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.

Wesleyan Methodists


The Wesleyan Methodists were a branch of the Methodist movement founded by brothers, John and Charles Wesley, of whom John was most influential and unless otherwise noted is referred to as Wesley here. In 1729, John and Charles formed the Holy Club at Oxford University, a group that preached self-denial, meticulous self-examination, and the pursuit of a devout Christian life. The group met three to four times a week to eat and pray together. On November 7, 1732, George Whitefield enrolled in Pembroke College where he met the Wesley brothers and joined the Holy Club. His participation in the group marked the emergence of Methodism. The group would spend days and weeks lying flat on the ground, fasting and praying constantly. The club members sought to reform Anglicanism by integrating a routine of personal devotion and charitable acts; however, they were largely shunned by the Oxford community, considered “religious fanatics.” Conservative Anglicans were initially suspicious of the impassioned Methodists whom they regarded as potential dissenting separatists from the Church. John Wesley and Whitefield were often criticized for their enthusiastic preaching styles and for preaching to the lower classes of society. In 1735, Wesley went to the colony of Georgia to become the minister of a new parish. He believed that in the wilderness of Georgia he would be free from temptations and could save his own soul while simultaneously converting the indigenous people in the area. His ministry in Savannah lasted two years and was ultimately unsuccessful. The colonial settlers did not care for his sermons, and he was prevented from making contact with the indigenous community. Wesley therefore decided to leave the colony and return home. Back in London, he joined a religious society led by the Moravian Christians and experienced his evangelical conversion. It was this conversion that influenced him to begin his own ministry.

Both Whitefield and Wesley traveled extensively, preaching “open-air sermons” outdoors in order to reach those who were excluded from the Church. During the first decade of the movement, Whitefield was more influential within the Methodist movement than Wesley because he was considered a more powerful orator. He also benefited from the financial and organizational support of the Countess of Huntingdon, Selina Hastings. As the movement grew, however, the Wesley brothers became more influential. The brothers embraced a more liberal, Arminian interpretation of the requirements for salvation than that of Whitefield and the Countess. Arminians, named after Jacobus Arminius, held that all individuals could be saved as long as they believed in God and repented their sins. Contrary to the Calvinistic Methodists, Arminians did not believe that God had arbitrarily chosen a select few Christians who could achieve salvation. The Wesley brothers thought that everyone could develop a personal relationship with God and experience His love during their lives. John Wesley held the Holy Scripture in high regard and drew all of his sermons from the Bible, which he saw as the ultimate authority. Arminians and Calvinists agreed that in order to achieve personal salvation a person had to acknowledge being a sinner undeserving of God’s forgiveness, but they diverged on the doctrine of predestination, causing a stark theological divide within the movement. Whitefield and the Wesley brothers subsequently fell out of contact.

John Wesley became the predominant figure in the Wesleyan Methodist movement. He travelled across Britain offering sermons to whomever would listen. It is estimated that he rode 250,000 miles and delivered more than 40,000 sermons. As his following grew, he founded various chapels, the first of which was in Bristol in 1739. He also established a formal list of rules for the unity of Methodists. He was an exceptional speaker, superb organizer and publicist. He published his own sermons and those of other Methodist preachers. In 1778, he began the Arminian Magazine, which was renamed Methodist Magazine following his death in 1791. In 1784, Wesley began ordaining preachers with authority to conduct the sacraments. This initiative further distanced the Wesleyan Methodists from the Anglican Church, which believed only Anglican bishops had the power to ordain ministers. However, John deferred, believing that the practice of apostolic succession was not actually based in scripture. In 1795, the Wesleyan Methodists officially separated from the Anglican Church.

The Wesleyan Methodists opposed the institution of slavery. In his publication, Thoughts Upon Slavery (1776), John Wesley cited the works of Michel Adanson, Hans Sloane and others to paint an admirable image of Africans. He considered it of utmost importance to ensure that "pagan" Africans be enlightened by the grace of God and receive humane treatment in whatever circumstances they found themselves. Such was Wesley’s interest in the abolitionist movement that on his death bed he wrote a letter to anti-slavery activist, William Wilberforce, in which he mentions being “particularly struck” by Gustavus Vassa’s life story, having read his autobiography.

Like the Quakers, Methodists were far more influential than their actual numbers would suggest. While the Wesleyan Methodist movement continued to grow throughout the eighteenth century, at the time of John Wesley’s death in 1791, there were probably fewer than 60,000 adherents. By the time of Vassa’s death in 1797, their numbers had increased to almost 80,000. Despite considerable growth, it was not until the second decade of the century that Methodists probably constituted only 2 percent of the English population by the second decade of the nineteenth century.

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REFERENCES

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

Dobrée, Bonamy. John Wesley: Great Lives (Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 1933).

Rack, Henry D. "Wesley, John,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, published May 24, 2012. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-29069



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

Wesleyan

Portrait of John Wesley by Nathaniel Hone (1766), National Portrait Gallery, London.