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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

FREE BOOK!

Local Black History: A Beginning in Devon
Lucy MacKeith
Archives and Museum of Black Heritage, Brixton, 2003

READ ONLINE

more FREE BOOKS from lascasbookshelf.tumblr.com

||| Publisher’s Blurb |||
This booklet about black history in Devonshire is short because the work is only just beginning, not because there is no evidence to uncover… To move towards a more accurate, inclusive view of history, we need to separate out the different elements, which have been ignored previously. The evidence is available. The history waits to be written. Black history is not only for black people. It is not only to be found in the history of big cities and ports. Looking at black history in Devon, and similar parts of Britain, helps us to understand the links between local, national and world history. There are stories about black people to be discovered in all walks of life and in all areas. I hope to show that there is more to discover and that we need this information to get a balanced view of our country, and our country’s past. This is the ‘missing part of our history’.

||| Contents |||

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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.

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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.

The Delectable Negro: Human Consumption and Homoeroticism within US Slave Culture by Vincent Woodard. Edited By Justin A. Joyce
and Dwight McBride. Foreword by E. Patrick Johnson

Scholars of US and transatlantic slavery have largely ignored or dismissed accusations that Black Americans were cannibalized. Vincent Woodard takes the enslaved person’s claims of human consumption seriously, focusing on both the literal starvation of the slave and the tropes of cannibalism on the part of the slaveholder, and further draws attention to the ways in which Blacks experienced their consumption as a fundamentally homoerotic occurrence. The Delectable Negro explores these connections between homoeroticism, cannibalism, and cultures of consumption in the context of American literature and US slave culture.

Utilizing many staples of African American literature and culture, such as the slave narratives of Olaudah Equiano, Harriet Jacobs, and Frederick Douglass, as well as other less circulated materials like James L. Smith’s slave narrative, runaway slave advertisements, and numerous articles from Black newspapers published in the nineteenth century, Woodard traces the racial assumptions, political aspirations, gender codes, and philosophical frameworks that dictated both European and white American arousal towards Black males and hunger for Black male flesh. Woodard uses these texts to unpack how slaves struggled not only against social consumption, but also against endemic mechanisms of starvation and hunger designed to break them. He concludes with an examination of the controversial chain gang oral sex scene in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, suggesting that even at the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century, we are still at a loss for language with which to describe Black male hunger within a plantation culture of consumption.

Olaudah Equiano, author and slavery abolitionist
  • Olaudah Equiano, author and slavery abolitionist
  • The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Play

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography: Olaudah Equiano, author and slavery abolitionist (1745- 1797).

“Equiano was naturally attracted to the parallel campaign against the slave trade. On 21 March 1788 he took the remarkable step of sending a petition, or personal letter, ‘on behalf of my African brethren’ to Queen Charlotte (Walvin, 156). In the following year he added to a rising level of abolitionist propaganda with the publication of his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. It proved a remarkable success and went through numerous editions during his lifetime. Thanks to Equiano’s energetic promotional efforts the Narrative sold well, helping to provide the author with a modest estate. This was also helped by his marriage on 7 April 1792 to Susanna Cullen (1761/2–1796) of Soham, Cambridgeshire, where the couple made their home, though Equiano maintained an address in London.”

The Story of Olaudah Equiano is one of over 200 episodes available from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography’s podcast archive. New episodes are released every second Wednesday. 

Image: An Unknown Sitter (formerly thought to be Olaudah Equiano, c.1745-1797) by the Royal Albert Museum, Exeter. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Lucy MacKeith has started a research project tracing Black History in Devon, England. The map is explored in this document, which offers a brief exploration of primary documents, artworks, and records. It is downloadable and translates well into an educational handout.

Further exploration and thematic writing is available here on the following topics:

7 Historical Black/Mixed Race European Stories That Need to Be on Film

Want to learn more about black and mixed-race people in the 18th century? Listen to this podcast lecture!

I initially wrote this post sometime last year when Moniqueblog was still up and running. Since this post, there has been news of another film about a historical person from the diaspora; Cary Fukunaga has been attached to direct the John Legend-produced film, The Black Count, detailing the true life of French Revolution-era general Thomas-AlexandreDumas (and the inspiration for his son Alexandre Dumas’ book, The Count of Monte Cristo). I decided to repost this since I feel it’s valuable when it comes to thinking critically about the biopics that are out there and who they represent (or don’t represent). More of this nature will be coming soon. 

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Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa c.1745-1797

Olaudah Equiano was born in a village in Nigeria. At the age of 11 he was abducted and sold into slavery. He was eventually sold to Michael Pascal, a British Naval Officer, who renamed him Gustavus Vassa. During the Seven Years’ War between Britain and France 1756 -1763, Equiano served as a powder carrier with the Royal Navy.

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Black 18th Century

“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky; my name, not yours; my religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.” Muhammad Ali.

I’ve been thinking about this since the death of Muhammad Ali, about the importance of black people in society through history and that even nowadays is hardly represented. And in the 18th century, even less represented.

