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.

Queen Charlotte

(1744 – 1818)

Queen Charlotte was married to King George III of Great Britain, to whom Gustavus Vassa dedicated his autobiography. She was born on May 19, 1744 at Untere Schloss (Lower Castle) in Mirow, Germany to Duke Charles Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Princess Elizabeth Albertina of Saxe-Hildburghausen. In July 1761, then 17 years old, she was betrothed to 22-year-old King George III. She arrived in England on August 14, 1761, at which time the marriage contract was signed. The official wedding was on September 8, 1761, at the Chapel Royal, St. James’s Palace. The couple had 15 children, including King George IV, King William IV, and Ernest Augustus, King of Hanover. She died on November 17, 1818.

During her 57 years as consort, Queen Charlotte was unapologetically apolitical, managing to avoid court controversy. As Queen she was modest in her display and unassuming in her royal status and instead devoted most of her time to raising and educating her children and looking after the King. She was known as charitable, founding orphanages and homes for expectant mothers, as well as being Patron of General Lying-in Hospital (now known as the Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital). She was an avid music connoisseur and amateur botanist. King George III suffered periodic mental instability, especially after 1811, so that the latter part of Queen Charlotte’s life was spent caring for her husband until her death. Various places around the world have been named after her in her commemoration including Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Queen Charlotte Sound, New Zealand.

Gustavus Vassa sent a petition to Queen Charlotte on March 21, 1788, on behalf of the population of African descent in London. The petition, which was included in his autobiography, appealed to the Queen’s benevolence and humanity, asking for freedom from slavery. Vassa’s petition was influenced by the belief in the 18th century that she had African ancestry. This notion emerged after Sir Allan Ramsay painted a portrait, which supposedly revealed “African” characteristics, features which were not replicated in the portraits of later painters. Historian, Mario de Valdes y Cocom has determined that Queen Charlotte was a descendent of Margarita de Castro e Sousa, a branch of the Portuguese Royal House of Moorish background. Valdes argues that six different lines can be traced from the Queen back to Margarita de Castro e Sousa, thus explaining her “African appearance.” However, this is not conclusive, as the term “Moor” did not always refer to black Africans. However, Queen Charlotte’s attending physician described her in his diary as having “true mulatto features.”

RELATED FILES AND IMAGES
REFERENCES

Lehman, H. Eugene. Lives of England’s Reigning and Consort Queens: England’s History through the Eyes of its Queens (Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2011).

Orr, Clarissa Campbell. “Charlotte [Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz],” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, published on September 23, 2004. .

Cocom, Mario de Valdes y. “Queen Charlotte,” PBS Frontline accessed October 11, 2018.
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/secret/famous/royalfamily.html



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

Queen

Painting by Sir Allan Ramsay (c. 1764-1769), Green Drawing Room, Buckingham Palace, Westminster, London.