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.

Augustus Keppel

1725-1786

Keppel was a British Naval officer during the Seven Years War, he also participated in the War of American Independence. Keppel was born on 25 April 1725 into a wealthy upper-class family elated to the Prince of Orange of the Netherlands. After his retirement from the Navy, Keppel served in the House of Commons from 1755 to 1782. He was court-martialed in July of 1778 due to a disagreement with Sir Hugh Palliser (1723-1769), although he was eventually found innocent. Keppel also served as First Lord of the Admiralty during the final years of the American Revolution.

Augustus was the second of fifteen children born to Anne van Keppel and Willem van Keppel, a Whig aristocrat and diplomat. He studied at Westminster School, but he was sent to sea at the age of ten in 1735 aboard the Oxford frigate, under the command of Captain William Swayle (d. 1736) heading to the coast of Guinea. He next served in the Mediterranean on the Gloucester. He was promoted to acting lieutenant for seven years in March 1742.

He was introduced to Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) in 1749. He invited him to Minorca while he was the Commodore commanding the Mediterranean fleet. Joshua was on his way to Italy to further his studies. As appreciation, Reynolds painted six portraits of Keppel along with the other officers which brought him fame and recognition. Keppel returned to England in 1751. 

Keppel served in the Seven Years’ War as Commodore of the North American station from 1751 to 1755. He served on the coast of France in 1758 in the Torbay and participated in the Battle of Quiberon Bay in November 1759. In 1757, he was one of the jurors during the court martial of John Byng (1704-1757). Keppel did not want Byng convicted, who was ultimately executed.  

Keppel commanded the taking of Goree in 1758, and in 1779, he served under Hawke in the battle of Quiberon Bay. His command at the capture of Belle Isle in 1761 brought him repute. His health was undermined in Havana due to fever which gained him further prominence, for which he received £25,000.

Keppel also commanded a ship during the American War of Independence in 1778 which was unsuccessful in halting the French from uniting its Mediterranean and Atlantic fleets. As a result Sir Charles Hardy replaced him as commander of the British fleet. In 1782, he was promoted Viscount of Elveden in the County of Suffolk. Augustus died unmarried on 2 October 1786, at the age of 61.

Vassa on Augustus Keppel in The Interesting Narrative 9th ed.

While I was here, I met with a trifling incident which surprised me agreeably. I was one day in a field belonging to a gentleman who had a black boy about my own size; this boy having observed me from his master’s house, was transported at the sight of one of his own countrymen, and ran to meet me with the utmost haste. I not knowing what he was about, turned a little out of his way at first, but to no purpose; he soon came close to me, and caught hold of me in his arms as if I had been his brother, though we had never seen each other before. After we had talked together for some time, he took me to his master’s house, where I was treated very kindly. This benevolent boy and I were very happy in frequently seeing each other, till about the month of March 1761, when our ship had orders to fit out again for another expedition. When we got ready, we joined a very large fleet at Spithead, commanded by Commodore Keppel, destined against Belle-Isle; and having a number of transport ships in company, with troops on board, to make a descent on the place, we sailed once more in quest of fame. I longed to engage in new adventures, and to see fresh wonders. (Pg. 85)

Keppel: Commodore Augustus Keppel (1725-1786), later (1782) First Viscount Keppel. During the eighteenth century, Commodore was a temporary title given to a post-captain who had the responsibilities of a rear admiral (that is, command of a division of the squadron) but, because of lack of seniority, not the rank. Belle-Isle: the siege and conquest of this island in Quiberon Bay by the combined sea and land forces under Keppel and General Studholme Hodgson, respectively, against the French garrison commanded by General Chevalier de Saint Croix took place 7 April-8 June 1761. (Caretta, Penguin ed., pg. 263, note 226)

 

Prepared by Gisoo Jafari, 23 June 2021

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REFERENCES

Bruyn, De Frans, and Shaun Regan. The Culture of the Seven Years' War: Empire, Identity, and the Arts in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014. 

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

Keppel, Augustus. The Trial of the Honourable Augustus Keppel, Admiral of the Blue Squadron, at a Court Martial Held on Board His Majesty's Ship Britannia, in Portsmouth Harbour, on Thursday, January 8. 1779, before Admiral Sir Thomas Pye, President, upon a Charge Exhibited against Him by Vice Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser, for Misconduct and Neglect of Duty ; to Which Is Annexed Several Interesting Letters and Papers Relative to the Subject ... Faithfully Taken down in Court, by Thomas Blandemor .. Portsmouth: J. Wilkes, Breadhower and Peadle, 1779. 

Keppel, Thomas. The Life of Augustus, Viscount Keppel. London, London: H. Colburn, 1842. 

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 2021-10-08 by Kartikay Chadha

Image

Captain the Honourable Augustus Keppel, 1725-86, A full-length portrait of Keppel after his shipwreck on the Maidstone in 1747 by Joshua Reynolds, circa 1752.  [Royal Museum, Greenwich.]

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