Essay: Equiano and Slavery

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[. . .] Along the way, he also learned reading and arithmetic, which few plantation slaves ever did, and he was in contact with a much wider variety of whites, including abolitionists. At the end of the war, he "thought now of nothing but being freed, and working for myself and thereby getting money to enable me to get a good education; for I always had a great desire to be able at least to read and write" (p. 172).

Therefore Equiano was quite shocked when his master sold him, and driven to despair at the thought of ending up on a plantation in the Americas. When he realized that he was going to be sold to the West Indies, he "called upon God's thunder, and his avenging power, to direct the stroke of death to me, rather than permit me to become a slave, and be sold from lord to lord" (p. 190). He was sold to the Quaker merchant Robert King, even though he cried and begged to be returned to England. King promised to be a lenient master and take him to Philadelphia to "put me to school, and fit me for a clerk" (p. 194). He even received an allowance of 15 pence per day, which "was considerably more than was allowed to other slaves that used to work with me, and belonged to other gentlemen" (p.197). Equiano served King by traveling around to different estates buying sugar and rum, and he regularly received offers to purchase him but refused them all. Equiano reacted to this by doubling "my diligence and care for fear of getting into the hands of those men who did not allow a valuable slave the common support of life" (p. 206). Equiano had seen a freeborn black named Joseph Clipson carried away as a slave from St. Kitts to Bermuda, and none of the English magistrates would intervene to protect his rights (p, 248). Very frequently, blacks had their trade goods stolen by whites or were cheated in these transactions, and the law would not protect him. This happened to him in Santa Cruz when two white men simply took his trade goods. Equiano was a Calvinist and believer in predestination, who thought that "if it were my fate not to be freed I never should be so, and all my endeavours for that purpose would be fruitless" (p. 244).

After he bought his freedom, Equiano still had a great curiosity about the world and continually voyaged to various countries turkey, Portugal, Italy, Greenland as a free man although in the West Indies trade. He even thought about relocating to Turkey and spending the rest of his life there. His second religious conversion experience was intense and very sincere, since he was driven to the point of suicide thinking of the unworthiness of his life. He described this at length in Chapters X and XI and how he even disputed religion with Catholic priests and acted as a missionary to those he met on his travels, even instructing Native Americans on the doctrines of Christianity. Yet at the same time, though, he helps Dr. Irving buy slaves from his own country in Africa to set up a plantation in Jamaica. He lamented that most whites he knew were not nearly as religious as he was, and did not attend church or believe in the devil, heaven or hell. His situation was always dangerous in the West Indies for he could be taken and sold into slavery again in some other colony, which almost happened to him. Even though he was fortunate in having avoided the worst of the plantation regime in the New World, he was always fatalistic about his situation, having been dependent most of his life of powerful white masters. His life was better than that of most slaves, since he was able to read and write and even given the opportunity to purchase his own freedom, his life as a freed slave was hardly that of true freedom and equality, and in the West Indies he was always in danger of being sold back into bondage again.


Equiano, O. (1789). The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Equiano and Slavery.  (2012, February 4).  Retrieved May 23, 2019, from

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"Equiano and Slavery."  4 February 2012.  Web.  23 May 2019. <>.

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"Equiano and Slavery."  February 4, 2012.  Accessed May 23, 2019.