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.

King Gustavus Vasa

(1496 - 1560)

Gustav Vasa, otherwise known by his birth name Gustav Eriksson Vasa, is recognized as a national hero who freed the Swedish nation from Danish rule. He was born on May 12, 1496 in Stockholm, the son of the Swedish senator and nationalist, Erik Johansson. Vasa’s noble family had ties to the family of Sture, which supplied Sweden with three regents. Vasa’s father supported the party of Sten Sture the Younger, the regent of Sweden from 1512, who was in conflict with Danish King Christian II. In the battle of Brännkyrka in 1518 Sture’s army defeated the Danish forces. In the negotiations that followed, Sture sent six hostages to the Danes to ensure the safety of King Christian; Vasa was one of them. The Danish King breached the terms of the agreement when he fled to Denmark with Vasa, thus re-invigorating the conflict. In 1519, Vasa escaped to Lübeck in Germany. He returned to Sweden on May 31, 1520. By this time, King Christian II had taken over most of Sweden with the exception of Stockholm. In November of that year, during what became known as the “Stockholm bloodbath,” he killed Vasa’s father and two of his uncles. Vasa then rallied the people of Dalarna and Lübeck and successfully ousted the Danes, thus securing Sweden’s independence.

On June 6, 1523, Vasa was elected King. For many years, former King Christian and his heirs threatened his rule. His title was also challenged by various members of the Sture party and the men of Dalarna who opposed him on economic and religious grounds. To his enemies, he was deemed a cruel and vengeful tyrant; however, to most Swedes, he was considered a national hero. Vasa is best remembered for creating a strong monarchy. During his reign, he had few religious interests and was successful in a series of measures that consolidated the Reformation in Sweden. He confiscated property of the Roman Catholic church and placed the utmost importance on ensuring that he personally could supervise and exploit these lands. He leveraged land to achieve his political goals by bribing his nobility, which allowed him success with many of his policies. While some have deemed his actions immoral, he is, nonetheless, considered one of the great rulers of his time. He was a highly intelligent man whose careful planning led to nearly 40 years of stable governance. He eliminated Danish supremacy and the influence of the Catholic Church and in the process ensured the triumph of Lutheranism. He established a national standing army and founded the Swedish navy. He had one son, Eric XIV, with his first wife, Catherine of Saxe-Lauenberg, who succeeded him as King. In the 1550s, Vasa’s health declined. It is believed his last speech was delivered in 1560 to his chancellors, children and noblemen, shortly after which he died. On September 29, 1560, he was buried alongside three of his wives in the Cathedral of Uppsala. Two centuries later, the English playwright, Henry Brooke, memorialized Vasa’s legacy in a play entitled, Gustavus Vasa, The Deliverer of his Country, published in 1739 and initially banned by Prime Minister Robert Walpole as subversive. Why Olaudah Equiano was named Gustavus Vassa by his master Michael Henry Pascal is open to speculation, although the symbolic significance of Brooke’s play and its political message was surely a factor, either as a statement of support or as a spoof.

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This webpage was last updated on 18-April-2020

King

Portrait by Jacob Binck (1542), University of Uppsala, Uppsala.