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Olaudah Equiano: Biography, Facts & Books

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

How much do you know about Olaudah Equiano? You might know that he was captured and sold into slavery as a kid, but what about his work as an abolitionist and an author? Read on to learn about the biography and writing of Olaudah Equiano.

Olaudah Equiano's Early Life

Olaudah Equiano did not have a typical childhood. He was born some time around the year 1745 in the Kingdom of Benin, an area found in present-day Nigeria. His father was a local chief of the Ibo, an African tribe. Equiano was expected to follow in his father's footsteps and become a local leader in his own right. This dream came to a screeching halt when he was just 11 years old. While Equiano and one of his sisters were at home alone, three people kidnapped them and sold them into slavery. Slavery in Africa was common at the time, but it was much different than we think of slavery in the United States. Equiano's captors were also African, and after they separated him from his sister, he was passed from owner to owner for about half a year.

Eventually, Equiano found himself on Africa's west coast, where he was sold to a European slave ship. Over the next few weeks and months, Equiano made the Middle Passage, the phrase used to describe the horrible trip slave ships made between Africa and the New World. Conditions on the ship were abysmal; the ship was dirty and the slaves were kept in close quarters with little to eat. In addition to being malnourished, the slaves were often beaten as well. Across the Atlantic, Equiano found himself on the island of Barbados in the Caribbean.

While most of the other slaves on the ship were purchased in Barbados, none of the buyers were interested in Equiano. He was forced back onto the ship and was sent to the English colony in Virginia. Equiano was sold to a master in Virginia, but within a month was sold once more to a Lieutenant Michael Pascal, a member of the British Royal Navy.

Life as a Slave

After buying Equiano, Pascal changed his name to Gustavus Vassa after one of Sweden's kings. With Pascal, Equiano spent a significant amount of time in London. While he was there he was baptized and became a Christian, and he also had the chance to learn how to read and write English, a skill that came in handy in his later life! After about seven or eight years of traveling with Pascal, he was sold to a merchant named Robert King. Equiano worked on King's ships and was able to drum up a pretty successful trade business on the side. Within three years of working for King, Equiano saved up and bought his freedom in 1766. His life as a slave had finally come to an end.

Olaudah Equiano
Olaudah Equiano

Writer and Abolitionist

Equiano spent the next two decades traveling. Among his many adventures, Equiano had the opportunity to sale to the Arctic in 1773 in search of the Northwest Passage. Eventually, Equiano returned to England where he joined the Sons of Africa, a group of African men who worked hard to bring slavery to an end. Equiano shared his life story, especially the brutal treatment he witnessed as a slave. In 1789, Equiano became one of the first Africans to publish a book.

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