Olaudah Equiano was born in 1745 in Effaka to the north of Benin which is the capital of the land now called Guinea. The village was ruled by the King in Benin but there was little contact between the two towns.
His father was an elder, or chief, of the village and bore the marks on his forehead as a symbol of his authority. He lived with his many wives, children and slaves in a series of huts surrounded by a wooden wall and plastered with mud. The slaves were usually captured in a battle or had committed some crime and being enslaved was their punishment.
Olaudah had a close relationship with his mother and helped her doing chores around the house and farming.
They lived a simple but happy life. Cows, goats, poultry along with plantains, eddoes, yams, and beans supplied their food. Agriculture was their chief employment and everyone took part in it. There were no beggars in their country.
One day while the adults were out farming two men and a woman jumped over the wall and kidnapped Olaudah and his sister. They were separated and Olaudah was sold to a chief who had two wives and some children.
After 6 or 7 months of traveling he arrived at a town called Timmah where he was sold to a slave ship bound for Barbados. Before he left he was fortunate to meet up with his sister for the last time. This meeting did not last long as they were again separated. He was sold for 172 Core, which was the currency used. It was his first time he saw the sea, a ship or white people.
During the Atlantic crossing several of the slaves jumped overboard to escape the hardships. He spent some of his time on the deck and learnt a bit about sailing and navigating the ship.
Eventually they arrived and anchored in Carlisle Bay. He did not spend long here and after a few days was shipped to Virginia. Here he was sold to Lieutenant Michael Henry Pascal who commanded the trading ship Industrious Bee. He was soon traveling again this time to England where he landed in Falmouth. His name was changed to Gustavus Vassa.
In England he sailed to London, Leith (Scotland) and the Orkneys. He fought with distinction against the French in many battles. In February 1759 he sailed with the Royal Navy to the Mediterranean and Spain.
In England he was able to attend school and learn reading, writing and arithmetic. He became a Christian and was baptized at St. Margaret’s Church in Westminster.
In 1763 he was sold to Captain James Doran, sent to Montserrat, and was once again sold, this time to Robert King. He spent 3 years sailing the Caribbean and was able to purchase his freedom with the money he saved.
He returned to England and continued as a sailor. He took part, along with young Horatio Nelson, in an expedition to the Arctic in 1773. In 1775 he was back in Central America where he tried to set up a plantation. He soon returned to England where he worked with the Sierra Leone Project.
Olaudah worked tirelessly to get slavery abolished. He published a book in 1789: The interesting Narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano. This was translated into many languages and became a best seller.
He travelled extensively in the UK and Ireland giving talks and lectures promoting the abolition of slavery.
He married Susan Cullen, from Ely, at Soham Church on 7th April 1792 and died in March 1797. He proved that no matter what your lot in life you can always be an asset to the world.
Thanks to Harriet Pierce the Librarian at the Barbados Museum & Historical Society for giving me the leads for this article.
Also I wish to thank The Rev. Jennifer Mills-Knutsen, Senior Pastor at the American International Church in London for taking the time to reply to my many emails.