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
New Entry
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.

Sir John Fielding

(1721-1780)

Sir John Fielding, born in 1721 in Westminster, London, was an English magistrate and social reformer. He was the half-brother of Henry Fielding (1707-1754), author of the comic novel Tom Jones. John succeeded his brother as the leading magistrate at Bow Street in 1754. John and Henry were known for their efforts to improve the police and for inaugurating important reforms during a time when crime rates were high. Henry acquired funding of £200 from the government to support better policing and prosecution efforts, including compensation to officers for their efforts in investigations and arrests. When John took over his brothers’ position, he continued to receive the same funding for policing. In the 1760s, the funds were raised to £600, which was sufficient for him to make Bow Streetcourt known for the way in which it dealt with justice skillfully and promptly. John became blind in an accident in the Navy when he was 19. 

Sir John Fielding was not directly associated with Gustavus Vassa, however one of Fielding’s works was mentioned in The Interesting Narrative to better explain or express what one Captain Doran feared in relation to the enslaved. The extract was from Extracts from Such of the Penal Laws, as Particularly Relate to the Peace and Good Order of this Metropolis… A New Edition. Fielding, like Captain Doran, feared that enslaved people would rebel against those who brought them to England to be their servants, because they had a taste for liberty and were advised by others to fight for their rights. They feared the dangers that these servants might bring to England.

John Fielding died on 4 September 1780 after suffering from a painful illness for a long time. He was buried in Chelsea Parish Church on 13 September. 

Vassa on  Sir John Fielding in The Interesting Narrative 9th ed.

The immense Confusion that has arose in the Families of Merchants and other Gentlemen who have Estates in the West-Indies, from the great Number of Negro Slaves they have brought into this Kingdom, also deserves the most serious Attention; many of these Gentlemen have either at a vast Expence caused some of these Blacks to be instructed in the necessary Qualifications of a domestic Servant, or else have purchased them after they have been instructed; they then bring them to England as cheap Servants, having no Right to Wages; they no sooner arrive here, than they put themselves on a Footing with other Servants, become intoxicated with Liberty, grow refractory, and either by Persuasion of others, or from their own Inclinations, begin to expect Wages according to their own Opinion of their Merits; and as there are already a great Number of black Men and Women who have made themselves so troublesome and dangerous to the Families who brought them over as to get themselves discharged; they enter into Societies, and make it their Business to corrupt and dissatisfy the Mind of every fresh black Servant that comes to England; first, by getting them christened or married, which they inform them makes them free (tho’ it has been adjudged by our most able Lawyers, that neither of these Circumstances alter the Master’s Property in a Slave).However it so far answers their Purpose, that it gets the Mob on their Side, and makes it not only difficult but dangerous to the Proprietor of these Slaves to recover the Possession of them, when once they are spirited away; and indeed it is the less Evil of the two, to let them go about their Business, for there is great Reason to fear that those Blacks who have been sent back to the Plantations, after they have lived some time in a Country of Liberty, where they have learnt to write and read, been acquainted with the Use, and entrusted with the Care of Arms, have been the occasion of those Insurrections that have lately caused and threatened such Mischief and Dangers to the Inhabitants of, and Planters in the Islands of the West-lndies; it is therefore to be hoped that these Gentlemen will be extremely cautious for the future, how they bring Blacks to England, for besides that they are defeated in the Ends that they propose by it, it is a Species of Inhumanity to the Blacks themselves, who while they continue Abroad in a Degree of Ignorance so necessary to render a State of Slavery supportable, are in some Measure contented with their Condition, and cheerfully submit to those severe Laws which the Government of such Persons makes necessary; but they no sooner come over, but the Sweets of Liberty and the Conversation with free Men and Christians, enlarge their Minds, and enable them too soon to form such Comparisons of different Situations, as only serve when they are sent back again to imbitter their State of Slavery, to make them restless, prompt to conceive, and alert to execute the blackest Conspiracies against their Governors and Masters (pp. 143-145). (Carretta, Penguin edition, pg., note 281)

Prepared by Lisa Raposo, 29 June 2021

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This webpage was last updated on 2021-11-15 by Saloni Pande

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Portrait of John Fielding by Nathanial Hone, oil on canvas, circa 1762.National Portrait Gallery, London.

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