone.

Equiano’s own words

In the 1780’s Equiano also began to write letters to newspapers campaigning against the slave trade. The success of his book, “The Interesting Narrative” provided a powerful voice for the sufferingof enslaved Africans.

Equiano’s own words

The Equiano Project

In December 2006, Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery (BM&AG) and The Equiano Society received a significant grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. With support from Birmingham City Council and Renaissance in the Regions (Museums, Libraries and Archives Council), the partnership delivered a major project that celebrated the life of Olaudah Equiano.

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Olaudah Equiano

Education Pack

For more information about the Equiano Society, please contact: Arthur Torrington – Honorary Secretary

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