Thursday, September 6, 2012

Black Slave Author who sailed on Jane Austen's Brother's Ship!

I knew that would get your attention!!   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.  


  1. Thurs Sept 6th,
    "Morning, MaryLu."
    Totally interesting and cool, more fascinating history !!! Equiano sounded like a remarkable young man, who did NOT allow his circumstances or situation in life to control him -- (heritage, colour, etc) nor to hold him back. He was an "overcomer", that's for sure !!!
    Thanks so much for sharing, MaryLu. Most interesting !!!
    Take care, and, God Bless,
    In Him, Brenda Hurley

  2. Hi Brenda! Thank you so much for being so faithful to leave a comment! If you ever don't, I will definitely get worried about you.!! I agree, I thought this was an interesting piece of history.. it's nice to celebrate heroes of color because often times our history has excluded them from books. I only recently found out we had a Black congressman in the US before the Civil War!

  3. yes, this is fascinating!

    And I wanted to thank you for Wordless Wednesdays. I am a sucker for naval paintings and I wish I could just grab them all.

  4. It's amazing how many people visit my blog on Wednesdays, Debra! LOL Apparently you're not the only one who loves naval paintings. :-)

  5. This is very interesting, love this article. It is amazing that he accomplished so much and I this it also amazing that he married an English woman. My sister and I was just talking about that fact that we never see any historical /Romance/ Christian novels were the main character is Black, not biracial, and they fall in love with someone outside of their race. It’s as if no Christian author wants to touch that subject even though we know that it happened. I think a lot of authors think that these kind of novels are not possible because they may be so focus on what it was like for blacks during slavery, but what about blacks who fled to Canada or other situations. My great-Aunt was married to a white man and I can remember him coming to our house when my grandmother died to take care of my brother and I, he must have been very much in love with my aunt and her with him to have to endure the racism that they went through. Keep in mind I was 5 when my grandmother passed away and now I’m 40, so I know it could not have been easy.

  6. I can tell you why there aren't books like that, Anonymous.. it's not because authors don't want to write books about bi-racial couples.. it's because the publishing industry won't buy them because they don't think they will sell well. It's all about the money in this business... like any business I suppose. Sad, but true. I admire any one who suffered through racism at any level, and I pray that one day it completely disappears from our country. And the world!

  7. Thanks MaryLu, I bought the Kindle version of this book on Amazon for $2.

  8. Very interesting. Thanks a lot for sharing. I've just tweeted the link to my followers.

  9. Equiano's story is fascinating-the original text is amazing to read. You're so right about publishers - it's a pity, but perhaps things will change with Indie presses.
    Having married a man whose parents married across the cultural and colour divide, I know all about the positives and the negatives our mixed marriages bring. But, my husband is a wonderful man and if I had to, I'd do it all over again!

  10. He played a part in William Wilburforce in England to help outlaw the slave trade in the British empire. A great movie, AMAZING GRACE tells all about it