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William Wilberforce

Ex Slave Abolitionists

Olaudah Equiano (c. 1745 - c. 1797) was captured from his home in Nigeria at the age of 11 and sold into slavery. He was taken to Barbados in the West Indies and from there sold on to a British naval officer in America who renamed him "Gustavus Vassa". Equiano was sold on again to another owner, a Quaker merchant who helped Equiano learn to read and write and taught him Christianity. In 1766 Equiano was able to make enough money to buy his freedom. He became a sailor and came to London, where he joined the abolition movement. In 1789 he published his book "The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African" which was a detailed account of his life as a slave. He travelled all over the country promoting his book, which became a best seller. His autobiography did much to advance the abolitionist cause and Equiano became a very popular figure. Watch a reconstruction of Equiano's life


Ottobah Cugoano (c. 1750 - 1788) was also taken as a child from his home in Ghana in the 1750 and sold into slavery. He worked on plantations in Granada and was then brought to England, where he was granted his freedom. He became a Christian in 1773 and was baptised "John Stuart". He worked as a servant to an artist and wrote about his new life in a book entitled "Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Commerce of the Human Species" in 1787. In his book he recounted the exact price he was bought for as a slave: 'a gun, a piece of cloth, and some lead.' In 1791, Cugoano traveled to as many as 50 different cities, towns and villages promoting his book and became another key figure in the abolition movement. Cugoano was also a friend of Olaudah Equiano, and a neighbour of Ignatius Sancho.


Ignatius Sancho (1729-1780) was born on board a slave ship during the "Middle Passage" in 1729. He came to Britain as a child slave and lived in London with his new wealthy owners who eventually made him their butler. After many years, he left his owners and became a shop keeper. He was a gifted composer and appeared on stage many times. It is believed that Sancho was the first African to vote in a British election. He also wrote many letters during his lifetime and these were collected and published two years after his death in 1782. The artist and painter Thomas Gainsborough painted Sancho's portrait in 1768.


Mary Prince (b. 1788) became a key figure in the abolition movement because of her experiences as a slave in the West Indies. Prince had been born a slave in Bermuda and at the age of ten, was sold from her family and very badly treated by various slave owners. She was taken from the island of Antigua to Britain in 1828 by her new owners who lived in London. As

slavery was no longer legal in Britain, Prince was able to leave her owners and joined the Anti-Slavery Society. In 1829, Prince asked parliament to grant her freedom so that she could return to the West Indies, where at this time, slavery was still permitted. She was asked to tell an account of her life as a slave for the abolitionists who published the book 'The History of Mary Prince' in 1831.

 

 


See where Olaudah Eqiano lived in Nigeria before he was captured »



 
Document icon Learning article provided by: Wilberforce House, Hull | 

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