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.

Michael Henry Pascal
Guerin Family
Robert King
King Gustavus Vasa
Ambrose Lace
John Annis
Richard Baker
King Gustav III
Doctor Brady
Campbell [Mr.]
Robertson, William [Captain]
Daniel Queen [Quin]
Doctor Perkins
Sir John Fielding
Emanuel Sankey
Mr. Read
Smith
Terry Legay
James Tobin
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.

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.

Michael Henry Pascal

(d. 1786)

Michael Henry Pascal, a naval officer in the British Royal Navy, was Vassa’s slave master from 1754 to 1763. Pascal was a descendant of the Huguenots, a sect of French Protestants who largely followed the teachings of theologian, John Calvin. Due to religious persecution, they were forced to flee France, to various parts of Europe, the United States, and Africa. Pascal held the rank of lieutenant in the Royal Navy during the War of Jenkin’s Ear, a ten-year conflict between Britain and Spain that began in October of 1739 and ended in October of 1749. He was also a freemason. On August 21, 1748, Pascal was initiated into the Holy and Exquisite Lodge of St. John, Portsmouth, New Hampshire. At this time, he was the lieutenant of the H.M.S. America, which was undergoing construction in Portsmouth.

In mid-1751, following the end of the war, Pascal was put on extended leave at half pay. On February 4, 1752, the Admiralty Board granted Pascal leave once again so that he could go to Virginia with the Merchant’s Service for ten months. He became the commanding officer and by convention, the captain of the H.M.S Industrious Bee, a trading vessel based out of Guernsey, an island in the English Channel off the coast of Normandy. In late January of 1752, he set sail from the mouth of the Thames River to Virginia. He spent the next two years engaged in colonial trade.

In the summer of 1754, Vassa’s master, a Virginia tobacco planter named Mr. Campbell, received Pascal as a guest and probably a business partner who sold him tobacco. Vassa made quite an impression on Pascal whom subsequently purchased him for £30-40. From there, Pascal took him to Britain with the intent of “gifting” him likely to his cousins, the Guerins. Pascal and the mother of Elizabeth Martha and Mary Guerin were likely descendants of Benjamin Pascal, who settled in Ireland, after he fought alongside Salomon de Gúerin. It is plausible that Pascal and the Guerins may have been first cousins and grandchildren of army officers in Ireland. During the voyage, Pascal named him Gustavus Vassa, after King Gustav Vasa, the Swedish national hero who freed the nation from Danish rule. At this point, Vassa had been renamed numerous times. He was named Olaudah Equiano at birth. While onboard the ship that brought him to the Americas, he was called Michael. His first master, Mr. Campbell, had referred to him as Jacob. Both were biblical names. Why the name “Gustavus Vassa” was chosen is open to speculation. It was common practice at the time for masters to re-name enslaved Africans after classical figures like Caesar and Pompey. This was a cruel way of emphasizing their subjugation. At first, Vassa states that he refused to accept this name, wishing to be referred to as Jacob, although this is doubtful because Pascal and the ship crew imposed this identity. He later embraced the name, seeing himself as a freedom fighter for his people.

The two arrived in Falmouth, on December 14, 1754, passing through Newfoundland on route. Their arrival came at the cusp of the Seven Years’ War. Tensions between the European superpowers had been on the rise since the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, in which Austria had lost the historical region of Silesia to Prussia. France formed a coalition with Austria, which grew to include the Electorate of Saxony and most of the smaller German states, as well as the Russian Empire, and the Kingdom of Spain and Sweden. The opposing coalition consisted of the Kingdom of Great Britain, the Kingdom of Prussia, the Kingdom of Portugal, the Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg, and a few other German states. This was the culminating point in a century of turmoil between France and Great Britain, who fought over dominance in North America and the world. England officially declared war on France in May of 1756, after the French besieged St. Philips Castle on the island of Minorca, the British base in the Mediterranean. As such, Vassa became the servant of an officer of the Royal Navy. From August 1755 to December 1762, Pascal and Vassa spent much of their time aboard various naval vessels. Pascal was promoted several times and received a number of different commissions. In June of 1755, he was appointed presumably as a second or third lieutenant of the H.M.S. Roebuck, a fifth rate 40-gun vessel. The ship was used to transport troops, which included moving soldiers from large garrisons in Scotland. Both the H.M.S. Roebuck and the H.M.S. Preston, a ship that Pascal would command in January 1757 as first lieutenant, were used at points in the English Channel to blockade Le Havre. On July 13, 1756, Pascal was made first lieutenant on the H.M.S. Roebuck. In December of 1757, he was re-assigned to the H.M.S. Royal George, the largest ship in the Navy, as sixth lieutenant. Vassa joined him on January 12, 1758 and accompanied him on many of his military endeavors, which took them to both sides of the Atlantic.

