ASSOCIATES



Gustavus Vassa was acquainted with a number of prominent individuals, and he probably knew others for which there is no documentary evidence. This section highlights the individuals he knew or he possibly knew. It is divided into seven categories below: 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.

Igbo Family
Susannah Cullen
Joanna Vassa Bromley
Reverend Henry Bromley
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.

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.

Reverend Henry Bromley

(1798 - 1878)


Reverend Henry Bromley was a Congregationalist minister and the husband of Gustavus Vassa’s sole surviving daughter, Joanna Vassa. Bromley was born in 1798 in Islington, London to a Protestant family with long-established non-conformist links. He was educated at Cambridge University, during which time he trained under Dr. Williams Harris to become a minister. He began conducting services in various churches in Cambridgeshire, including Trumpington, Horningsea, Landbeach, and Grantchester. It was likely at one of these churches that he met Joanna. It is well known that Gustavus Vassa was a religious man who had converted to Methodism and Joanna was likely a regular churchgoer. As a Congregationalist, Bromley would have been strongly anti-slavery. Although the decentralized nature of the religion prevented its churches from taking a united stand against the slave trade, few Congregationalists in England held slaves and, for the most part, they disapproved of the institution.
Bromley was ordained at the Independent Chapel in Appledore, Devon in June 1821. Two months later, on August 29, 1821, the couple were married at St. James Church, an Anglican parish church in Clerkenwell, London. At the time of their union, Joanna was 26 and Henry was 24. The two had lived separately prior to marriage. Joanna is believed to have been living with either Bromley’s sister or with relatives of John Audley, the co-executor of her father’s will, both of whom were witnesses at their wedding. At some point they moved to Appledore, Devon and resided there for the next five years. In 1826 or 1827, they moved to Clavering, Essex. Between 1827 and 1845, Bromley was a pastor at the Congregational Church, now the United Reformed Church. In 1829, he reported that there were 450 people in his congregation. During this time, there is record of him taking on a young boy named Joseph Harris as his apprentice; however, little else is known about his tenure as pastor. According to an 1841 census, the couple did not have children and likely never did. Bromley subsequently wrote a book on the Congregational Church and was involved in various local societies, including the Clavering Reading Society from 1827 until 1845, at which time he resigned from his position with the church. He cited his wife’s illness for his resignation, indicating that he had been very happy in Clavering. It is not known the illness that she suffered from nor did The Church Book of the Protestant Dissenters in Clavering provide any further insight into his decision to leave the pastorate.

The couple subsequently moved to London, where Bromley became involved with the Provident Society for the Widows of Dissenting Ministers, otherwise known as the Widows Fund. At some point he took up a position as the minister at the Providence chapel in Harwich. In 1851, census records indicate that he was staying with James and Mary Dere, while Joanna resided in Stowmarket, Suffolk, likely at Henry’s father’s estate, due to her poor health. Joanna moved back to London several years later, while Bromley remained in Harwich making regular trips to visit her. He was not present at his wife’s death on March 10, 1857, although it is clear from the inscription on her tomb stone at Abney Park Cemetery that she was loved and that he respected her African heritage. Bromley passed away 20 years later and was buried next to his wife on February 12, 1878.

RELATED FILES AND IMAGES

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REFERENCES

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

Dale, R.W.The History of English Congregationalism (Birmingham: Quinta Press, 2008).

Osborne, Angelina. Equiano’s Daughter: The Life of & Times of Joanna Vassa, Daughter of Olaudah Equiano, Gustavus Vassa, the African (London: Krik Krak, 2007).



This webpage was last updated on 2020-06-12 by Carly Downs

Reverend

Engraving of St. James Church, Clerkenwell, London by Joseph Skelton (1818), The British Museum, London.