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.

John Marrant

(1755 - 1791)

John Marrant was a freeborn black American author and minister of the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion. He was born on June 15, 1755 in New York City, but when his father died in 1759, he moved to St. Augustine, Florida, where he attended school until he was 10 or 11. His family then moved to Georgia and eventually settled in Charleston, South Carolina. He received classical training in the French horn and dance, spending two years to complete an apprenticeship in an unknown trade. In 1769 when he was 13, Marrant encountered the Calvinistic Methodist preacher, George Whitefield, and experienced his religious awakening. Whitefield was preaching open-air sermons in Charleston on his last southern tour. Marrant and a black friend attended one of Whitefield’s sermons with the intent of causing a disruption by blaring Marrant’s French horn so loud that the noise would drown out Whitefield’s preaching. However, Marrant was so taken by Whitefield’s sermon that he abandoned his disruptive intent. Three weeks later he confirmed his conversion to the distress of his family, which opposed his new-found religious devotion, which caused him to leave his mother’s home and set out on a journey into the wilderness.

Marrant found himself in Cherokee territory. Initially, he was not welcomed and was in danger of being executed, but the Cherokee eventually allowed him to live among them for two years. He became the first black missionary to the Cherokee and converted several of them to Methodism prior to returning to South Carolina. Upon the outbreak of the American War for Independence, Marrant joined the British Navy as a musician. He was involved in the 1780 siege of Charleston and the 1781 siege off Dogger Bank, where he was wounded. He was discharged in England where he obtained a job with a cotton merchant in London for three years. It was during his time in London that Marrant became a member of the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion, a network of 64 dissenting meetinghouses that practiced Calvinistic Methodism.

In 1784, Marrant received a letter from his brother, one of 3,500 black Loyalists relocated to Nova Scotia after the war of American independence, in which he outlined the need for Christian knowledge within his community. This piqued the interest of the Countess of Huntingdon, who decided that she would send Marrant to Nova Scotia as a missionary. On May 15, 1785, Marrant was ordained in England at Vineyard’s Chapel, Bath, as a minister of the Connexion. He then became the first black Calvinistic Methodist missionary to be sent to Nova Scotia. After his arrival in Nova Scotia on November 20, 1785, he established a ministry of 40 families in Birchtown. His work extended beyond the black community, preaching to the Micmac and to black settlements elsewhere in Nova Scotia as well as a few white congregations. During his time in Nova Scotia, Marrant ordained two black men, Cato Perkins and William Ash, as preachers. He taught over 100 children in the Birchtown school, preaching four times a week. By late November of 1786, he had become exhausted with his schedule and relinquished control of the school and his congregation to his successors. In 1787 he travelled to Boston, shortly after returning to Nova Scotia to marry black loyalist, Elizabeth Herries, at the Birchtown Chapel on August 15, 1788. In 1789, he believed his mission in Nova Scotia to be fulfilled and returned to England. Perkins and Ash continued to spread the Huntingdonian cause; however, the congregation was depleted in January of 1792 when 1,200 Black loyalists left Halifax for Sierra Leone to join the settlement for formerly enslaved Africans.

Marrant is perhaps best known for his 1785 publication, A Narrative of the Lord’s Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, A Black, an account of his experience with the Cherokee Nation and his Methodist ministry amongst the black loyalists of Nova Scotia. It appeared in at least 21 different printings and was translated into Welsh. The initial purpose of the narrative was to promote the missionary project in Nova Scotia, but Marrant transformed his account into an extraordinary tale of his captivity among the Cherokee. While some say the narrative is embellished, it, nonetheless, sold well. His struggle as a black man in a predominantly white country in which slavery remained legal, resonated within the literary world. It is also considered to be one of the most popular captivity stories ever published.

While it is unknown whether Gustavus Vassa and John Marrant ever met, they are considered among the most famous of early black writers. Marrant subscribed to Vassa’s second London edition in late 1789. The two authors also shared the same editor, the Reverend William Aldridge. As black men, Vassa and Marrant were likely attracted to Whitefield’s orientation of Methodism for similar reasons. Evangelical Methodists saw all individuals, regardless of their social stature, as sharing in salvation. The Calvinistic doctrine of predestination in which salvation was not dependent on charitable contributions or attendance at church was appealing to formerly enslaved Africans and freeborn blacks whose ability to perform such acts would have been severely restricted.

Marrant continued his ministry at the main Huntingdonian chapel in Islington until his death on April 15, 1791, at which time he was buried in the churchyard. After his passing, publishers changed the title of autobiography, omitting reference to his identity as a black man and lightening the colour of his skin in his portrait, likely wishing to avoid the controversy surrounding slavery and highlight the heroic story of Methodist progress.

RELATED FILES AND IMAGES

No Data Found

REFERENCES

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

Walker, James W. St. G. “MARRANT, JOHN,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography 4 (1979).

Whytock, J. C. “The Huntingdonian Mission to Nova Scotia, 1782-1791: A Study in Calvinistic Methodism,” Canadian Society of Church History (2003), 149-170.



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

John

Portrait by unknown artist (1795), Fitz Museum, Cambridge.