Saturday, December 14, 2019

Black Slave author sailed on Jane Austen's Brother's Ship!

How's that for a title? But how else to describe this fascinating tale?

Recently timbers from the HMS Namur were found under the floorboards of Chatham Historical Dockyard in England where the 90-gun second rate ship of the line was built and launched in 1756. She served the Royal Navy in various capacities until she was broken up in 1833. The HMS Namur took part in nine fleet actions – often as the flagship – in three campaigns. Jane Austen‘s younger brother Charles, or more formally Sir Charles John Austen, would rise to the rank of rear admiral in the Royal Navy. He had many commands but served as captain of HMS Namur from November 1811 to November 1814 

All very interesting, of course. but there was another man who served on that ship, Olaudah Equiano, an African writer who would become active in the British abolitionist movement. According to his autobiography, he was born in Nigeria and was kidnapped and sold into slavery at age 11, transported with 244 other slaves across the Atlantic to Barbados where he was transferred to the British colony of Virginia. He was purchased by Michael Pascal, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy who renamed Olaudah to Gustavus Vassa, after a 16th century Swedish King. Equiano would spend the next 8 years sailing with Pascal, during which time he was baptized and learned to read and write. Despite the special treatment, Equiano did not receive a share of the prize money awarded the other sailors from victories at sea. Nor did Pascal free him as he had promised.

Pascal sold Equiano to a ship captain in London who then sold him to a Quaker merchant named Robert King who allowed him to earn money on the side and
purchase his own freedom for forty pounds. He also educated him and guided him along the path of religion. Equiano earned his freedom in 3 years, and spent the next years of his life traveling the world as a free man.

In 1786 he became involved in the abolitionist movement in London and joined a group of 12 black men called “Sons of Africa”. Several of his abolitionist friends encouraged him to write and publish his life story, so in 1789 The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African was published. It was an immediate success and went into several printings, becoming the most widely read writings by an African in England. Equiano’s personal account of slavery fueled a growing anti-slavery movement in Great Britain.

Equiano travelled widely, speaking and promoting his book, and became a wealthy man. He was a leader in the Poor Black community in London and a prominent figure in the political realm. He married an English Woman and had two daughters, and died at age 52.

What a fascinating story!! From Slave to Author to a Political leader who changed the world. And long before Slavery became outlawed! In fact, it wasn't until 1807 that England passed an Anti-Slave Trade law which forbade slave trade but not slavery itself. However in 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act was finally passed which outlawed slavery. That's one thing the Brits were far ahead of the U.S. on. 

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  1. A very interesting story. Thanks for highlighting it.

  2. Now that's a fascinating story! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Amazing! His life was short, but he did so much. Very inspiring.

  4. What an interesting and inspirational story! Thanks for sharing it, MaryLu!! And I LOVED the video book trailer of Veil of Pearls...sooo good!!! :) ~Alison Boss

    1. Thanks Alison! Yup.. my favorite trailer and not because it's for one of my books!