In 1745, Olaudah Equiano was born in a small village in Isseke,Nigeria. His father was one of the chiefs in the village. At age eleven Equiano and his sister were kidnapped by two men and a woman never to see his home or parents again. After being kidnapped he was hiked across part of Africa untill he arrived at the coast where he was loaded onto a slave ship. While crossing the Atlantic to Barbados onboard the slave ship he and his countrymen were subject to horrors you could hardly imagine. Equiano tells about the horrors and torture slaves face not only on the slave ship but also on plantations and many other aspects of a slave’s life.
Equiano experienced almost all parts of a slave’s existence. He was a slave throughout Africa, England, and the New World. Equiano is bought and sold several times. Religion also played a huge role in Equiano’s life and I think that it helped him get through some really hard times. He is bought by a British Naval officer and serves in the British Navy during the Seven Years’ War. He is then sold to Robert King where he begins trading goods between islands and eventually makes enough money to buy his freedom. Equiano tells of the joy he feels when he becomes a free man.
The rest of his life is devoted to helping slaves and to the cause of abolishing slavery. In 1756 Olaudah Equino was kidnapped and taken to a slave ship which is when his nightmare and battle with slavery began. Equiano and his countrymen were chained together and treated extremely badly. I’ve never heard of animals being kept in a worse place than the slaves aboard the ship. Below decks on the ship is where the real horrors took place. There were hundreds of slaves packed into a very small place. There was no room for a person to turn over and barely enough room to sit up.
There was no light below decks, just a suffocating darkness. With the many people in such a small place and the humidity, the temperature below decks was unbearable. There was no fresh air, nothing but the nasty stench of the latrines and peoples body odor. The air became unfit to breathe and almost suffocated them. There were children that would fall into the latrines and almost drowned. Many slaves would get sick and die in this terrible place and never make it to Barbados. Shrieks of women and the groans of the dying made the whole scene a nightmare.
This caused some slaves to jump off the ship and drown themselves. The first time he was flogged was on the ship when he refused to eat. Two white men tied his feet. One white man held his hands while the other flogged or whipped him. Prisoners were severely cut and flogged for hours for trying to jump off the ship. He had never seen such savage brutal cruelty among people. When the ship reached Barbados the slaves were put into a pin like animals. At the sound of a drum, buyers rushed out to pick out the slaves they wanted to buy.
Then no matter if they were friends, husbands, wives, brothers, or sisters they were separated and never to see each other again. Equiano was sold and worked on a plantation in Virginia County, weeding grass and moving stones. On this plantation he saw the black slave cook with some kind of iron muzzle that locked her mouth shut so she could hardly speak. I guess this contraption was put on her head so she couldn’t eat any of her master’s food. Equiano served the British navy from 1958-1962 during the Seven Years War.
In the hopes of being freed, Equiano gave all his wages and prize money to Micheal Pascal, but he was not freed, he was illegally sold to another man. Equiano was robbed of the money he saved by two sailors when they reached Monterserrat. Although Equiano was treated bad he always followed two religious rules: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you and Honesty is the best policy. He suffers a lot but considers himself a particular favorite of heaven. Equiano wanted to be like Europeans because he thought they were superior.
He always tried to better himself and to every opportunity to gain instruction . He was lucky in that he was sold to a Quaker that was the only person known for treating slaves well in the West Indies. Slaves would be rented out by their owners. Slaves were supposed to get an allowance from whoever they were rented to, but often times they would not be given their allowance and would be beaten if they asked for it. Once a slave brought back a master’s money a little late because he had to wait on the person to pay him and he was staked to the ground and received fifty lashes.
Equiano gives many convincing circumstances in which he tells about the horrors of the slave trade. His account of one of the ships he traveled upon reads like this: I was often witnessed to cruelties of every kind, which were exercised on my unhappy fellow slaves. I used frequently to have different cargo’s of new negroes in my care for sale; and it was almost a constant practice with our clerks and other whites, to commit violent depredations of the chastity of the female slaves; and these I was, though with reluctance, obliged to submit to it at all times, being unable to help them.
One slave was staked to the ground and his ears cut off bit by bit because he had sex with a white prostitute. There was a negro slave whose leg was cut off for running away. Some of the torture items used were an iron muzzle, thumb screws, hot wax being dripped on their bodies, and getting beaten until bones were broken. Slavery is an institution that makes all slaves lives intolerable. Is not this one common and crying sin enough to bring down God’s judgement on the islands?
He tells us the oppressor and the oppressed are both in his hands; and if these are not the poor, the broken hearted, the blind, the captive, the bruised, which our savior speaks of, who are they? p. 97 In the West Indies, the law says that if a slave or negro is killed under punishment from his master, no person whatsoever shall be liable to a fine; but if a person kills a slave for no reason then they get a fifteen pounds sterling fine. Equiano thinks slavery is the actions of savages, not Christians. He says slavery is unmerciful, unjust, and unwise.
The injustice and insanity would shock the Mongolians. The slave trade is at war with the heart of man, slavery corrupts human kindness. Slavery spreads like a disease. Slavery violates that first natural right of man kind, equality and independency. p. 99 In 1763, Equiano got lucky and was allowed to help Captain Thomas Farmer on a sloop. Equiano sails between the West Indies and mainland American colonies trading goods. He sees himself as a Englishman through all the things he saw while on a ship, he became a stranger to terror.
Equiano makes enough money trading goods so that on July 11, 1766, he buys his freedom. When his master accepted his money for his freedom and told him to get his manumission drawn up it was like a voice from heaven to him. It was a feeling of unutterable bliss . Although he now had his freedom he still sailed with his Captain and on one of the voyages on the way to Montserrat the Captain died. Equiano had to take control of the ship and sail home. This surprised many people and he obtained a new title, and was called Captain.
Equiano was flattered to have the highest title any free man had in the place. In January of 1767, Equiano set sail for Georgia from Saint Eustatius with a new captain named William Phillips. On the way to Georgia they wrecked. Their ship hit a rock thanks to the captain not being able to navigate. When the ship wrecked the captain ordered the hatch to be nailed down so the slaves could not get out and way the life boat down. However, Equiano couldn’t allow this to happen because the slaves surely would have drowned.
Equiano saved all of the men’s lives by rowing them all to shore although he had to make several trips to and from the ship. Once Equiano gets to England and London he focuses on helping to abolish slavery. Equiano tells an abolitionist about the Zong massacre where 132 slaves were chained together and drowned in the ocean so the Zong’s owners could collect the insurance money. Equiano tries to help poor blacks by making sure everything is ligit in the Sierra Leone expedition. Equiano also lobbies high officials to end slavery.
For example, he writes to the queen telling her of tyranny in the West Indies and the oppression and cruelty exercised to the negroes there. He signs this letter Gustavus Vassa, the oppressed Ethiopian. After Equiano wrote his book he traveled throughout the British Isles giving speeches and denouncing slavery as an evil institution. I was surprised that Equiano didn’t have a deep resentment and hatred toward all white people because of slavery and the way he was treated. Because of this and his relentless fight against slavery, Olaudah Equiano is a hero.