Michael Henry Pascal
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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on 2020-06-24 by Carly Downs