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31 March 1797
Sailor, writer, merchant, abolitionist
c. 1745 – 31 March 1797
Olaudah Equiano, known for most of his life as Gustavus Vassa, was a writer and abolitionist from, according to his memoir, the Eboe (Igbo) region of the Kingdom of Benin (today southern Nigeria). Enslaved as a child in Africa, he was taken to the Caribbean and sold as a slave to a Royal Navy officer. He was sold twice more but purchased his freedom in 1766.
“The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano; or, Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself”
As a freedman in London, Equiano supported the British abolitionist movement. He was part of the Sons of Africa, an abolitionist group composed of Africans living in Britain, and he was active among leaders of the anti-slave trade movement in the 1780s. He published his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789), which depicted the horrors of slavery. It went through nine editions in his lifetime and helped gain passage of the British Slave Trade Act 1807, which abolished the slave trade.
When Olaudah died he left a huge legacy behind. He helped influence British parliament to abolish the trade through the Slave Trade Act of 1807. Equiano also is often regarded as the originator of the slave narrative because of his firsthand literary testimony against the slave trade. Since the late 20th century, when his autobiography was published in a new edition, he has been increasingly studied by a range of scholars, including from his homeland.
“My life had lost its relish when liberty was gone.”
“I still look back with pleasure on the first scenes of my life, though that pleasure has been for the most part mingled with sorrow.”
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