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.

Nova Scotians

(c. 1792)

The Nova Scotian settlers in Sierra Leone were formerly enslaved Africans who were known as black loyalists because they had joined British forces during the American War of Independence after 1776. Upon the British defeat in 1783, almost 3000, mostly from Virginia, were evacuated to Halifax, Nova Scotia, with many living in Birchtown initially. Their names were recorded in the handwritten ledger, the Book of Negroes. Other settlers arrived from South Carolina and a small number from Maryland, Georgia and North Carolina. Another 400 blacks were relocated to Nova Scotia from London, and a group of 600 exiled Jamaican Maroons followed in 1796, eventually settling in the Preston Township.

Upon arrival in Canada, the settlers faced discrimination and harsh living conditions. They were paid lower wages than white loyalists, received less land, and were granted fewer provisions. Further, many black settlers became indebted and were required to sign legal documents that provided their “indentured servitude” to an employer for a fixed period. To pay off debts they worked as agricultural laborers, domestics and seafarers and were bound to contracts that resembled their former enslavement in America and Britain.

For this reason, approximately 1,192 Nova Scotian settlers emigrated to Sierra Leone in 1792 under the auspices of the Sierra Leone Company. The main objective was to create a peaceful colony where the settlers could live in freedom. Fifteen ships left Halifax on January 15, 1792 and arrived in Sierra Leone between February 28 and March 9 founding Free Town. The Nova Scotians initially settled along five streets: Rawdon, Wilberforce, Howe, East, and Charlotte Street.

Some black loyalists remained in Nova Scotia and are the ancestors of the oldest black community in Canada. Despite ongoing inequalities, the settlers created a vibrant community that was centered on Baptist churches and schools.

RELATED FILES AND IMAGES

No Data Found

REFERENCES

“African Nova Scotians in the Age of Slavery and Abolition," Nova Scotia Archives, published December 04, 2003.
https://novascotia.ca/archives/africanns/

"The Story of Africa, " BBC News, accessed April 15, 2019.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03njn4f/episodes/player

Cromwell, Misty, and Tony Pace. "Black Loyalists," Black Loyalists, accessed April 15, 2019.
http://blackloyalist.com/cdc/index.htm

Tattrie, Jon. "Africville," Encyclopædia Britannica, published December 13, 2018.
https://www.britannica.com/place/Africville



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

Nova

Painting of Black Loyalist wood cutter by Captain William Booth (1788), Nova Scotia Museum Archives, Halifax.