On January 27, 1758, Pascal was appointed sixth lieutenant on the H.M.S. Namur. The ship was commanded by Admiral Edward Boscawen. It was the flagship of the fleet that staged the siege of Louisbourg in 1758. A week after the fall of Louisbourg, Pascal was promoted to third lieutenant. On April 14, 1759, the ship sailed for Gibraltar where Admiral Boscawen joined the crew on an operation in the Gulf of Lyons. Soon after, in 1759, the Battle of Lagos Bay ensued. Vassa describes in great detail his observations from the middle gun deck. He recounts that Lieutenant Pascal was wounded in the battle, although he recovered quickly. Due to his heroic efforts, Pascal was appointed “master and commander” of the H.M.S. Aetna. During this time, Vassa enjoyed a relative amount of freedom of movement as his master was absent from the ship fairly regularly, attending to business in Portsmouth and visiting his mistress in Gosport. Vassa and this mistress got along well, as she entrusted him with the care and sale of a great deal of her property on different ships.

On April 12, 1761, Vassa and Pascal boarded the H.M.S. Aetna. The ship was used in the capture of the French island of Belle-Isle. Pascal was tasked to deliver various materials of war to the troops who were set to overtake the Palais and the citadel. The ship was then sent to Basque Road, where Commodore Sir Thomas Stanhope’s men blockaded the French in the port of Rochefort. The ship remained at this port until the summer of 1762 when it was sent back to Portsmouth. With the end of the war in sight, Vassa had begun to dream of his new life as a free man in London. However, upon his arrival at Deptford on December 10, 1762, he was overtaken by Pascal, threatened and robbed. The motivation behind Pascal’s betrayal is unknown. Vassa blamed Pascal’s cruelty on his second mistress who lodged on the Aetna. He writes that she was resentful toward him for knowing that once he got on shore, he would serve Pascal’s first mistress. Vassa was subsequently sold to Captain James Doran, who was sailing to Montserrat in the West Indies. After the end of the war, little is known about Pascal. Royal Navy Records show that he was sent to Portugal to aid the naval unit. Following the peace, him and two other experienced commanders, Joseph Norwood and Thomas Lee, were made post-captains. He was made commander of the H.M.S. Dispatch from May 1, 1764 to April 12, 1765 and became a Captain on June 20, 1765. This was his last promotion. Vassa did not make contact with Pascal again until 1767, when he returned to England to visit the Guerin sisters. During this visit, he had an uncomfortable meeting with Pascal in Greenwich Park. In Pascal’s later years, he continued to be active in the freemason community. From 1775 to 1776, he was a Grand Steward. In 1777, he was made Senior Grand Warden and then served as the Provincial Grand Master for Hampshire from 1784 to 1786. Pascal relocated to Southampton, where his aunt Frédérique’s brother-in-law, Isaac Jean Barnouin, was minister of the French church and his cousin Mary Guerin resided with her husband. Pascal died in 1786. There is no indication that he was ever married. His will, dated January 7, 1786, left his belongings to several friends, as well as 100 guineas to his “amiable friend” Sarah Nichols, and 50 guineas to a female servant. The remainder of his estate went to Mary Shaw, who is presumed to be his illegitimate daughter. He was buried in the Holyrood Church in Southampton, England.

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REFERENCES



This webpage was last updated on 2020-06-24 by Carly Downs

Michael

HMS Namur during the Battle of Lagos Bay by Richard Perret (1806). Personal collection of Chris Hoida.