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
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.

William Pitt

(1759 – 1806)

William Pitt, otherwise known as the "Younger Pitt," was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1783 to 1801, serving a second term from 1804 until his death in 1806. He was born on May 28, 1759 at his family home, Hayes Place in Kent. He was the fourth child and second son of William Pitt and his wife Hester. His father was the first Earl of Chatham and served as Prime Minister from 1766 to 1768. From a young age, the Younger Pitt was a talented debater. In April of 1773 at 14 years old, he enrolled in Pembroke College in Cambridge. He read extensively, was interested in chemistry and was a skilled mathematician; however, his primary interest was politics. Pitt graduated when he was 17. By summer 1780 he had begun practicing as a barrister at Lincoln's Inn. Following the dissolution of Parliament that year, he contested the University of Cambridge seat but lost. Fortunately, through his acquaintance with the Duke of Rutland, he was offered the Westmorland borough of Appleby at the age of 21. In 1782, under Lord Shelburne, who succeeded as prime minister in July 1782, Pitt was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer.

For the next few years, Parliament was engaged in constant conflict with King George III and Charles James Fox, the foreign secretary. Fox refused to serve under Lord Shelburne, whose colonial policy he believed to be unjust and oppressive, which greatly angered the King. However, when Fox allied with Lord North and defeated the government, the King was forced to allow them to take power. In December 1783, King George III dismissed the coalition and requested that Pitt form a government. On July 10, 1783 at the age of 24, Pitt became Britain's youngest Prime Minister. Pitt made substantial contributions throughout his tenure. His government sought to restore finances that the American War of Independence and war with France had undermined. From 1784 to 1793, Pitt was able to reduce the national debt by £10 million. He introduced Britain's first income tax and decreased the incidence of smuggling and fraud. In 1788, he formed the Triple Alliance with Prussia and the Netherlands, thus securing allies in the event of war. In 1790, he negotiated a peace agreement between Austria and Turkey.

Pitt was sympathetic to the abolitionist cause. In 1781, he suggested that William Wilberforce, the MP for Yorkshire, investigate the abolition of the slave trade. For the next five years, Pitt was an adamant supporter of Wilberforce's fight for the eradication of slavery. He utilized his ministerial facilities to assist the abolitionists. He provided information from customs, ordered a report by the committee of trade, and sought cooperation from foreign powers such as France at the time that Gustavus Vassa was writing his autobiography. On April 25, 1789, Pitt presided over the Parliamentary enquiry into the slave trade, which included documentary evidence and testimony. The letter that Vassa wrote to Lord Hawkesbury, the foreign secretary, on March 13, 1788 was one such document. In the letter, Vassa argued that commercial relationships between Britain and Africa would benefit from the abolition of the slave trade if the trade in people was abandoned in favour of a trade in goods. Pitt continued as Prime Minister until February 3, 1801, returned on May 10, 1804, but died on January 23, 1806. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.

RELATED FILES AND IMAGES

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REFERENCES

Aspinall, Arthur C.V.D., "William Pitt, the Younger: Prime Minister of United Kingdom," Encyclopaedia Britannica, published July 28, 1999.

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

Ehrman, J.P.W. and Anthony Smith, "Pitt, William [known as Pitt the Younger]," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, published September 23, 2004.



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

William

Portrait by John Hoppner (1804), Cowdray Park, Midhurst.