ASSOCIATES



Gustavus Vassa was acquainted with a number of prominent individuals, and he probably knew others for whom there is no documentary evidence. He also referred to other individuals whom he knew, especially in London, about whom little if anything known beyond Vassa's reference. There were also several associations and affiliations that referred to groups, such as the Huntingdonians, the Black Poor, the Sons of Africa, and the London Corresponding Society. By highlighting the individuals Vassa knew or possibly knew, Vassa's world expands considerably, and the list increases exponentially with his book tours and the sale of subscriptions to his autobiography, ultimately generating hundreds of individuals who purchased at least one copy of his book. Vassa's associates are divided into seven categories: Family, Slavery, Abolition, Religion, Scientific, Military and Subscribers.

Family

Family

Gustavus Vassa was born in 1745 in the Igbo region of the Kingdom of Benin, today southern Nigeria. He was the youngest son in a family of six sons and a daughter. He was stolen with his sister and sold into slavery at the age of 11. Not much is known about his Igbo family, aside from what is included in his memoir. In 1792, he married a white woman named Suzannah Cullen. The couple had two daughters, Anne Marie Vassa and Joanna Vassa. Anne Marie passed away shortly after Vassa’s death. Joanna went on to marry a congregationalist minister named Reverend Henry Bromley. The lives of his family members are detailed in this section.

Slavery

Slavery

Olaudah Equiano was kidnapped when he was about eleven or twelve and arrived in Barbados in mid 1754. During his experience as a slave before he was able to purchase his own freedom in 1767, he was associated with a number of individuals, three of whom were his owner, a Mr. Campbell in Virginia, Captain Michael Henry Pascal, and merchant Robert King. The section also includes his two closest friends during his enslavement, Richard Baker and John Annis, and King Gustavus Vasa I of Sweden, his namesake, and finally Ambrose Lace, a leading Liverpool slave trader.

Abolition

Abolition

Gustavus Vassa became a leading member of the abolitionist movement in the middle to late 1780s, publishing the first edition of his autobiography in the spring of 1789 as Parliament opened its hearings into the slave trade. This section identifies many of the individuals with whom Vassa was associated in the struggle to end the slave trade and to expose the barbarities of slavery.

Black Poor
Sons of Africa
Lord Mansfield
Granville Sharp
William Wilberforce
Thomas Clarkson
John Clarkson
Ottobah Cugoano
Ignatius Sancho
Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Thomas Hardy
Josiah Wedgwood
Queen Charlotte
James Ramsay
Anthony Benezet
Religion

Religion

Through his slave master, Michael Henry Pascal, Gustavus Vassa was introduced to the Guerin family, relatives of Pascal who were devoutly religious. The Guerin sisters taught Vassa how to read and write, and instructed him on the principles of Christianity. Under their guidance, Vassa was baptized in 1759. Six years later, in 1765, Vassa heard the famous Calvinist Methodist preacher, George Whitefield, preach in Savannah. Whitefield and the Countess of Huntingdon’s Calvinist orientation of Methodism had a profound influence on Vassa. Throughout his life, he was affiliated with many religious figures, such as the Quakers, who were one of the first organizations to take a collective stand against the institution of slavery.

Scientific

Scientific

In 1772, Gustavus Vassa was employed by Dr. Charles Irving to help him with the operation of a sea water distillation apparatus on two ships. This was the first of many scientific connections that Vassa developed over the years. He participated in an exploration of the Arctic alongside Dr. Irving and Constantine John Phipps. He was recruited to be part of a plantation scheme in the Mosquito Shore, which introduced him to Alexander Blair, an investor who was connected to distinguished chemist James Keir and the famed steam machine inventor, James Watt. As Vassa’s narrative gained popularity, his life story peaked the interest of the so-called “father of physical anthropology,” Johann Friedrich Blumenbach. The men were mutually acquainted with the President and founder of the Royal Society, Joseph Banks and met in person. These connections, among others, are detailed in this section.

