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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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


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.

Horatio Nelson

(1758 - 1805)

Horatio Nelson was born on September 29, 1758 in Burnham Thorpe, England to Reverend Edmund Nelson and Catherine Suckling. Nelson was a prominent British naval commander in the Royal Navy and was instrumental in the victories of the Nile (1798) and Trafalgar (1805) battles against Napoleonic France. Nelson was born as the sixth of 11 children. During his early years, he studied at Paston Grammar School in North Walsham, later going to Norwich school before formally joining the Royal Navy in 1771.

When Nelson joined the navy, he was 12 years old and was assigned to service a ship commanded by his maternal uncle, HMS Reasonable. During this time, he took part in the operations against Spanish settlements in the Bay of Honduras. Central America became a prime target once Spain formally joined France in alliance with the American revolutionaries. Though the expedition proved to be successful, virtually the entire British force was wiped out by yellow fever and Nelson was lucky to have survived. At the age of 20, Nelson became a captain. He was first acquainted with Gustavus Vassa on a scientific expedition under the command of Constantine Phipps to the Arctic in 1773. The expedition included Dr. Charles Irving, a scientist renowned for his work on water purification to whom Vassa was contracted.

In 1777, Nelson passed the lieutenant examination and sailed for the West Indies, which was the most active assembly in the war against the American colonies. Following the cessation of the US revolutionary wars, Nelson found himself out of work due to the financial cutbacks in the navy. Nonetheless, he developed a reputation as a noble commander, who was bold and courageous. These qualities would prove to be especially beneficial in his later battles, particularly the Battle of Trafalgar for which he is most known.

During his time off, Nelson met and married Frances Nisbet, and in 1787 returned to England with her. Several years later in Naples, he fell in love with another woman, Lady Emma Hamilton, with whom he had a long and public affair. A child was born out of wedlock.

Nelson returned to active service following the start of the French revolutionary wars and was involved in key battles in the Mediterranean. He achieved a number of victories during this period, specifically the Battle of Copenhagen (1801). Though he was initially ordered to withdraw all naval vessels, Nelson ignored the command, and as such, gained a notable victory. Following this triumph, he was appointed vice-admiral in 1801.

From 1794 to 1805, the Royal Navy proved its supremacy over the French under Nelson’s leadership. His most famous victory at Cape Trafalgar saved Britain when it was under threat of invasion in 1805. Under his command, France was defeated, but Nelson was killed by a French sniper on October 20, 1805. Nelson was given a grand funeral in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and several monuments were erected in his honor.


No data found.


"History - Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson," BBC, accessed April 11, 2019.

Pettinger, Tejvan. “Biography of Lord Nelson”, Biography Online, published September 7, 2012.

Pocock, Tom. "Horatio Nelson," Encyclopædia Britannica, published July 20, 1998.

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


Portrait by Lemuel Francis Abbott (1799), Greenwich Hospital Collection, London.