Olaudah Equiano (c. 1745-1797) was kidnapped as a boy in what is now Nigeria and sold into slavery. He purchased his freedom in 1766 and subsequently settled in England, where he became an ardent and well-known abolitionist. In 1789, he published his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. The book played an important role in bringing the British slave trade to an end.

images: Pages from the first American edition of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, 1791. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Black history month day 6: Olaudah Equiano.

Olaudah Equiano, also known as Gustavus Vaasa, was a prominent African in London. He was a freed slave who supported the British movement to end the slave trade. His autobiography, published in 1789, helped in the creation of the Slave Trade Act 1807 which ended the African trade for Britain and its colonies. Equiano was part of the Sons of Africa, an abolitionist group composed of prominent Africans living in Britain, and he was active among leaders of the anti-slave trade in the 1780s.

Equiano’s book, “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African”, is one of the earliest-known examples of published writing by an African writer to be widely read in England. By 1792, it was a best seller: it has been published in Russia, Germany, Holland, and the United States. It was the first influential slave narrative of what became a large literary genre. Equiano’s experience in slavery was quite different from that of most slaves as he did not participate in field work. Rather, he served his owners personally and went to sea, was taught to read and write, and worked in trading. Even after his freedom he continued to be an explorer and travel extensively everywhere from the Arctic to the United States.

His Life as a freed slave was stressful, and he suffered from suicidal thoughts until he became a born-again Christian and found peace in his faith. He married in English woman, Susannah Cullen, and together they had two children.

Olaudah Equiano.

He is perhaps..one of my absolute favourites..

Olaudah Equiano was a freed slave, and was prominent in London afterwards, supporting campaigns against the slave trade, striving for the abolition of the trade. He came in contact with William Wilberforce after hearing that he too supported abolition and struggled to get supporters for his campaigns, and presented to him the chains and shackles used for the neck, legs and arms which would then be placed on the slaves as they worked. The two maintained a correspondence afterwards. He also wrote an autobiography, in which he described the horrors of being a slave. This book sold thousands of copies and helped in the passing of the Slave Trade Act in 1807.

In his autobiography, Equiano describes how he was captured with his sister, then shipped across to Barbados, then Virginia, where he was sold to a Royal Navy officer, Micheal Pascal whom renamed Equiano Gustavus Vassa after the King of Sweden. He then travelled with Pascal for eight years, during which he was baptized, and learned to read and write. In his biography Equiano describes how he was then sold to a prominent merchant, Robert King, in London. It was during this time that Equiano started earning his own money. While Equiano served as a deckhand, valet and barber for Robert King, her earned money by the means of trade on the side. It took him only three years to earn enough money to buy his freedom. Once he bought his freedom, Equiano describes how he spent the next 20 years of his life travelling the world, including trips to Turkey and the Artic.

Finally in 1786, he became largely involved in the movement for the abolition of slavery, and became a part fo the Sons of Africa, an abolitionist group, in the same year. Three years later, Equiano wrote his autobiography, titled ‘The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African’, and travelled promoting the book. His writings became extremely popular, and made him a very wealthy man. His autobiography is actually one of the first books published by an African writer.

Olaudah later married an Englishwoman, Susanna Cullen in 1792 and had two daughters with her: Joanna Vassa and Anna Maria Vassa. It was a marriage that he would include in editions of his autobiography from 1792 onwards. Susanna unfortunately did at age 34 in February 1796, and Equiano himself died just a year later on 31st March at the age of 52, though sources vary on this subject. Equiano’s place of burial is unknown, too. His youngest daughter, Anna Maria Vassa, died soon after at the age of four, leaving the only surving child, Joanna, with Equiano’s estate and wealth. I love this man, honestly. I tried to explain his life very simply for those who are not at all familiar with him.



Olaudah Equiano also known as  Gustavus Vassa (c. 1745-1797) was a well-known freed African slave who lived in London. He was involved in the British abolitionist movement. His autobiography detailing his life as a slave was important in leading to the enactment of the Slave Trade Act 1807 which ended the slave trade in Britain and British colonies.