Military

Military

Gustavus Vassa travelled extensively as a seaman. He fought in the Seven Years War, where he met war hero, General James Wolfe. When he eventually settled in London in the 1770s, he became deeply involved in the political sphere, landing him various government and military connections. In his fight against the institution of slavery, he wrote many letters to high ranking officials, some of which were presented in front of the House of Commons. He participated in a disastrous plantation scheme on the British-controlled Mosquito Shore, during which time he met the son of the Miskitu kings and soon to be King George II. He worked for a former government official of the short-lived Province of Senegambia, Matthias McNamara, and participated in a resettlement scheme for the black poor in the Sierra Leone peninsula. His connections with various military and government officials are listed here.

Subscribers

Subscribers

Like many other first-time authors in the 18 th century, Vassa followed a subscription-based model to secure funding for his autobiography, which he published himself. In this way, he was able to retain its copyright, a feat virtually unheard of for a black, formerly enslaved man during this period. To do so, he sold the book by subscription, convincing individuals to commit to purchasing the book prior to publication, for a discounted price. Vassa’s original list of subscribers to his first edition was 311,and by the 9th edition, it had increased to 894. This section provides a list of the subscribers for various editions of the narrative, which included many well-known abolitionists, religious figures, government officials, and others.

Thomas Hardy

(1752 - 1832)

Thomas Hardy, born on March 3, 1752, in Larbert, Stirlingshire, was a political reformer and founder of the London Corresponding Society. Hardy initially intended to pursue a vocation in clerical work but when his father died at sea in 1760, he was faced by hard times. His maternal grandfather, Thomas Walker, a local shoemaker, subsequently funded his education. After completing his education, he followed in his grandfather’s footsteps, heading to London to work as a shoemaker in the spring of 1774, just before the start of the American Revolutionary War. He was married on May 21, 1781, at St. Martin in the Fields Church to Lydia Priest, the daughter of a carpenter from Chesham, Buckinghamshire. The couple had six children, all of whom died in infancy.

In London, Hardy began meeting with a congregation of political radicals and reformists, including Gustavus Vassa, in hopes of recruiting a group of working men to campaign for the vote. In the fall of 1790, Vassa visited London and lived with Hardy and his wife following the abolition arguments in Parliament, at “No. 4 Taylor’s Buildings, St. Martin’s Lane”. On January 25, 1792, during a public meeting, the eight men in attendance decided to form the “London Corresponding Society.” Thomas Hardy and Gustavus Vassa were among the early members. With nine elected delegates, the committee called for parliamentary reform and corresponded with like-minded radical parties in Norwich and Sheffield. In October of 1793, two members of the LCS attended a conference in Edinburgh organized by Scottish reformers, these same two members were later tried for treason and sentenced to fourteen years in prison. When the LCS began to mobilize in an effort to establish a new convention that would take place in England, the British government effectively pre-empted this move, and on May 12, 1794, Hardy and eleven others were arrested and tried for high treason. Sir John Scott, attorney general, posited that because Hardy was actively involved in the summoning of a popular convention in order to undermine the legislature and executive, Hardy’s actions would eventually result in the deposition of the King. In November of 1794, Hardy and the eleven prisoners were released due to a lack of evidence. Hardy’s arrest had a chilling effect on Vassa, whose letters to Hardy were seized by government officials, which may help to explain Vassa’s public silence after 1794.

Following this event, Hardy was less involved in political reform and retired from all business in the summer of 1815. In his final years, Hardy kept a written record of the political struggles he was directly and indirectly involved with and compiled a document detailing the history of the LCS, to which he gifted to his friend and fellow reformist, Francis Place. Shortly after the Great Reform Act was passed in 1832, Hardy passed away in October of that year. His memoir, Memoir of Thomas Hardy, was published following his death.

RELATED FILES AND IMAGES
REFERENCES

Carretta, Vincent. Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-made Man (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2005).

Emsley, Clive. "Hardy, Thomas (1752–1832), radical and a founder of the London Corresponding Society," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, published October 31, 2018.

Hardy, Thomas. Memoir of Thomas Hardy, 1832, 8671287, London Corresponding Society, London.



This webpage was last updated on 18-April-2020, Fahad Q

Thomas

Portrait by an unknown engraver (1794), National Portrait Gallery, London.