Olaudah Equiano

An ironsmith, ship steward, crewman, cook, clerk, navigator, amateur scientist, and even a hairdresser. These are all jobs that Olaudah Equiano held during his lifetime. He has been called the "most influential African writer in both Africa, America and Britain before the Civil War", and was born in Essaka, Nigeria sometime during 1745 (O\'Neale, 153). His family was part of the Ibo tribe, which was located in the North Ika Ibo region of Essaka. In his earliest years, Olaudah Equiano was trained in the art of war. His daily exercises included shooting and throwing javelins. As he states in his autobiography, two men and a woman, who came over the walls while the rest of the family was away, abducted Olaudah and his sister in 1756 (Equiano, 356). He was only eleven years old. The two of them would only be reunited when Equiano was sold a second time. They did not remain together that long because he would be sold again.
Olaudah Equiano would eventually be sold to a man by the name of Michael Henry Pascal, an officer of the British Royal Navy, who set sail for the American continent. Michael Pascal renamed him Gustavus Vassa. In the years that followed, Olaudah became a great seaman and sailed around the world. His stops included the slave-trading islands of
the West Indies, England, Ireland, Wales, France, Portugal, Italy, Central America, Georgia, Virginia, Philadelphia and New England. It seemed that he traveled everywhere except to where he really wanted to go, which was Africa. It was during these years that he learned the English language and values from a seaman by the name of Richard Baker.
By 1759 Equiano had become fully articulate in the English language. He fought for the British during the seven-year war against France. Even though he had earned his freedom by fighting in the war, Pascal would not grant Equiano his freedom. Instead he confiscated all of Equiano\'s books and sold him to the captain of a slave ship in 1763. His new owner, Robert King, would eventually sell Equiano his freedom in 1766 for 70 pounds. Robert King asked Equiano to remain as his employee and Equiano did. This led him to Georgia where he was almost captured and resold into slavery. It was also during this time that Equiano got rid of the name Gustavus Vassa.
In 1768, Equiano returned to London, England and began an apprenticeship to a hairdresser. It was also during this time that he became employed by Dr. Charles Irving. It was with Dr. Irving that Equiano would go to the North Pole in 1773 and barely escaped death when their ship struck an iceberg. In 1786 Equiano was appointed commissary for Stores for the Black Poor. This was a social outreach group of the British antislavery movement that saw returning blacks to Africa as the best way to end British slave trade (O\'Neale, 157). He was fired after five months because of a conflict he had with Joseph Irwin. This conflict drew criticism onto Equiano but he would regain his status in the abolition movement by publishing responses to the criticism in the British newspapers.
In 1789, Equiano\'s autobiography was published in London and by 1790 Equiano was fully involved in the antislavery movement in Britain. He petitioned the Queen and the Parliament to end the slavery. The following year the autobiography was published in America. It has been said "no black voice before Frederick Douglass in his Narrative of 1845 spoke so movingly to American readers about inhumanity" (Murphy,354). Equiano would finally settle and marry Susan Cullen on April 7, 1792. They had two girls who were named Ann Marie and Johana. Some sources say Equiano died in 1801 while others say 1797. We are not sure which one is correct. One of his daughters did die a few months after he did. His wife and other daughter then left the limelight and no record of them has been found. Equiano\'s book has lasted over two hundred years and has gone through eight editions. And is still being called the "most successful prose work written by an African in the Western World until the start of the American Civil War" (O\'Neale,