Equiano, Olaudah

ca. 1740s–1797
Abolitionist writer

Olaudah Equiano, a former slave, became a forceful voice in the antislavery movement. His autobiography had considerable influence on British public opinion. Born in the kingdom of Benin to an IGBO family, Equiano was captured by slave traders at the age of ten. Later a British naval officer renamed him Gustavus Vassa and took him to England. There, Equiano received some education and eventually his freedom.

In the early 1780s, Equiano threw himself into the antislavery movement, speaking publicly in various British cities. His outstanding contribution to the abolitionist effort, however, was his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano; or Gustavus Vassa the African (1789). First published in English and then translated into Dutch, German, and Russian, this lively book describes Equiano’s childhood in Africa, the appalling experiences of slavery, and his later life in freedom. (See also Slave Trade, Slavery.)

Equiano, Olaudah