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.

John Clarkson

(1764 - 1828)

John Clarkson, the younger brother of leading abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, was born on April 4, 1964 in the old Grammar School in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. John was named after his father, Reverend John Clarkson, who was also the headmaster of the free grammar school where he and his two siblings, Thomas and Anne, were born. In 1777 at the age of 12, John was recruited by the Royal Army and became a young gentleman on Captain Joshua Rowley’s ship, the HMS Monarch. He served on nine different ships during the War of American Independence, defending the West Indies. Facing scant prospects of promotion following the end of the war in 1783, John returned home as a half-pay lieutenant.

At this time, John’s brother Thomas Clarkson was becoming involved in the abolitionist cause. In 1786 with the help of Quaker bookseller James Phillips, Thomas published his landmark An Essay of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, Particularly the African. Its publication led to the creation of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, which made headway when it gained the support of the MP of Yorkshire, William Wilberforce. The 12 founding members were Quakers, with the exception of Thomas Clarkson, Granville Sharp, and Philip Sansom. John Clarkson was inspired by the crusade having witnessed the brutality of flogging as punishment in the Navy and subsequently having spent six months studying the French slave trade at Le Havre from 1788 to 1789. He became actively involved in the abolitionist cause, helping his brother to edit his writings and was elected as a committee member in 1791.

That same year, the Sierra Leone Company was incorporated through an act of Parliament after Thomas Peters, a black loyalist from Nova Scotia, requested assistance to establish a second settlement in the ruins of the Granville Town colony that was destroyed in 1789. Thomas became a board member and John a shareholder in the company. To recruit settlers for the new venture, John travelled to Halifax to appeal to the black loyalists of Nova Scotia to re-settle in Sierra Leone. His efforts were supported by Peters and appealed especially to the many Nova Scotians who adhered to the Huntingdonian Connexion, with which Gustavus Vassa was also associated. Clarkson’s recruitment resulted in the departure on January 15, 1792, of 15 vessels, carrying 1196 free black Nova Scotians which reached Sierra Leone on March 6th of that year. The voyage was full of hardships. Sickness resulted in 67 deaths and John himself almost died. The friendship with Peters dissolved, although the majority of settlers rallied behind John, whom they referred to as their “Moses.” The “Freetown” settlement was established in February 1792 and John was named its governor. The majority of the settlers saw the colony as a “promised land of freedom” but were soon confronted with issues of rampant corruption and unequal land distribution. Disillusioned with his role as governor, Clarkson returned to England on December 29, 1792. On April 24, 1793 he was dismissed from his position following a series of disputes with the company directors. He never returned to Sierra Leone, although he continued to donate money to the colony. John and many of the shareholders in the Sierra Leone Company, including chairman, Henry Thornton, were among Gustavus Vassa’s original subscribers to his autobiography. Following his dismissal, John was no longer an active participant in the abolitionist movement.

On April 24, 1793 John married Susan Lee, the daughter of a wealthy banker. The couple moved to Purfleet in Essex and John took charge of a large estate that belonged to a local brewer named Mr. Whitbread. He also became the manager of Whitbread’s chalk and lime quarry. The couple had ten children, only four of whom outlived John. In 1820, he left the Whitbread Company and became a banker at Woodbridge in Suffolk, not far from where his brother lived in Playford. In 1828, John passed away from heart disease and was buried in St. Mary’s churchyard. His last words were in reference to his brother’s work as an abolitionist. He indicated that “it is dreadful to think, after my brother and his friends have been labouring for forty years, that such things should still be”.

RELATED FILES AND IMAGES
REFERENCES

Brogan, Hugh. "Clarkson, Thomas (1760–1846), Slavery Abolitionist," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, published May 19, 2011. https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-5545

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

“John Clarkson and Sierra Leone,” The Clarkson Society, accessed March 14, 2019. http://www.thomasclarkson.org/



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

John Portrait by unknown artist (n.d.)