[…] Equiano’s constant references to destiny, providence, and faith fit into the Igbo concept of Chi (a spiritual entity or personal god, often perceived as a person’s double). As the determiner of destiny, a person’s chi acts as the intersecting force that connects the mundane with the spiritual, wherein the core values of Igbo culture – “‘individuality,’ 'achievement,’ a belief in 'destiny’ – are lined to the supreme being and creator 'Chukwu’ or 'Chineke’
—  Chima Jacob Korieh (2009), Olaudah Equiano and the Igbo world, p. 77.
Equiano’s story is unique in its inclusion of vivid descriptions of African culture and society before the wrenching onslaught of the white man and the slave trade. At the same time, Equiano does not blind himself to the corruption of those of his countrymen who were lured by the promise of riches from the trafficking in slaves. It is important to emphasize here, underscoring what was already been expressed in the opening quote above, that slavery in Africa before the advent of the slave trade, was altogether more benign than its non-native form. In fact, among certain ethnic groups in African society, there is no distinction between the words ‘prisoner’ and 'slave’, a fact that goes far in articulating the sheer punitive value embodied by slavery in Africa where it was an integral part of the economic and justice systems. Slaves were often prisoners of war or individuals who had committed crimes like adultery; by consistent good conduct in their masters’ households, they could rise through the ranks to become leaders or marry their masters’ daughers. In total opposition to this native form of slavery was the white man’s complete subjugation and isolation of the African slave on the basis of race alone.
—  The Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. (page 4/5)
I was not long suffered to indulge my grief; I was soon put down under the decks, and there I received such a salutation in my nostrils as I had never experienced in my life: so that with the loathsomeness of the stench, and crying together, I became so sick and low that I was not able to eat, nor had I the least desire to taste any thing.  I now wished for the last friend, death, to relieve me; but soon, to my grief, two of the white men offered me eatables; and on my refusing to eat, one of them held me fast by the hands, and laid me across, I think the windlass, and tied my feet, while the other flogged me severely.  I had never experienced any thing of this kind before: and, although not being used to the water, I naturally feared that element the first time I saw it, yet, nevertheless, if could I have got over the nettings, I would have jumped over the side, but I could not; and, besides, the crew used to watch us very closely who were not chained down to the decks, lest we should leap into the water: and I have seen some of these poor African prisoners most severely cut for attempting to do so, and hourly whipped for not eating.
—  “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vasa, the African, Written by Himself” (1789)

March 31st 1797: Olaudah Equiano dies

On this day in 1797, the abolitonist Olaudah Equiano died in London aged 51/52. Equiano wrote in his autobiography that he was born in Nigeria, and was kidnapped and sold into slavery when he was 11. He was shipped to Barbados then Virginia before being sold to a British officer in the Royal Navy. During this time, Equiano travelled widely with his new master, and experienced battle in the Seven Years’ War. He was taught to read and write by the sailors, and was baptised in 1759. He was later sold to a merchant in the West Indies, and worked as a deckhand, valet and barber. Equiano began to trade privately, independent of his master, and eventually earned enough money to buy his own freedom. After years of enslavement, Equiano was now a free man. He spent the following years traveling extensively, and in the 1780s returned to London. There, he became deeply involved in the anti-slavery movement, joining the ‘Sons of Africa’ group of black abolitionists and working with the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. The publication of his autobiography in 1789 highlighed the horrors of slavery, describing in graphic detail the horrendous conditions endured by African slaves. Equiano’s candid account was a bestseller and, coupled with his powerful speaking tours across Britain, it bolstered the abolitionist cause. Equiano’s involvement contibuted to Britain’s abolition of the slave trade in 1807, which was followed by the total abolition of slavery throughout the empire in 1833.  Equiano married in 1792, and became involved in the campaign for universal suffrage. He was tasked with settling former slaves in Sierra Leone, but died before he could emark on the expedition. Olaudah Equiano has been hailed as the father of African literature, and is remembered for his role in bringing an end to the slave trade.

