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.

The Huntingdonians


Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon, was the patroness of a dissenting group of Methodists in the Calvinist tradition. Her followers, referred to as Huntingdonians, were initially allied with the Methodists led by John and Charles Wesley. The Methodists preached self-denial, meticulous self-examination and the pursuit of a devout Christian life. Its leaders sought to reform Anglicanism by integrating a routine of personal devotion and charitable acts and were thus deemed dissenting separatists. By the late 1770s the Methodists were systematically excommunicated from the Anglican church. Whitefield and the Wesley brothers were often not welcome in churches and were forced to preach “open-air” sermons. Whitefield in particular preached the necessity of the conversion experience, an inner regeneration brought on by the Holy Spirit, which he referred to as the “new birth.” He embraced the doctrine of predestination, the belief that God had preordained certain individuals to eternal salvation, and others, in just punishment for their sins, to eternal damnation. Whitefield identified as Calvinist whereas the Wesley brothers identified as Arminians, leading to disagreements within the sect concerning the doctrine of predestination, Christian perfection and limited atonement. This stark theological divided the movement. Whitefield championed the Calvinistic Methodists. In 1742, he officiated at their first meeting as a denomination in England and in 1743 attended their first meeting in Wales.

Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon, an important figure in the early years of the Methodist movement, embraced the same Calvinistic orientation. Familiar with both the Wesleys and Whitefield, she leaned toward Whitefield’s doctrines and made him her personal chaplain in 1748. In 1761, she opened her own chapel at Brighton. Her network grew to include 64 chapels and in 1783, eight years before her death, the series of chapels were formally recognized as “The Huntingdon Connexion.” Those who attended sermons at the chapels were known as “Huntingdonian Methodists.”

As the Connexion expanded, Huntingdonians felt it necessary to choose between the Connexion and the Anglican Church. The Connexion was deemed a “dissenting body” that had its own articles of faith and differed in organization from the mainstream church. The Huntingdonian “Fifteen Articles of Faith” were a collation of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Shorter Catechism and the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England and embodied a Calvinistic Methodist theology. The Connexion hosted enthusiastic daily prayers and revival meetings with ministers who followed the same fervent preaching style as Whitefield. They highlighted the role of God in daily life and the importance of following one’s inner light, a notion that stood in direct opposition to the traditional Anglican conception of salvation through religious ceremony.

The Countess of Huntingdon had a profound influence in the evangelical fold of the 18th century, with connections reaching beyond England and Wales, into America, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Her followers supported the Methodist teachings of individual communication with God, equality of men as sinners, and personal humility, which greatly appealed to Black Loyalists at the time. In 1785, the Countess recruited John Marrant, a Calvinist Methodist preacher and freeborn black, for a missionary project in Nova Scotia. In 1784, Marrant had received a letter from his brother, highlighting the need to spread Christian knowledge amongst the Black Loyalist community relocated to Nova Scotia. This letter piqued the interest of the Countess, resulting in Marrant’s ordination on May 15, 1785 at Vineyard’s Chapel, Bath, England. He arrived in Nova Scotia on November 20, 1785 and established a ministry with 40 families in Birchtown. His work extended beyond the black community in Birchtown, preaching to the Micmacs and to black settlements in the province. At the time that the Huntingdonians joined other Nova Scotia blacks in resettling to Sierra Leone, the Huntingdonian Chapel in Birchtown was under the direction of Cato Perkins and William Ash. Since virtually the whole community decided to emigrate, the congregation fell apart in January of 1792. The Huntingdonians were among the 1,200 Black Loyalists who left Halifax for Sierra Leone. The Huntingdonian community then established churches and schools in Sierra Leone.

Gustavus Vassa was greatly inspired by the fervour and earnestness of the Calvinist Methodist preachers, having first encountered Whitefield at one of his sermons in Savannah on February 10, 1765 (although Vassa mistakenly indicates the year as 1766 in his narrative). The notion of predestination was particularly compelling to black authors, such as Phyllis Wheatly, Morrant, Robert Wedderburn and others, who were 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 Whitefield’s honour in 1756 on Tottenham Court Road in London, now the site of the American International Church. The Countess of Huntingdon was also one of the many religious benefactors and philanthropic abolitionists to support his autobiography financially, presumably due to his advocating religious views consistent with her own.

RELATED FILES AND IMAGES

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REFERENCES

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

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

Whytock, J. C. “The Huntingdonian Mission to Nova Scotia, 1782-1791: A Study in Calvinistic Methodism,” Canadian Society of Church History, (2003), 150-170.



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

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Wood engraving of The Countess of Huntingdon's first chapel at Brighton from J. G. Bishop's A Peep into the Past: Brighton in the Olden Time (1880).