So, let me tell you that finding this images was not easy at all. First of all, since my inspiration was Ali’s black pride, I didn’t want portraits showing black men, women or children in slavery or service position. I wanted beautiful, proud and powerful portraits. And I found them :)

Of course I also wanted some strong characters from tv and film and, you know what? IT WAS FUCKING HARD. Not because there are not many black strong characters in 18th century dramas (even though there actually are not many), BUT because there are not many images of them in the internet. Which, let me tell you Internet, THAT SUCKS.

For example, try googling “Abigail Jordan Turn”. Google it, I’ll wait here (or click the link). There are just a few images of any of both actors (Idara Victor and Aldis Hodge) and of those there are even less with just the two of them or any of them alone. There’s usually also a white character in that photo.

Of course Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s photos were easier to find, since she’s the main actress of “Belle”, it would have been ridiculous to not find photos of her. On the other hand, have you seen Amazing Grace? Do you remember the ONLY black character of this movie? Well, apparently there are only A FEW of different photos of Youssou N'Dour as Olaudah Equiano on a fast Google search.

Finally let me tell you I saw a Mexican/Spanish film this weekend called El Baile de San Juan (I’ll make a full post about that) about a pair of lovers in the last decade of the 18th century in the New Spain. There are two black characters, and one of them is this woman called María Fé (portrayed by Sylvie Henry) who is basically the link between all stories and characters, so she’s there the WHOLE movie, the story flows because of her. She’s got a son (Jacinto, portrayed by the beautiful Yotuel Romero) which is a small character. Her costume is very likely one of the most historically accurate from the movie and it’s gorgeous (from the earrings she wears, to her hair, her chintz print petticoat… everything). But you know something? The photo I posted here is the only decent one on the internet of her, no promo shots, no stills, no nothing. As if the only characters in the movie are the two (boring) main characters and the European ones.

And this is only a little example of the lack of representation nowadays of black people. But, let me let you go with this thought: this post is about black people and it was hard, if I would have looked for mestizo and mixed raze representation in the 18th century (and nowadays) I would have to stick to casta painting and a few American portraits just to get that in the media, we Latin people (and all people of colour) are pretty invisible.

But let’s better take a look at the photos from top and you all should reblog and add images of 18th century black people <3

  1. “Portrait of a Young Woman”, 1790s, Jean-Étienne Liotard.
  2. “Portrait of a Man”, ca. 1802, Joseph Ducreux
  3. “Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray”, ca. 1778, Johann Zoffany
  4. Youssou N'Dour as Olaudah Equiano in “Amazing Grace”, dir. Michael Apted, costume design by Jenny Beavan.
  5. Idara Victor as Abigail and Aldis Hodge as Jordan in “Turn”, costume design by Donna Zakowska.
  6. “De Negro y India; China cambuja”, 1763, Miguel Cabrera
  7. “Portrait of a Young Black Italian Man”, 1760s, Alessandro Longhi
  8. Sylvie Henry as María Fé and Yotuel Romero as Jacinto in “El Baile de San Juan”, dir. Francisco Athié, Costume Design by Leticia Palacios, 2010.
  9. Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Elizabeth Belle in “Belle”, dir. Amma Asante, costume design by Anushia Nieradzik, 2013.
  10. “Portrait of Two Society Women", 1740s, Stephen Slaughter
  11. “A Young Black (thought to be Francis Barber)”, undated, Sir Joshua Reynolds

John Brown (c.1810 – 1876), born in Virginia as ‘Fed’, escaped slavery in Georgia and eventually settled in England where his narrative Slave Life in Georgia: A Narrative of the Life, Sufferings, and Escape of John Brown, a Fugitive Slave, Now in England was published in 1855, another man of ‘Eboe’ (Igbo) descent to write a so called ‘slave narrative’ (see Olaudah Equiano).

“This map shows the route of Equiano’s many travels throughout his long career at sea. It clearly demonstrates that he was unusually well-travelled for his time.”

He is knowledgeable about the sea. Therefore, he knows very well about the slave trade since trade was really significant back then and his career was at the sea too. 

Source: “Olaudah Equiano’s Travels - a Map." Olaudah Equiano’s Travels - a Map. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2014.

captchas replied to your post “not to be That Goth Girl but I want to shove the entire Romantic and…”

GGGGAHHH Do you have any Good Resources for Romantic Goth literature???? I’m dying please it’s my fave as well

Volume D: The Romantic Period of the Norton Anthology of English Literature (9th edition) really is an excellent place to start because it’s got a great introduction to the themes and historical context of Romantic literature (including stuff about gender and the slave trade), introductions to every featured writer, and excerpts from several novels including Wallstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women, Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, and Jane Austen’s Love and Friendship. plus it’s been updated to include a section on “the slave trade and the literature of abolition” (including a narrative by Olaudah Equiano, which I’d recommended anyway) and a whole bunch more women (even if those women don’t have nearly as many poems featured as Wordsworth and Coleridge 🙄) AND a supplemental e-book with a couple of other topic clusters.

must-reads imo are, for poetry, Charlotte Smith (who basically started the revival of sensibility and the sonnet form that characterise much of Romantic poetry), Mary Robinson, and Anna Letitia Barbauld; and for novels, The Castle of Otranto, The Mysteries of Udolpho, Persuasion, Frankenstein; also see Northanger Abbey for a satire of the Gothic novel