“But is not the slave trade entirely a war with the heart of man? And surely that which is begun by breaking down the barriers of virtue involves in its continuance destruction to every principle, and buries all sentiments in ruin!”
- from The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano

For Reference: Books and Documentaries about Black People/Black History

In the wake of the events in Charlottesville and this shit about the Confederate Flag and Momuments being taken down, I felt the need to put together a fairly comprehensive list of books and or documentaries that give people a bit of insight into the oppression that Black people in America have faced.
If any of my Non Black POC followers/friends have books/documentaries about their history/culture they’d like people to know about, feel free to Reblog this post and add books about the history of your people. The American School System doesn’t wanna teach about Non White history, why not share the information amongst one another? American history is more than just Columbus, The Pilgrims and whatnot. American History is OUR history. This country was built on the backs of Black, Brown, and Yellow folk, NEVER forget that shit.

That being said, here is a list of books and documentaries I would recommend you to check out…

•The autobiography of Frederick Douglass
•I am not your Negro-James Baldwin
•Letter from a Birmingham Jail
•Between the world and me-Ta Nehisi Coats (non slavery book but worth the read)
•Copper Sun-Sharon Draper (Fictional account of slavery; the author is a descendant of slaves)
•The Souls of Black Folk-W.E.B. DuBois
•Medical Apartheid-Harriet A Washington
•Dreams of my Father-Barack Obama
•The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano
•Invisible Man-Ralph Ellerson
•I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings-Maya Angelou
•The Autobiography of Malcolm X-Alex Haley
•The New Jim Crow-Michelle Alexander
•Rest in Power-Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin (Parents of Trayvon Martin)
•Go Tell It on the Mountain-James Baldwin
•Their Eyes Were Watching God-Zora Neal Hurston
•A Lesson Before Dying-Ernest Gaines
•Native Son-Ernest Gaines
•The Mis-Education of the Negro-Carter G Woodson
•Up From Slavery-Booker T Washington
•The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey

•Roots (both the original and the remake)
•Alex Haley’s Queen
•The Color Purple
•Underground (TV Series)
•Mississippi Burning
•13th (you can find that on Netflix)
•Beloved (you can also read the book version by Alice Walker; she also wrote the Color Purple)
•4 Little Girls (HBO Documentary by Spike Lee)
•Selma (Directed by Ava Duvernay)
•The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till (You can watch it on YouTube)
•Selma Lord Selma (More family friendly but recalls events of the Civil Rights Movement)
•X (Malcom X Movie starring Denzel Washington and Angela Bassett)
•Ghosts of Mississippi (Medgar Evans Movie)
•For Us the Living: Melgar Evers Story
•Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (Presentation by Dr. Joy DeGruy; also available in book form)

This is just a short list of many, many movies available about the history of Black/African Americans…

Please educate yourselves people…


August 1st 1834: Britain abolishes slavery

On this day in 1834, slavery was abolished in the British Empire as the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act came into force. Britain had dominated the Atlantic slave trade for hundreds of years, with millions of people being forcibly taken from Africa to the Americas while businessmen in Britain profited from their plight. The campaign for abolition began in the late eighteenth century, countering claims that slaves were content with the brutal reality of life aboard a slave ship and toiling in a plantation. One of the primary actors in the movement to abolish the slave trade was freed slave Olaudah Equiano, whose eloquent autobiography articulated the horrors of slavery. The slave trade was thus banned in 1807, and this was enforced by the British navy on the West African coast, but the practice continued and captains would throw slaves overboard to avoid fines. The Anti-Slavery Society was formed in 1823 to campaign for the complete abolition of slavery in the British Empire, led by the politician William Wilberforce. The abolition movement was partly fueled by humanitarian concern, but also changing economic interests, as the newly industrial Britain no longer relied on slave-based goods, and slave rebellions in Haiti and Jamaica indicated that slavery was becoming unprofitable. The 1833 act was passed by the House of Commons and the House of Lords, before receiving Royal Assent from King William IV in August; Wilberforce died three days after hearing that the bill would pass. Due to come into effect a year later, it provided for the eventual emancipation of slaves in the British Empire (they were to become ‘apprentices’ for six years before freedom), while providing £20 million (nearly £70 billion in modern currency) in compensation for slaveowners. Whilst this act ostensibly ended slavery, it did not completely eradicate the practice, as some areas of the British Empire were initially exempt and others continued to secretly sell slaves throughout the nineteenth century.


