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.

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.

Joseph Banks
Alexander Blair
Dr. Charles Irving
James Keir
Dr. James Lind
James Watt
Constantine John Phipps
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach
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.

Dr. James Lind

(1716 – 1794)

Dr. James Lind was a Scottish naval surgeon known for conducting one of the first clinical trials on scurvy. He was born in Edinburgh on October 4, 1716 to a merchant, James Lind, and his wife, Margaret Smelholme, a member of an Edinburgh medical family. He became interested in medicine at an early age and after receiving his schooling in Edinburgh, at the age of 15 began an apprenticeship with a local surgeon, George Langlands. He never formally enrolled in medical school, as it was common at the time for students to attend individual lectures as they pleased. After he had completed his surgical apprenticeship, he was recruited by the Royal Navy in 1738 as a surgeons’ mate on a vessel commanded by Rear Admiral Nicholas Haddock. By 1739, he had completed his training and spent the next nine years working for the Royal Navy, sailing to the Mediterranean, West Africa, and the West Indies. In 1740, during the War of the Austrian Succession, he joined the crew of the HMS Salisbury, a 50-gun vessel captained by George Edgcumbe, the first Earl of Mount Edgcumbe, who later became the commander-in-chief of the Royal Navy at Plymouth. In 1747, he was promoted to surgeon. During a tour through the English Channel in 1747, the crew of the HMS Salisbury suffered a severe outbreak of scurvy. It was this experience that compelled Lind to retire from the Navy and return to the University of Edinburgh to pursue an M.D., having chosen venereal disease as the subject of his thesis. He graduated in 1748, received his license to practice in the city, and opened his own medical practice, which he ran for the next 10 years. He married Isobel Dickie and likely resided in an apartment in Paterson’s Court in Edinburgh’s old town.

In May of 1750, he became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, to which he was elected treasurer seven years later. He also joined the Philosophical and Medical Society of Edinburgh. It was against the backdrop of a highly-publicized outbreak of scurvy on Commodore George Anson’s four-year circumnavigation of the globe that took the lives of 1000 men, as well as his own experience treating sailors with scurvy, that Lind published A Treatise of the Scurvy in 1753. In his treatise, he asserted that scurvy was a disease of improper digestion and excretion, worsened by environmental factors such as poor diet, air quality, and lack of exercise. He argued that it could be cured by the consumption of citrus fruit, coupled with a warm and dry atmosphere and a more readily digestible diet. His conclusions were based on a series of experiments that he had conducted in 1747 while on board the HMS Salisbury, in which he divided the crew of 12 into pairs and prescribed each a different treatment. The pair whom he prescribed oranges and lemons made a full recovery, while the others did not. Although it was already thought that citrus fruit could have an antiscorbutic effect, Lind was the first to systematically study such effects through controlled, clinical trials. It has since been suggested that these trials may have been falsified as the patients’ names did not appear on the ship sick list; nonetheless, his treatise provided an empirically-based method to compare medical treatments. Subsequent editions were released in French, Italian, and German.

In 1757, he published An Essay on the Most Effectual Means of Preserving the Health of Seamen in the Royal Navy. The following year, he left his Edinburgh practice and moved to Gosport to take up the post of chief physician to the new Yoal Naval (Haslar) Hospital at Portsmouth. During his time at Haslar, he continued to experiment and published multiple works, including Two Papers on Fevers and Infection in 1763, An Essay on Diseases Incidental to Europeans in Hot Climates in 1771, and a paper On Jail Distemper in 1773. His essays provided important contributions to the medical field regarding hygiene and nutrition and the prevention of diseases such as typhus on board naval ships. In 1762, he proposed a simple method of making sea water drinkable. His invention used musket barrels with large coppers to draw off the steam evaporating from boiling salt water. Lind got little credit for the apparatus, which was adapted in 1766 by Pierre-Isaac Poissonnier, a French doctor and chemist, and by Dr. Charles Irving, Gustavus Vassa’s employer. It is unknown whether Lind and Vassa ever met. There is some debate as to whether Irving stole or merely adjusted Lind’s distillation method for his own apparatus, which was adopted by the Royal Navy in 1770. In 1771, Irving invited Lind to a demonstration of his distillation method, during which time he was asked to sign a letter of support. At first, Lind was offended and refused to sign but eventually gave in, as he could not ascertain whether Irving had used the same musket barrel method as his own or if he had used a long thin tube wet with mops. Irving received £5000 from the government for his invention.

In 1783, after 25 years of service, Lind retired as the chief physician at Haslar hospital. His son John, who had worked as his assistant, took over his position. That same year, he was made a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, an organization created by the Royal Charter for the “advancement of learning and useful knowledge.” He passed away on July 13, 1784 at the age of 78 and is buried in the grounds of Portchester Church, where a tablet was erected in his commemoration.

RELATED FILES AND IMAGES

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REFERENCES

Bartholomew, Michael. “Lind, James (1716-1794),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, published September 23, 2004.

Duffill, Mark. “Vassa Report No. 14A & 14B,” unpublished report, n.d.

Duffill, Mark. “Vassa Report No. 15: Part 1,” unpublished report, n.d.

Duffill, Mark. “Vassa Report No. 15: Part 2,” unpublished report, n.d.

Dunn, Peter M. “James Lind (1716-94) of Edinburgh and the Treatment of Scurvy,” Archives of Disease in Childhood 76 (1997), F64-F65.

Milne, Ian. “Who Was James Lind, and What Exactly Did He Achieve,” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 105:12 (2012), 503-508.

Savours, Ann. “A Very Interesting Point in Geography: The 1773 Phipps Expedition towards the North Pole,” Unveiling the Arctic 37:4 (1984), 402-428.



This webpage was last updated on 2020-06-12 by Carly Downs

Dr.

Portrait by Sir George Chalmers (1783), Hepner family home, England.