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.

Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon

(1707 - 1791)

Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon, was born Selina Shirley on August 24, 1707 in North West Leicestershire, England. She was the daughter of the 2nd Earl Ferrers, an aristocrat who owned multiple estates in Northamptonshire and Leicestershire, and Lady Mary Shirley. The Countess had a difficult childhood, her parents had an unamicable separation rife with legal battles over the family’s properties and wealth, which resulted in her mother leaving their home and moving to Paris. As a child, she saw this as the ultimate betrayal and became estranged from her mother.

Upon her marriage to Theophilus Hastings, the 9th Earl of Huntingdon, in 1728, she became the Countess of Huntingdon. Judging by the couple’s letters to one another, the marriage was a happy one, although they were forced to spend lengthy periods of time apart due to her poor health, exasperated by her frequent pregnancies. Over the course of their marriage, the couple had seven children. Unfortunately, she outlived all them with the exception of her estranged daughter, Elizabeth. It is suspected that their tumultuous relationship may have been a result of Elizabeth’s refusal to adopt her mother’s religious values. Her son, Francis, who became the 10th Earl of Huntingdon, died in 1789. They too were estranged. The Countess was by no means modest in her display and lived a lavish lifestyle characteristic of her social rank and was known to spend copious amounts of money on luxurious clothing. Nonetheless, she was an active philanthropist, helping to support a school at Melbourne in Derbyshire, Coram’s Foundling Hospital, and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK), as well as funding missionary work in America. As a young noblewoman, she was described as hot-headed and ill-tempered.

Not much is known about what influenced her decision to convert to Methodism; however, it is thought that her sister-in-law’s conversion, as well as her recovery from a period of illness while pregnant with her last child, likely played a role. In 1739, she joined John Wesley’s Methodist society in Fetter Lane, London. Her wealth, knack for organization, and religious devotion, made her invaluable to Wesley, as well as a key figure in the early years of the Methodist movement.

Her husband’s sudden death in 1746, after 18 years of marriage, is said to have had a deep emotional impact on the Countess, whom, some 45 years later, still wept at the mention of his name. Following his death, she devoted herself entirely to the Methodist cause. She became preoccupied with attempting to convert the upper classes of English society to Methodism, leveraging her wealth and social position to do so. While she never preached herself, she led numerous missionary expeditions across England. In 1748, she hired the enthusiastic Methodist preacher, George Whitefield, as her personal chaplain, encouraging him to give up his leadership in the Calvinistic wing of the Revival. During the 1750s, she became increasingly close to the Wesley brothers and other evangelical leaders, the majority of whom were Anglican clergy associated with Calvinism. In 1761, she opened a chapel at Brighton, the first of 64 chapels that would come to be known as “The Huntingdon Connexion.” A few years later, she founded Trevecca House, a training college for preachers, in Brecknockshire, Wales. Upon Whitefield’s death in 1770, she inherited his estates in Georgia and South Carolina as well as the enslaved
Africans who worked for him. In 1779, the Church of England ruled that her Methodist ministers should be removed from their offices, and as a result she was forced to take refuge under the Toleration Act and to register her chapels as dissenting places of worship. She remained an active member of the Methodist movement until her death in 1791. Many of her chapels are still in operation.

Her association with Gustavus Vassa developed because of Vassa’s belief in predestination, a fundamental feature of the Countess’s religious persuasion which distinguished her form of Methodism from that of the Wesley brothers. While it is likely that Vassa never met the Countess, she was one of many religious benefactors and philanthropic abolitionists to financially support his autobiography, presumably due to his advocating religious views consistent with her own.

RELATED FILES AND IMAGES
REFERENCES

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

Harding, Alan. Selina, Countess of Huntingdon (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2007).

Harding, Alan. The Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion: A Sect in Action in Eighteenth-Century England (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2003).

Schlenther, Boyd S. Queen of the Methodists (Durham, EG: Durham Academic Press, 1997).

Wright, Helen. Lady Huntington and Her Circle (New York City, NY: American Tract Society, 1853).



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

Selina

Painting by unknown artist (1770), National Portrait Gallery, London.