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
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.

Guerin Family

Elizabeth Martha (b. 1721) Maynard Peter (1726-1760) and Mary (b. 1728) were the children of Maynard and Elizabeth Guerin and played a notable role in the life of Gustavus Vassa.)


Maynard Guerin was an attorney who acted as an agent for naval and army officers, including his maternal cousin, Captain Michael Henry Pascal, who was an influential naval sailor and the slave master of Vassa from 1754 to 1763. Maynard handled Pascal’s accounts while Pascal served with the Royal Navy. He was authorized to receive his pay in London while Pascal was abroad.

The Guerin family name is common in France. The family represents one of the many families of the same name who were Huguenots, a sect of French Protestants who, due to religious persecution, were forced to flee from France to various parts of Europe, North America, and Africa. Pascal and the mother of Maynard, Elizabeth Martha and Mary Guerin were likely descendants of Benjamin Pascal, who settled in Ireland after he fought alongside Salomon De Guérin. The Guerins’s mother may have been born Elizabeth Pascal and may have been married in Dublin. It has been suggested that the Guerin family is related to a family of the same name in Guernsey who were merchants; however, there is no evidence of this connection.

Salomon De Guérin was born in Normandy in 1657. He was a cavalry captain in the Galway Regiment, led by Henri de Massue, 2nd Marquis de Ruvigny. It is likely that de Guérin came into some wealth. He was listed as an original investor in the Bank of England in 1694. He made an investment of £500 in the bank, a considerable sum of money for this period. It is plausible that Pascal and the Guerins may have been first cousins and grandchildren of army officers in Ireland. Following the end of the war in Ireland in 1691, some Huguenots stayed in the army, while others fought in Flanders. Records show that de Guérin and his family resided in Westminster in 1693 at which time his eldest son was baptized. His son was likely named after his godfather, Meinhard von Schomberg; however, the name was anglicized to Maynard. Thereafter, the family went by “Guerin.” Salomon died in 1708.

The Guerins had strong Calvinist views, which contributed to their decision to educate Maynard and his brother at Trinity College in Dublin, as Oxford and Cambridge required their students to follow the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Church. Upon graduation, in 1721, Maynard subsequently married a woman named Elizabeth (surname unknown). The couple had several children. Elizabeth Martha was baptized on April 30, 1721, Grace Magdelaine in 1725, Maynard Peter in 1726, and Mary in 1728. Their other son, John, was likely born in 1723. In 1734, Maynard Senior was an agent for Colonel William Cosby, the governor of New York. When he died in 1748, Maynard Junior inherited his father’s land in the Mohawk River valley north of New York. As an accountant, his business increased with the outbreak of the Seven Years War.

Gustavus Vassa was formally introduced to Elizabeth and Mary Guerin by Pascal on a visit to Westminster in March 1754. It is likely that Pascal intended to gift Vassa to the Guerin family but later decided to keep him. Shortly after meeting the family, Vassa fell ill with infected chilblains and then smallpox. He was treated for several months at St. George’s Hospital at Hyde Park Corner in London. It is suggested that Maynard arranged for Vassa’s treatment in the hospital, possibly saving his life. After meeting the Guerin sisters, Vassa noted that “they were very amiable ladies, who took much notice and great care of me.” He apparently stayed with the Guerin sisters between the years 1755 to 1770 when Pascal traveled outside of London.  In 1757, Vassa was sent ashore with his friend, Dick Baker at Deal. From there they made their way to London, where they stayed with the Guerin family. In 1758, when the HMS Namur entered Portsmouth harbor for a refit, Vassa once again lodged with the Guerins.

The Guerin sisters taught Vassa to read and write and were his main source of religious instruction during the Seven Years War from 1757 to 1763. Vassa was drawn to the narrative quality of the Old Testament and drew many comparisons between Jewish and African societies. When he learned that he “could not go to heaven, unless […] baptized,” Vassa was left with a feeling of unease, and sought to convert to Christianity. Elizabeth Martha brought the idea of baptizing Vassa to Pascal, which he initially opposed – likely out of fear that his claim to Vassa might be questioned due to the widespread belief that Christians could not legally enslave other Christians. Nonetheless, Pascal later agreed “out of obligation” to Maynard, and on February 27, 1759, Vassa was baptized in St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster, as “a Black, born in Carolina, 12 years old.” Elizabeth Martha and Maynard stood in as Vassa’s godparents. Vassa left the Guerins a few months after his baptism.

Following his sale by Pascal, Vassa stayed in contact with the Guerin sisters. In September of 1767, he returned to London on the HMS Andromache, docking at the Cherry-Garden Stairs, just four miles downriver from Westminster Palace. He visited the Guerin sisters who had moved from Westminster to Mary’s Hill in Greenwich, following the death of their brother in 1760. The sisters helped Vassa secure a new employer, a hairdresser in Coventry Court, who was willing to train him in his craft. A large part of his job as a hairdresser would have involved styling, cleaning, powdering, and repairing wigs for men and women.

Later in his life, Pascal relocated to Southampton, where his aunt Frédérique’s brother-in-law, Isaac Jean Barnouin, was minister of St. Julien’s Church, the “French church” where French Protestants worshipped. His cousin Mary Guerin resided with her husband. Pascal died in Southampton in 1786 and left a portion of his wealth to the Guerin family. On May 1, 1774, Mary became the second wife of Arthur Baynes, surgeon-general to the Garrison at Gibraltar, who died on March 25, 1789. Elizabeth Martha apparently never married and was referred to as “Miss Guerin” throughout her lifetime.

In 1792,Vassa listed Mary Guerin in a letter to “the reader” in the 9th edition of his biography. He indicated she was one of six individuals who could testify to him having been born in Africa, as she knew him when he first arrived in England when he spoke very little English. The letter was in response to the defamatory claim made by the Oracle and the Star that he was a native of the Danish Island of Santa Cruz in the West Indies and was not born in Africa. The inclusion of Mary’s name in the letter suggests that the two had stayed in contact following Pascal’s death. Maynard, John, and Elizabeth Guerin all died before 1789. Mary and the Guerins’s cousins, Anne and Margaret Baudouin, were the sole family members who would have lived long enough to witness Vassa’s success. Mary died in 1793.


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This webpage was last updated on 16-Apr-2020 Kartikay Chadha

Guerin

Guerin's House in Greenwich, 111 Maze Hill.