Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano Life of Olaudah Equiano is a detailed story about the life of a well-educated slave published. One section of the story in particular describes one of his many experiences in the New World with one of his owners. This narrative is a very powerful one telling about the treatment of slaves, but also many of the good things Equiano experienced while he was a slave. He gives a seemingly honest and unbiased account to his travels abroad. Equiano was born in 1745 in an Ibo village located in Nigeria called Essaka and in 1756 captured by British slave traders. He was brought to the West Indies and later to a Virginia Plantation.

During the Seven Years War he was present in many of the important naval battles. At the time he was the property of a British man, Lt. Michael Henry Pascal, who had originally bought him as a gift to a cousin in London. After ten years he was sold to a Quaker named Robert King, who eventually allowed him to buy his freedom for forty pounds. Equiano then traveled the globe, as he was an experienced seaman.

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He spent much of his time in London, where he was pushing the Queen in 1788 to allow the settlement of blacks back in Africa in the British colony of Sierra Leone. Despite his efforts, he never made it back to his homeland of Africa, though. He was married in London in 1792 and had one daughter, but soon after died in 1797 (Costanzo “Equiano”) Equaino is most noted though, for his autobiography, which was published nine times, including an American edition in 1791, and German and Dutch editions in 1790 and 1791 respectively. Overall, nine editions were published before 1837. The book was a bestseller for many years and still read today as possibly one of the first influential slave narratives (Costanzo Suprising Narrative) Equaino writes his narrative in a very honest and informal form, as if he is writing to someone that he knows well. The audience however, seems to be the people of the Americas as well as Europe, not just other blacks or slaves.

For this reason the book is published in America as well as Europe several times while Equiano is still living. In the narrative, Equiano attempts to tell his story with a very fair and accurate historical tone. By doing this he can gain his readers trust as an unbiased historian, calling for necessary action, rather than an angry slave trying to get back at the slaveholders. He portrays both of his owners as fair men, appreciative of his hard work and good behavior. They always give him the benefits he deserves, and never leave him short of necessary money or supplies.

With this reliable persona, though, Equiano can describe the terrible treatment of fellow slaves that were not so fortunate. The atrocities he speaks of, as well as the general lack of care for the slaves, paints a very ugly picture of slavery. Any reasonable person not holding slaves would be convinced of the immorality of the slave trade by reading the narrative. He gives many convincing circumstances in which he tells about the horrors of the slave trade. His account of one of the ships he traveled upon reads like this: I was often witness to cruelties of every kind, which were exercised on my unhappy fellow slaves.

I used frequently to have different cargoes of new negroes in my care for sale; and it was almost a constant practice with our clerks and other whites, to commit violent depredations on the chastity of the female slaves; and these I was, though with reluctance, obliged to submit to at all times, being unable to help them. (Equiano 697) The horrors that he describes are countless in his narrative. Many portray a much more vivid image, able to turn a staunch supporter of slavery to a committed abolitionist (Kennerly 20-30). Equianos narrative brings about a new style of literature rarely seen before, the slave narrative. It is similar to that of the earlier Indian captivity narratives, but different in its motives.

Slaves worked in terrible conditions; they had no personal freedom, and no ability to choose their destiny. Few were educated and even fewer had the supplies to write down the things they encountered. When a slave was freed, educated, and granted the supplies to write down his or her thoughts, they were often published and widely read due to the ever growing hatred toward slavery in the North as well as its abolishment in Britain. As these stories became popular a whole new genre of Literature was created. One with not only a powerful story, but also a strong social and political agenda about the morality as well as legality of slavery.

The common slave narrative was most likely written for many reasons, but this reason alone was probably the most common thread among them (Costanzo “Equiano”). The slave trade was a long lasting institution throughout the Americas and throughout the world. It was a huge source of commerce as well as a way of life for many of the large plantation owners. As it progressed the ideas of the great thinkers influenced the thoughts of many of the northerners in the United States. People began to realize the moral injustices that were being committed.

This realization was spread mostly through the narratives of former slaves passed on in their publications as well as numerous articles written in all the newspapers across the Northeast. Slavery was a long standing tradition, one that would be hard to break, but through the efforts of many men, such as Olaudah Equiano, the battle was finally one. Slavery was done away with for good. The narratives provide for a beginning to the heritage of the black American, as well as a feeling of great triumph over the powers of injustice. Bibliography Costanzo, Angelo.

“Olaudah Equiano (1745-1797) http://www.hmco.com/college/english/heath/syllabui ld/iguide/vassa.html. December 11, 1999 Costanzo, Angelo. Surprising Narrative: Olaudah Equiano and the Beginnings of Black Autobiography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1987. Equiano, Olaudah. The Interesting Narative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano.

The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Nina Baym, Ronald Gottesman, Laurence B. Holland, David Kalstone, Francis Murphy, Herschel Parker, William H. Pritchard, and Patricia B. Wallace.

New York / London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1989. 694 698 Kennerly, K. The Slave Who Bought His Freedom; Equiano’s Story. NY: Dutton, 1971. “Olaudah Equiano.” http://www.atomicage.com/equiano/life.html. December 11, 1999.


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