Gustavas Vassa Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Knowledge of the events of the life of Olaudah Equiano (ehk-wee-AHN-oh) and of his literary work are intimately related, for the only published writing by Equiano is an autobiography that is also the most detailed and most reliable source of information about his life. According to that autobiography, Equiano was born in 1745 in the part of Africa known in the eighteenth century as Guinea (now Nigeria), and in a district considerably far from the seacoast, which Equiano refers to as Essaka, in the kingdom of Benin. When Equiano was eleven, he and his sister were captured by Aro tribesmen. After being sold several times among African tribes he was sold to European slave traders on the coast who, he thought, would either eat him or make a human sacrifice of him. He endured flogging and was locked in a slaveship hold and eventually conveyed to the West Indies island of Barbados. From there he was transported to Virginia and sold again. Here Equiano encountered plantation slave life. He describes a black cook who is forced to wear an iron muzzle that prevents her from eating and drinking as well as speaking. Soon, however, he was sold to Michael Henry Pascal, a British navy lieutenant, with whom his life improved significantly. Pascal renamed him Gustavus Vassa and introduced him to the young, white American Richard Baker, who for two years was his companion and instructor in European life and the English language. The two young people accompanied Pascal as he was promoted several times and assigned to duty on various British warships in the fleet of Admiral Boscawen. England was at that time at war with France, and in addition to performing tasks like carrying gunpowder during battles to the cannons aboard ship, Equiano became a skilled sailor. Upon his return to England in 1762, Equiano naïvely expected to be freed from slavery as a reward for his faithful service to Pascal. Instead, he was delivered to a West Indies trading ship, conveyed to Montserrat, and again sold.{$S[A]Vassa, Gustavus;Equiano, Olaudah}

Fortunately for Equiano, his years of sailor training stood him in good...

(The entire section is 854 words.)