prince to slave, freeman to abolitionistby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
A slave who bought his freedom and worked to abolish the slave trade.
When Olaudah Equiano was born around 1745 no one in his family expected his life to turn out the way it did. He was a prince, son of the chief in there village in Guinea, Africa.  His life was a simple one. Clothing wasn’t elaborate, only the women wore gold, and simple foods. Equiano had five brothers and one sister and lived a happy life, until one day when he was eleven. In his auto biography, he relates what happened that fateful day. He writes, “One day, when all our people were gone out to their works as usual, and only I and my dear sister were left to mind the house, two men and a woman got over our walls, and in a moment seized us both, and, without giving us time to cry out, or make resistance, they stopped our mouths, and ran off with us into the nearest wood. Here they tied our hands, and continued to carry us as far as they could, till night came on, when we reached a small house, where the robbers halted for refreshment, and spent the night.”
After being kidnapped, Equiano and his sister were taken many miles to the coast of Africa, where they were sold to slavers and put on separate ships. Olaudah was roughly handled and had convinced himself that he was in a world of bad spirits who wanted to kill him. In fact, he was so frightened that he passed out on the ship. He was then transported to the hold where there were many other male slaves, shackled and waiting for whatever would happen on the journey.
The smell was almost unbearable! The ships crew never cleaned out the slave hold, so all their waste remained and produced a stench worse than Equiano had ever smelled. However, because he was young and weak, Equiano was allowed on deck most of the time to get fresh air. It is possible that this is why he stayed alive, seeing as many others were dying in the ships hold. Finaly, after months on the ship, they landed in Barbados. After landing, the slaves feared that they were to be eaten by the “ugly white men” but were assured by older slaves (brought from land) that they were only to work.
Now they were brought on land and, in Equiano’s words, were “all pent up together like so many sheep in a fold, without regard to sex or age.” After this, the sellers let the buyers rush in and pick out which of the slaves they wanted. However, Equiano was not taken. So, his masters took him and the few slaves that remained up to Virginia where he was finaly bought and taken to a plantation where the master named him Jacob. While at this plantation, a man by the name of Michael Henry Pascal, a lieutenant in the royal navy, saw Jacob, liked him, and bought him from the master for thirty to forty pounds as a present for some friends.
Now they sailed for England. Equiano (or Jacob at the time) was brought on to Pascal’s ship where they then set out for England. While on the ship, Captain Pascal named him Gustavus (Goo-STAH-vis) Vassa, a former king of Sweden.  By this time, Jacob knew enough English to tell the Captain that he did not want this name, but after many cuffs for resisting, he finaly gave in and took on the name Gustavus Vassa.
After they landed in England, Captain Pascal had left the ship to visit friends. One morning, while the captain was gone, it snowed and the snow covered the deck. Gustavas walked on deck, saw the snow and thought it was salt! He ran to the first mate and asked him what it was. The mate told him it was snow and asked Gustavas if he had ever seen snow. When Gustavas said no, he told him that God had created the snow. Having never heard of this God who lived in the heavens, Gustavas was puzzled so the mate took him to church. There he learned about God, which later influenced him to become a Christian.
For the next few years, Gustavas sailed with Captain (now Lieutenant) Pascal in the war against the French, in which he saved Pascal’s life a time or two. However, after the war, Lieutenant Pascal kidnapped Gustavas and sold him without paying him his prize money for fighting in the war. His new master then sold him to a Quaker named Mr. King. While with Mr. King, he told Gustavas that if he obtained 40 pounds sterling, the amount he bought Gustavas for, Mr. King would give Gustavas his freedom. At the time, Gustavas sailed with one of Mr. King’s friends, a merchant. On these voyages, Gustavas would raise money for himself by selling glass tumblers. He would buy one for 50 cents, and sell it for a dollar, and continue like that. After months of work, he final had the money to buy his freedom.
Now, while he had traveled (before and after his freedom) Gustavas saw many injustices done to the blacks, free and slaves alike. He recalls his experiences by saying, “. . . I have known our mates to commit these [sexual] acts most shamefully. . . I have even known them gratify their brutal passion with females not ten years old. . . I have seen a Negro man staked to the ground . . . and then his ears cut off bit by bit, because he had been connected with a white woman who was a common prostitute. . . Another Negro man was half hanged, and then burnt, for attempting to poison a cruel overseer.” These are only a few of the hundreds of times he saw blacks mistreated by whites. He knew it was time to speak up.
A few years after purchasing his freedom, Gustavas moved back to England, where he again saw Lieutenant Pascal. After many times pleading for his prize money from serving in the navy, he finaly gave up because he knew that Pascal would never relent. While in England, he was introduced once again to Jesus, and made up his mind that he wanted to be a Christian. So he accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior.
In 1789 he published his auto-biography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, the African. This book gave him his fame. In fact, it helped with his later attempts to abolish the slave trade. In the 1790’s he met William Wilberforce, and became one of Wilberforce’s main helpers in the abolition of the slave trade. On 7 April 1792 he married a white Englishwoman named Susanna Cullen. They had two daughters, but only one survived long enough to inherit Equiano’s estate. Sadly, in 1797, a mere ten years before the slave trade was abolished in England, Olaudah Equiano died.  Whether known as Olaudah Equiano, Jacob, or Gustavas Vassa, his life has left an impact on millions around the world.
Unless otherwise noted, all source material for this Biography came from: Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African, 1789, provided by The Project Gutenberg.
1-3. Brycchan Carey, Olaudah Equiano: A Critical Biography http://www.brycchancarey.com/equiano/biog.htm