Olaudah Equiano

Date: 1797
Owner: Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale
Source Type: Images


Olaudah Equiano (c. 1745-1797) was a slave, a mariner, an early abolitionist, and one of the very few blacks to write about the experience of slave life in the Caribbean. After buying his freedom in 1766, he eventually moved to England where he was an active advocate on behalf of blacks and helped promulgate a sense of African identity at a time when that concept was still in its infancy. Although some recent scholarship has presented evidence that key parts of Equiano's autobiography (like the fact he was born in Africa) might have been fabricated by the author, his Interesting Narrative would nevertheless have been based on a common African Atlantic experience.

Equiano mastered the technology of writing, a skill that very few slaves were lucky enough to learn. In the selection presented here (chapter five of his Interesting Narrative), Equiano described slavery on the Caribbean island of Montserrat from 1763 to 1766. Equiano's book is a testament to the fact that although technology was usually used to coerce and subjugate blacks, it could--in the form of language--act as a means of fighting the institution of slavery itself. His book was widely read during his own time and was one of the most important abolitionist writings of the eighteenth century.

CITATION: Equiano, Olaudah, b. 1745. Frontispiece of The interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African / written by himself.
. Dublin : Printed for, and sold by, the author. Sold also at the Dublin Chronicle Office, by W. Sleater, no. 28, Dame-Street, and the other booksellers in Dublin, 1791. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Call number: JWJ Zan Eq51 789Je.