Peoples and Nations

Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano

Famous for being an African slave

Born - c 1745 exact date unknown, Nigeria
Parents - Not known
Siblings - 5 brothers, 1 sister
Married - Susanah Cullen
Children - Joanna Vassa, Anna Maria Vassa
Died - 31st March 1797

Olaudah Equiano was born in 1745 in the African country that is now Nigeria. The adults worked in the fields during the day leaving the children to fend for themselves in the village. Older children were often given the task of acting as lookouts and if they saw any traders approaching the village they would let out a loud cry. Olaudah and his sister were in the hut when they heard the cry. Looking out of the door, Olaudah saw the traders hurrying into the village and knew that there was no time for them to reach the safety of the trees.

Olaudah and his sister were captured and taken by the traders. After a few days they reached a larger African settlement and here Olaudah and his sister were separated and sold to different families. During the seven months that Olaudah spent in slavery in Africa he was mostly treated kindly, in some cases as part of the family, and was given fairly simple household tasks to do. In Africa slaves were respected and their status as part of the family was valued.

Eventually he was sold to another trader and marched to the coast and put on a slave trading ship. All the slaves were forced into the hold where the insanitary conditions made life intolerable. Eventually the ship reached the West Indies and although many slaves had died on the crossing many remained alive. Those that had survived were sold at auction. Because he was so sickly Olaudah was one of the last to be chosen. Olaudah was not strong enough to work in the fields and so was given the task of sitting with the grandfather of the house who was dying. All day long he had to sit on a hard wooden chair ready in case the old man wanted anything. He also had to help feed him.

When the old man died Olaudah was sold to a sea Captain who allowed the sailors on board the ship to teach him to read and to write. Although he was very well treated by the merchant, Olaudah longed to be free and to return to his homeland. He began buying fruit before sailing and selling it on to the sailors for a small profit. Eventually he saved enough to buy his freedom.

As a free man, he settled in England. He met Granville Sharp and the other members of the Society for the Abolition of Slavery. He made public speeches, giving a first-hand account of the treatment of slaves during capture, sea passage and slavery. Olaudah eventually travelled back to Nigeria to find his homeland, but sadly there was no trace of his village or his family.

In 1792 he married Sussanah Cullen and they had two daughters. Olaudah died in 1797 at the age of 51 years.