Olaudah Equiano’s autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, is one of the earliest examples of a slave narrative.  In it, Equiano describes his abduction from Africa, his separation from his sister, his forced voyage through the Middle Passage, and his life as a slave.  After Equiano purchased his own freedom in 1767, he moved to Britain, feeling it unsafe to remain in the British colonies as a freed African; there, he became one of the leaders of the Sons of Africa, an abolitionist group made up of Africans living in London.

The book was very successful and went through eight editions before Equiano passed away in 1797.  Pictured here, we have here the third edition, which was published in 1790 and bears an engraving of Equiano on the frontispiece.


November 29th 1781: Zong massacre

On this day in 1781, hundreds of captured Africans were killed aboard the British slave ship Zong. The ship had left the African coast on September 6th carrying 470 slaves, which was far more than the ship could accommodate, but Captain Luke Collingwood insisted on taking more people to maximise his profits from selling them as slaves. The horrific, cramped conditions aboard the ship led to rapidly spreading disease and malnutrition, which claimed the lives of fifty slaves and seventeen crew members. In order to prevent further deaths and to allow himself to collect insurance money on the lost slave property, Collingwood decided to throw 132 sick and dying captives overboard, beginning on November 29th. Ten of the kidnapped Africans threw themselves to their deaths in an act of defiance against Collingwood’s barbarity. Upon the Zong’s arrival in Jamaica, the ship’s owner filed an insurance claim of £4,000 for the loss of the human cargo, asserting that the ship lacked the water supplies to sustain the full crew and captives. This claim was refuted, however, as it was soon discovered that the ship had 420 gallons of water aboard. Despite the weakness of the ship owner’s claim, a Jamaican court in 1782 ruled in their favour, forcing the insurers to pay out. The insurers appealed the court’s decision, and the ensuing legal battle soon acquired a moral element, as it enflamed the growing abolitionist movement in Great Britain. The high publicity around the case, and the fact that abolitionists like Olaudah Equiano and Granville Sharp used it to further the anti-slavery cause, led to a second trial in Britain ruling in favour of the insurers. However, prevailing inhumane attitudes towards the plight of the kidnapped Africans prevented criminal charges from being brought against those responsible for the massacre. Britain’s Solicitor General flippantly rebuffed the case, claiming that as slaves are legal property, the incident is akin to as if wood had been thrown overboard. The tragic deaths of hundreds of captured Africans, and the injustice of their murderers’ reprieve, did, however, strengthen the abolitionist movement. The Zong massacre provides one the darkest symbols of the horrific Middle Passage, and paved the way for the eventual abolition of slavery across the British Empire in 1833.

Getting to know the Archives: Rare Books

What is a rare book?

Recently J. Murrey Atkins Library celebrated the donation of the two millionth volume; a rare copy of the slave narrative, Olaudah Equiano’s Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (London, 1793, 6th ed.), donated by Dr. Julian Mason and his wife, Elsie. But what makes any book rare? Our favorite cataloger, Joseph Nicholson answers this question in today’s post. 

Establishing a clear demarcation between “rare” books and “ordinary” books is not an easy matter. Age, for instance, is often considered to be a defining attribute of rare books, but not all old books are rare, and some recently published books are in fact quite rare. The autograph of a famous author on a book’s endpapers may seem to make it inarguably rare, particularly if the book also includes the author’s bookplate and marginalia; but an autograph alone is not necessarily an indication of great rarity or value, as thousands of such specimens are now produced at crowded book signing events by authors flogging their latest bestsellers. Though an elaborately decorated binding can seem an indication of great rarity, it may prove on closer examination to be the bibliographic equivalent of cheap knockoff wear, showy garb that adds no value or distinction to what is inside. All that glisters is not gold.

