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.

James Wolfe

(1727 - 1759)

James Wolfe was a national hero in Britain. He rose to acclaim as an officer of the British Army during the conquest of Quebec from the French in 1759, an event that led to British supremacy throughout Canada. He was born on January 2, 1727 at Westerham, Kent. He was the son of renowned general Edward Wolfe and therefore was given his first commission at an early age. Wolfe took part in the suppression of the Jacobite Rebellion while in service in Flanders and in Scotland. His service brought him to the attention of his superiors and advanced his career greatly. Wolfe was stationed in a garrison in the Scottish Highlands for eight years after the peace treaty of 1748.

With the outbreak of the Seven Years War in 1756 Wolfe was promoted to Colonel and stationed in Canterbury to protect Kent county from French invasion. He served as Quartermaster General in the failed 1757 raid on Rochefort, a seaport on the French Atlantic coast, in 1757. The attempted seizure of Rochefort sought to relieve pressure on German allies who were under attack. Though the raid was not successful, Wolfe was recognized for the guidance he provided to commander Sir John Mourdant, urging him into action and facilitating an expedition ashore to scope the terrain.

These impressive acts garnered the attention of British Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder. Wolfe was appointed second in command in the quest to capture the Fortress of Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island in 1758. The siege was a success. Wolfe was recognized for his role in the preparations for the attack, including the landing and the assertive development of siege batteries. He was appointed commander of a new force that sought to capture Quebec City. The assault on Quebec City lasted three months. To intimidate French-Canadian civilians, Wolfe released a manifesto, which proved to be counter-productive, as it resulted in more civilian resistance against the British. Wolfe orchestrated an attack on Quebec City in which 4,400 men in small boats landed along the banks of the St. Lawrence River. They scaled the cliffside in the early hours of September 13, 1759 and took the French by surprise. In a major battle on the Plains of Abraham, the French were quickly defeated, but Wolfe was shot three times, including one fatal shot in his chest. Following the successful siege and his death, Wolfe received acclaim for the defeat of the French force under Marquis de Montcalm. His body was transported back to Britain on the HMS Royal William. He was buried in a family vault in St. Alfege Church, Greenwich.

Gustavus Vassa became involved in the Seven Years War after he was sold to Royal Navy lieutenant, Michael Henry Pascal in 1754. On January 27, 1758, Pascal was appointed sixth lieutenant on the HMS Namur, a 90-gun second rate flagship commanded by Admiral Edward Boscawen. Gustavus Vassa accompanied Pascal on the ship and also served as a “powder monkey,” hauling gunpowder from the powder magazine to the gun deck. This position led him to write an eyewitness account of Wolfe’s time on board the Namur. Vassa described the events leading up to the Siege of Louisbourg and the fall of the city to the British. Vassa confirms the popular perception of Wolfe as a well-liked, affable man. In his account, Vassa reported that Wolfe “often honoured me, as well as the other boys, with marks of his notice; and saved me once a flogging for fighting with a young gentleman.” While Vassa did not date this experience, it likely took place on May 28, 1758, when Brigadier General Lawrence, Major General Amherst and Wolfe were on board.



Brumwell, Stephen. Paths of Glory: The Life and Death of General James Wolfe (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2007).

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

Corbett, J. S. The Seven Years War: A Study in British Combined Strategy (London: The Folio Society, 2001).

Duffill, Mark. “Gustavus Vassa and the Seven Years War. A Revised Commentary, Part I,” unpublished report, October 25, 2010.

Duffill, Mark. “Gustavus Vassa and the Seven Years War. A Revised Commentary, Part II,” unpublished report, January 28, 2011.

Stacey, C. P. “Wolfe, James,” in Francess G. Halpenny and Jean Hamelin, eds., Dictionary of Canadian Biography (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974).

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


Portrait of James Wolfe by J.S.C Schaak (1767). Primary Collection, National Portrait Gallery, London.