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.

Boston King
George Whitefield
John Marrant
Nova Scotians
Quakers
Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon
The Huntingdonians
Wesleyan Methodists
Phillis Wheatly
James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw
Robert Lowth
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.

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.

Boston King

(c. 1760 - 1802)

Boston King was one of the first black loyalists and Methodist missionaries to settle in Sierra Leone in 1791, as well as being a prominent author. He was born into slavery on the Richard Waring plantation, 28 miles from Charleston, South Carolina around 1760 and worked as a house servant until the age of 16. His father had been enslaved in Africa. Waring became attached to him and trained him in management as a driver. His mother was a nurse and seamstress. When King was 16 years old, he was apprenticed to a carpenter, who treated him cruelly and inflicted frequent beating. King fled to the British when they occupied Charleston in 1780. After recovering from smallpox, a servant for several British officers prior to joining the army and working as a carpenter. He participated in a campaign through enemy lines to reinforce 250 besieged British soldiers at Nelson’s Ferry near Eutawville in South Carolina. He also served as a crewmember on a British man-of-war and was involved in the capture of a rebel ship in Chesapeake Bay.

As the war drew to a close, King, along with thousands of loyalists, sought refuge in New York City, the strongest post held by the British. King and other black loyalists were encouraged to work as servants for the British authorities. In 1781, King married a woman named Violet, a fellow runaway who had escaped servitude under Colonel Young of Wilmington, North Carolina. In late 1782, the Americans and British reached a preliminary peace agreement, which required the British to return all forms of American property, including enslaved Africans. This caused profound anxiety for King and other black loyalists who feared re-enslavement. British negotiator and commander-in-chief, Sir Guy Carleton, argued that this need not apply to black loyalists who were considered free at the time of the agreement. Carleton prevailed and King was among the 5000 black loyalists to be issued certificates guaranteeing their freedom. Between April 26 and November 30 of 1783, 3000 black loyalists departed for Port Roseway, Nova Scotia.

King, now 23, and his wife, boarded the ship L’Abondance and sailed for Port Roseway on July 31, 1783. They arrived at the Birchtown settlement on August 27, 1783. A muster held in January of 1784 showed that Birchtown had a population of 1,521 blacks, making it the largest free black settlement in North America. During the winter of 1783, various Methodist missionaries arrived in Birchtown, contributing to a great religious revival. The settlement became the largest Methodist society in Nova Scotia. King’s wife, Violet, was the first settler to convert to Methodism, inspired by the sermons of Moses Wilkinson, a black loyalist and Birchtown’s leading Wesleyan Methodist. In early 1785, King also converted. He began to preach across Birchtown and Shelburne. In 1791, he became the primary preacher for the black settlement at Preston near Halifax.

King had a strong desire to spread “the knowledge of Christianity” amongst his African brothers and in 1791, him and his wife joined a number of black Nova Scotians who were emigrating to the new colony of free blacks in Sierra Leone. A fleet of 15 ships left Nova Scotia for Sierra Leone in January of 1792. Shortly after arriving in Freetown, Violet contracted a fever and died. King survived to become the first Methodist missionary in Africa.

In 1794, King was sent to England to attend the Kingswood School near Bristol and improve his religious qualifications. He spent two years in England, during which time he published an autobiography in 1796, titled Memoirs of the Life of Boston King. It is one of only three autobiographies written by black Nova Scotians between 1600 and 1900. He returned to Sierra Leone in September 1796 to work as a teacher, although he soon became dissatisfied with his work. Around 1798, along with his second wife Peggy, King travelled one hundred miles south to become a missionary among the Sherbo people. The couple passed away in 1802.

It is unknown whether Gustavus Vassa and Boston King ever met. Like Vassa, King escaped the treacheries of slavery and wrote a biography about his life, although King’s memoirs did not receive the same degree of recognition as Vassa’s. Vassa was also a Methodist but of the Huntingdonian Connexion. As black men, Vassa and King were likely attracted to Methodism for similar reasons. Evangelical Methodists saw all individuals, regardless of their social stature, as sharing in salvation. While Huntingdonian Methodists such as George Whitefield did not outrightly condemn slavery, the Wesleyan Methodists saw slavery as wholly incompatible with Christianity.

RELATED FILES AND IMAGES

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REFERENCES

Blakeley, Phyllis R. “Boston King: A Negro loyalist who sought refuge in Nova Scotia,” Dalhousie Review, (1968), 347-356.

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

Walker, James W. St. G. “King, Boston,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography 5 (1983).

Whitehead, Ruth Holmes and Carmelita A. M. Robertson. The Life of Boston King: Black Loyalist, Minister and Master Carpenter (Halifax, NS: Nimbus Publishing Ltd., 2003).



This webpage was last updated on 18-April-2020, Fahad Q

Boston

Title page of Boston King's Memoirs of the Life of Boston King (1796).