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.

Constantine John Phipps

(1744 – 1792)

Constantine John Phipps, the second Baron Mulgrave in the peerage of Ireland and Great Britain, was born in London on May 30, 1744. He was an officer of the British Navy, a politician and the eldest son of the first Lord Mulgrave and his wife, Mary Lepell. From 1755 to 1758, he attended Eton College, where he met Sir Joseph Banks, a British naturalist and the President of the Royal Society for over 41 years. In January of 1759, he joined his uncle, Captain the Hon. Augustus Hervey, at sea and was promoted to lieutenant. He later became the commander of the Diligence and in June of 1765, the captain of the Terpischore. In 1766, along with Sir Joseph Banks, he embarked on an expedition to Newfoundland and Labrador, the goal of which was to undertake coastal surveys and to research local fishery conservation efforts. In 1773, he commanded two vessels, the Racehorse and the Carcass, on an exploration of the Arctic Ocean, seeking an alternate passage to the Pacific. The crew for the voyage included an astronomer by the name of Israel Lyons, the naturalist; Dr. Charles Irving, and Irving's assistant, Gustavus Vassa. While the expedition provided ample opportunity for research, the ice posed an insurmountable challenge and the crew did not reach the Pacific. The following year he published a book about the journey, titled A Voyage towards the North Pole Undertaken by his Majesty's Command.

From 1768 to 1774, he acted as the MP for Lincoln and was an important speaker on the Opposition side. In 1775, after the passing of his father, he became Baron Mulgrave in the peerage of Ireland and in 1777, the MP for Huntingdon constituency and one of the Lords of the Admiralty. Throughout his political career, he continued to serve as naval officer, commanding the Courageux in the battle of Ushant during the American War. He was the Admiralty's principal speaker in the House of Commons up until the fall of the North ministry in April 1782. He was a key figure in managing the 1779 and 1781 crises during which time Franco-Spanish fleets infiltrated the British channel. In June 1781, he was appointed the commander of a large raid on Flushing.

Even after being ejected from the Admiralty, he continued to be regarded as a respected politician. In 1783, he joined William Pitt's administration and became the MP for Newark. He was later given the office of joint paymaster-general, and a position on the Board of Trade and the Board of Control. In 1790, he was named a peer of Great Britain as Baron Mulgrave, thus entering the House of Lords, but resigned the following year due to poor health. He died on October 10, 1792 and was succeeded by his brother. His daughter was his sole heir.

RELATED FILES AND IMAGES
REFERENCES

Christie, I. R. “Phipps, Hon. Constantine John (1744-92), of Mulgrave Castle, Yorks,” in Sir Lewis Namier and John Brooke, eds., The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1754-1790 (Sparkford: Haynes Publishing, 2006).

Hiscocks, Richard. “Hon. Constantine John Phipps, 2 nd Lord Mulgrave,” Morethannelson, accessed November 4, 2018.
https://morethannelson.com/officer/hon- constantine-phipps-lord-mulgrave/.

Rodger, N. A. M. "Phipps, Constantine John, Second Baron Mulgrave in the Peerage of Ireland and Baron Mulgrave in the Peerage of Great Britain (1744 − 1792), Naval Officer and Politician," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (2004).



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

Constantine

Painting by unknown artist (c. 1775), National Portrait Gallery, London.