What generally determines a book’s rarity is not some predictable checklist of features but something more ineffable: the supply of the book falls short of the demand for it. In other words, the book is difficult to obtain or replace. There are several characteristics that may place a book in this category. Age is one, certainly, despite the caveat above. Books published before 1501 are without question rare, as are English books printed before 1641, books that were printed in North and South America before 1801, and books printed in the South and west of the Mississippi before 1850. Good physical condition will tend to increase the value and hence the “rareness” of an older book, while missing pages, a damaged spine, and other signs of significant wear and tear will decrease it. Books that have seminal, path-breaking importance in their subject areas, controversial texts that were once suppressed or outlawed, and first editions of notable works of literature or history are generally rarer than books with a more ordinary history and more humdrum content, for the simple reason that books with a distinguished or troubled past tend to be scarcer. Striking physical characteristics like original color plates, fine illustrations, and distinctive bindings also increase a book’s rarity.

Yet no failsafe formula for determining whether a book is “rare”—admittedly a rather arbitrary category—exists. What seems rare to the untrained eye may in fact not be. A miniature artist’s book published by a notable small press a decade ago may be more rare than a handsomely decorated edition of Dickens’ collected works from the late 19th century. A limited, signed book by a famous poet published last year could exceed in rarity an elementary school primer from the 1880s. Making astute judgments about what is rare and what is not requires care, discrimination, patience, and the ability to weigh several complex types of bibliographic evidence.

The Zong Massacre (1781)

Article via Wiki 

The Zong massacre was the mass murder of 133 African slaves by the crew of the slave ship Zong in the days following 29 November 1781.The Gregson slave-trading syndicate, based in Liverpool, owned the ship and sailed her in the Atlantic slave trade. As was common business practice, they had taken out insurance on the lives of the slaves as cargo. When the ship ran low on potable water following navigational mistakes, the crew threw slaves overboard into the sea to drown, partly in order to ensure the survival of the rest of the ship’s passengers, and in part to cash in on the insurance on the slaves, thus not losing money on the slaves who would have died from the lack of drinking water.

After the slave ship reached port at Black River, Jamaica, Zong’s owners made a claim to their insurers for the loss of the slaves. When the insurers refused to pay, the resulting court cases (Gregson v Gilbert (1783) 3 Doug. KB 232) held that in some circumstances, the deliberate killing of slaves was legal and that insurers could be required to pay for the slaves’ deaths. The judge, Lord Chief Justice, the Earl of Mansfield, ruled against the syndicate owners in this case, due to new evidence being introduced suggesting the captain and crew were at fault.

Following the first trial, freed slave Olaudah Equiano brought news of the massacre to the attention of the anti-slavery campaigner Granville Sharp, who worked unsuccessfully to have the ship’s crew prosecuted for murder. Because of the legal dispute, reports of the massacre received increased publicity, stimulating the abolitionist movement in the late 18th and early 19th centuries; the Zong events were increasingly cited as a powerful symbol of the horrors of the Middle Passage of slaves to the New World[…]

A monument to the killed slaves on Zong was installed at Black River, Jamaica, their intended port.

Recommended Books

Women in Igbo Life and Thought, Joseph Therese Agbasiere

Political Organization in Nigeria since the Late Stone Age: A History of the Igbo People, John Oriji

The Igbo-igala Borderland, Peter Schäfer

The Slave Trade and Culture in the Bight of Biafra, G. Ugo Nwokeji

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Olaudah Equiano

Murder at Montpelier: Igbo Africans in Virginia, Douglas B. Chambers

A History of African Societies to 1870, Elizabeth Isichei

The Trouble With Nigeria, Chinua Achebe

Nigerian History, Politics and Affairs, Adiele Afigbo

Igbo History and Society: The Essays of Adiele Afigbo, Toyin Falola

There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra, Chinua Achebe

Full List >