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.

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.

Matthias McNamara
Horatio Nelson
Edward Despard
James Wolfe
Robert Hodgson
King George I of Mosquito Shore
King George II of Mosquito Shore
King George III
William Pitt
Sir William Dolben
Thomas Wallace
Michael White
Thomas Steele
Mr. M’Intosh (William Macintosh)
Augustus Keppel
John Mondle
George Pitt
Captain Charles O’Hara
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.

Michael White

d. 1785

Michael White lived in the Parish of Saint Anthony in Montserrat until his death on 15 February 1785. He was British commander who defended against the successful siege of Montserrat by France during the American Revolutionary War in 1782 and then Lieutenant Governor of Montserrat from January 1784 until his death in 1785. White’s will indicates that he owned estates in St. Vincent, Dominica, and Montserrat which he left to his five daughters, three sons, and his wife, Mary Tomlinson. There is conflicting information in the documentation of his life, as White named his second son after himself, who would later name his son the same. The name apparently confused Vassa, who mistook another Michael White in King’s Bench Prison for the man. Vassa reports White’s seizure of a black man’s boat without paying him, after which Vassa noted that “extortion and rapine are poor providers; and sometime after this, the governor died in the King’s Bench, in England, as I was told, in great poverty.” However, Michael White did not die in poverty. Nor did he die in the King’s Bench Prison, for there is no record of him being incarcerated there. 

Vassa on Michael White in The Interesting Narrative 9th ed.

“King’s Bench: King’s Bench Prison for debtors. Checking the Prison Commitment Books and the Inquest Reports on deaths in the King’s Bench has not led to a certain identification of the Montserrat official to whom Equiano refers, but the fact that he relies on hearsay information, combined with some coincidences, suggests that he may be mistakenly thinking of Michael White, confirmed in 1764 as deputy lieutenant governor of Montserrat. Although White’s will shows that he died a wealthy man (PR PROB 11/1128), The Gentleman’s Magazine for February 1785 (and consequently published some time after February) says simply that on 15 February died “Hon[orable] Michael White, Lieut. Gov. of Montserrat.” Another Michael White was committed to the King’s Bench Prison on 18 April and not discharged until 29 November 1785 (PRO PRIS 5/1). Writing several years after the facts and perhaps under the influence of wishful thinking, Equiano may have confused the two Michael Whites.”

(Carretta, Penguin edition, Pg. 270, note 294)

 

Prepared by Renée Lefebvre, 28 June 2021

RELATED FILES AND IMAGES

REFERENCES

Langford, Vere. The history of the island of Antigua, one of the Leeward Caribbees in the West Indies, from the first settlement in 1635 to the present time. London: Mitchel and Hughes, 1894.

“Michael White I: Profile & Legacy Summary.” Center for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery. University College London, June 27, 2021, www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146639623  

Hards, Vaughan & Leifchild Cartographer. Montserrat, particulars of valuable Sugar Estates […]. London: Hards, Vaughan, & Leifchild, 1870. Map. https://www.loc.gov/item/2016586629/.

Vassa, Gustavus. The Interesting Narrative and Other Writings, edited with an introduction and notes by Vincent Carretta, reprint of 9th edition (London and New York: Penguin, 2003).



This webpage was last updated on 2021-10-07 by Kartikay Chadha

Image

Map of an estate for sale in the Parish of Saint Anthony, Montserrat, by Vaughan Hards and Leifchild, 1870; Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, Washington, D.C

View Image in Full screen