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
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.

George Whitefield

(1714 - 1770)

George Whitefield was one of the founding members of the Methodist movement and a major force in the widespread revival of evangelism in the early 18th century. He was born on December 16, 1714 in Gloucester, England, into a modest household. His father, Thomas Whitefield, and his wife, Elizabeth, owned a local inn and had seven children, six sons and one daughter. At the age of two, his father passed away and his mother subsequently re-married. As a young boy, he loved to act and perform in school plays and was often caught skipping class to practice his lines. He was mercilessly bullied by his peers for a permanent eye squint that he had developed from a bout with measles. When he was a teenager, his family fell on hard times due to his stepfather’s mismanagement of the inn’s finances and he was forced to leave school to help keep the inn afloat.

On November 7, 1732, Whitefield enrolled in Pembroke College, Oxford. He paid for his education by waiting on the university’s wealthier students. While at Oxford, he met John Wesley and his brother Charles, who ran the “Holy Club,” a group that preached self-denial, meticulous self-examination and the pursuit of a devout Christian life. Whitefield’s participation in this group marked the emergence of Methodism, whose adherents sought to reform Anglicanism by integrating a routine of personal devotion and charitable acts. The Holy Club was shunned by the Oxford community who considered the group to be “religious fanatics.” Whitefield later recounted spending days and weeks lying flat on the ground and praying constantly. After one particular fast, he became extremely ill and was forced to take a break from school to recover. Once he had regained his strength, he took over the Holy Club.

Upon graduation, he decided to join the Wesley brothers at a new colony in Georgia. After numerous delays, he temporarily abandoned the mission and was ordained as a deacon in Gloucester Cathedral on June 20, 1736. He began preaching in London to crowds who were enthralled by his unconventional sermons. He set sail for Georgia in February of 1738, arriving at the colony on May 7, 1738. Inspired by the Halle Orphanage in Germany, he returned to England after four months with plans to open a similar establishment. Construction of Bethesda Orphanage began on March 25, 1740.

In 1739, Whitefield and William Seward, his publicist and wealthy layman, embarked on a tour of the American colonies, visiting Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Conservative Anglicans criticized Whitefield and the Wesley brothers for their fervent preaching style. They saw them as potential dissenting separatists and did not welcome them in their churches. As a result, Whitefield was forced to preach in “open-air.” His enthusiastic approach to delivering his sermons attracted crowds of people, audiences which he claimed were as large as 30,000. He preached the necessity of a conversion experience, an inner regeneration brought on by the Holy Spirit, which he referred to as the “new birth.” What made Whitefield so appealing was that he extended his services to all individuals, regardless of social status or class. However, his Calvanist orientation and adherence to the idea of “predestination” eventually caused a stark theological divide within the Methodist movement and ultimately destroyed his relationship with the Wesley brothers. His arrival in America corresponded with several spiritual revivals and he became one of the most visible figures of the “Great Awakening,” a formative period in American history. He returned to England in 1741 to raise funds to build an academy at his orphanage in Georgia. That same year he married Elizabeth Burnell James with whom he had one child, who died in infancy.

At times Whitefield was conflicted about slavery. While he was by no means an abolitionist, he sought out audiences of enslaved Africans and was so widely accepted by the African community that some historians believe this period to be the origin of African-American Christianity. In 1740, he published a criticism of the treatment of enslaved Africans in the southern colonies, chastising plantation owners for their brutality. Nonetheless, he did not pass moral judgment on slavery as an institution and even blamed the financial troubles of Bethesda Orphanage on the prohibition of slavery in the colony. Georgia was unique in that under the guidance of James Oglethorpe, it had banned slavery in 1735. Between 1748 to 1750, Whitefield campaigned for new legislation and in 1751 slavery was legalized by royal decree.

He made 14 visits to Scotland. From 1744 to 1748, he preached in a number of cities in North America. At the end of his trip, he returned to England and became the personal chaplain for Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon, known for her role in establishing the “Huntingdon Connexion,” a string of Calvanist Methodist chapels throughout Britain. He then gave up his leadership of the Calvanistic Methodists. In his final years, although suffering from poor health, he made a number of trips back to America and Scotland. It was at one of these sermons in Savannah on February 10, 1765 that Gustavus Vassa first encountered the celebrated Methodist preacher and was greatly inspired by his fervour and earnestness (although Vassa mistakenly indicates the year as 1766 in his narrative). The notion of predestination was particularly compelling to black authors like Vassa whose ability to perform charitable actions would have been severely restricted by racial hierarchies. Whitefield’s religious influence on Vassa was so profound that when Vassa died on March 31, 1797, he was buried at Whitefield’s Tabernacle, a Methodist chapel built in his honour in 1756 on Tottenham Court Road in London, now the site of the American International Church. Whitefield died on September 30, 1770 in the parsonage of Old South Presbyterian Church in Newburyport, Massachusetts, following a two-hour open-air sermon. He is buried under the pulpit of the church.

RELATED FILES AND IMAGES
REFERENCES

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

Mills, Frederick V. “George Whitefield (1714-1770),” New Georgia Encyclopedia, published June 6, 2017.
https://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/arts- culture/george-whitefield-1714-1770

Packer, J. I. “George Whitefield: Sensational Evangelist of Britain and America,” in 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 63-66.

Schlenther, Boyd S. "Whitefield, George (1714-1770),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, published May 27, 2010. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb- 9780198614128-e-29281



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

George

Painting by John Wollaston (1742), National Portrait Gallery, London.