Olaudah Equiano was born around 1745 in a part of West Africa then called Eboe
(now southeast Nigeria ). He was kidnapped at about age ten and sold to slave
traders. He was briefly made to work on a plantation in Virginia and then,
while still a child, he was sold to a British naval officer, Michael Henry
Pascal, who brought him to London . This man gave him the name of Gustavus
Vassa, which he was to use for the rest of his life.
With Pascal, Equiano sailed on British ships throughout the Seven Years' War,
and survived several battles. Pascal had promised him his freedom, but when
the war ended in 1762 he went back on his promise and sold Equiano to a sea
captain. He was taken to the island of Monserrat and sold again to a Quaker
called Robert King, whose slave he was from 1763 to 1766. During this time
he managed to earn enough money to buy his freedom: £40 (around £3,200
in today's money).
Equiano parted from his last master on good terms and returned to London .
From here he travelled widely: to the Mediterranean , North America , the West
Indies , and on an expedition to the Arctic . At the same time he converted
to Methodism, becoming a devout church-goer, and started campaigning against
On his final voyage to Jamaica he was kidnapped and narrowly escaped being
sold into slavery again. After this he came back to England and intensified
his anti-slavery work in letters to newspapers, articles and meetings with
campaigners such as Granville Sharpe. He was also one of a group of black community
leaders who campaigned under the name “The Sons of Africa”.
In November 1786 Equiano was given the job of supervising the supplies for
the Sierra Leone project , and found that the white agent responsible for
supplying the black colonists was cheating them. Equiano was outraged both
at the dishonesty of the agent and the suffering caused to the colonists, but
his protests only led to his dismissal as a troublemaker.
In 1789 Equiano published his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative
of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African , which included
a strongly-worded attack on slavery. It ran into nine editions in his lifetime
and was very influential in the abolitionist movement.
In1792 he married an Englishwoman, Susanna Cullen. They had two daughters,
one of whom died young. Equiano himself died in 1797, leaving a sizeable legacy
(£950) to his surviving daughter Joanna.