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 Gustav III

(1746 - 1792)

Gustav III was the King of Sweden from 1771 until his death in 1792. He was the oldest son of Queen Louise Ulrika and King Adolf Fredrick. Early in his reign , Gustav tried to re-establish Sweden as a “Great Power” in Europe. This aim was manifested through the acquisition of the West Indian island of Saint-Barthélemy from the French in 1784. This venture alarmed many Swedish councillors due to the island’s lack of agricultural production. Swedish consul-general Simon Bérard suggested that the island should instead become a free port. During this time, France was having difficulty supplying enough enslaved persons to its colonies in the Caribbean. In response, Sweden decided to transport a certain number of enslaved persons to the French colonies every year. If the island were to become a success, Sweden could expand its colonialism to other islands in the region. In addition, King Gustav was aware that countries in Europe involved in the slave trade benefited economically from it.

Under Gustav III, the Swedish West India Company was established in 1786. Gustav allowed anyone who could to buy shares; however, he retained 10 percent of the shares for himself, making him the largest shareholder.

March 12, 1990 marked the implementation of a new custom tax and constitution on the island. The purpose of both were to turn Saint- Barthélemy into a haven for slave traders. These new laws created amazing opportunities for traders world-wide. Buyers from all over the Caribbean came to Saint- Barthélemy to purchase enslaved people. The government charged a minor export duty fee on enslaved people sold from Saint- Barthélemy to other colonies. This duty was further halved for enslaved people brought from Africa on Swedish ships, producing increased profits for the Swedish West India Company as well as other Swedish traders.

Back in Sweden, Gustav was vocal in his opposition of the abuse of political power and privileges by the nobility upon the death of King Charles XII. He seized power in a coup called the Swedish Revolution in 1772, ending the "Age of Liberty." He then initiated a campaign intended to restore a form of Royal autocracy, which was followed by the Union and Security Act of 1789. This act abolished most of the powers granted to the Swedish parliament during the Age of Liberty. It also granted government opportunities to all citizens, putting an end to the privileges of the nobility.

Additional controversy plagued his reign throughout 1789 and 1790 after Gustav declared war on Russia. During the Russo-Swedish War, a group of Swedish officers known as the Anjala League were charged with treason, which was further complicated when Denmark joined the war as allies of Russia. The war ended with the Battle of Svensksund on July 9, 1790 in which the Swedes successfully broke a Russian blockade. The battle is considered the greatest victory ever achieved by the Swedish Navy, resulting in Russia losing one-third of its fleet and 7,000 men. The war ended with the Treaty of Värälä, signed on August 14, 1790.

Gustav’s controversial reign increased the hostility of the nobility, leading to a conspiracy to have him killed in order to change the constitution. The king was assassinated at midnight during a masked ball that took place at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm on March 16, 1792. Gustav III’s death occurred only days before a Danish law was adopted to abolish the slave trade, although that law did not come into effect until January 1, 1803. It is through the coincidence of Gustav's assassination and the passage of Danish prohibition of the slave trade that connected Gustavus Vassa with King Gustav III. The assassination of Gustavus III inspired the subsequent opera by Giuseppe Verdi, Un ballo in maschera, (A Masked Ball) composed in 1859. The opera was a three-act adaptation of a text by Antonio Somma, that was further adapted from a libretto written by Eugène Scribe’s for playwright Daniel Auber’s Gustave III, ou Le bal masque, a five-act opera premiering in 1833.

RELATED FILES AND IMAGES

REFERENCES



This webpage was last updated on 18-April-2020

King

Portrait by Alexander Roslin (1777), National Museum, Stockholm.