Quobna Ottobah Cugoano was born about 1757, near Ajumako on the coast of what
is now Ghana . He was kidnapped at about 13 and taken to work in a slave-gang
in Grenada . After about two years in the West Indies he was brought to England
and freed by his owner. He had himself baptised and took the name John Stewart.
After this he worked as servant to the court painter of the Prince of Wales,
and became a friend of Olaudah Equiano and a leader of London 's black
community. He campaigned against slavery, and in 1786 he and another community
leader, William Green, arranged for the rescue of Henry Demaine, a black man
who had been kidnapped to be sold in the West Indies . They alerted the abolitionist
Granville Sharpe, who was able to bring a legal writ to free Demaine just as
the ship holding him was about to set sail.
In 1787, Cugoano published Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked
Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species , the first
attack on slavery to be printed by a black Briton. In it, Cugoano argued
that it was the moral duty of a slave to resist his enslavers, and went further
than almost all the white abolitionists at this date by demanding the immediate
ending of slavery. He also claimed that if slavery were abolished Britain
would gain more wealth “in a righteous way”, through friendly trade with
Africa than it did through the slave system.
Little is known of Cugoano after1791 when the second edition of his book was
published, except that he was reported to have married an Englishwoman. In
1791 he wrote that he planned to open a school, mainly for people “of his Complexion”,
to teach them “the Knowledge of the Christian Religion and the Laws of Civilization.”