#HistoryVille – The Life of Olaudah Equiano by Gabriel Ogundele
Olaudah Equiano (c.1745–March 31, 1797), was a writer and abolitionist from the Eboe (Igbo) region of what is today South-Eastern Nigeria. At age 11, he was kidnapped and sold into slavery, first in his homeland, but later in the British colony of Virginia.
In Virginia, he was sold to a Royal Navy officer, Lieutenant Michael Pascal, who renamed him ‘Gustavus Vassa’ after the 16th-century Swedish king. Equiano traveled the oceans with Pascal for eight years, during which time he was baptized and learned to read and write.
Pascal then sold Equiano to a ship captain in London, who took him to Montserrat, where he was sold to the prominent merchant Robert King. While working as a deckhand, valet, and barber for King, Equiano earned money by trading on the side. In only three years, he made enough money to buy his own freedom. Equiano then spent much of the next 20 years traveling the world, including trips to Turkey and the Arctic.
In 1786 in London, he became involved in the movement to abolish slavery. He was a prominent member of the ‘Sons of Africa’, a group of 12 black men who campaigned for abolition.
In 1789 he published his autobiography, ‘The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African’. He traveled widely promoting the book, which became immensely popular, helped the abolitionist cause, and made Equiano a wealthy man. It is one of the earliest books published by a black African writer.
In 1792, Equiano married an Englishwoman, Susanna Cullen, and they had two daughters. Equiano died on March 31, 1797.