ESTABLISHING CONTEXT



Establishing context is important in understanding the significance of Equiano's World and the role that Gustavus Vassa played in the abolition movement. Vassa's autobiography does not always clearly establish context, and sometimes his own misunderstandings cloud an appreciation of his own evolution as an intellectual and political activist. Vassa's rendition of the notorious "Middle Passage" has to be understood in context, for example. Similarly, Vassa's exploration of different religions is worthy of reflection, while his role in the abolition movement has spawned an important scholarly literature. That Vassa's slavery overlapped with the Seven Years War requires an understanding of where he was and when, and the impact that his risky adventures had on him. His role in the first Sierra Leone colonization scheme and his importance in the abolition movement also require some discussion. Finally, Vassa's involvement in the radical politics of London in the early 1790s help to establish the context in which his autobiography was received.

Context

The Slave Trade of the Late 18th Century


Approximately four million Africans were shipped from the African coast as slaves from the time the young Olaudah Equiano was kidnapped in 1753 in the interior of the Bight of Biafra to Brtiish abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1807, ten years after his death in London as abolitionist Gustavus Vassa, The Bight of Biafra accounted for almost 16 percent of the Africans enslaved across the Atlantic in this period, which was about 682,000 men, women and children. The percentage may have been more since the African origins of approximately 13 percent of the total number who were transported is not known. More than a third of known departures during this period came from west central Africa and southeastern Africa, by comparison.

                      Departures from Africa for the Americas, 1751–1810
Source: Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, www.slavevoyages.org.

 

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Stowage of the British slave ship Brookes under the regulated slave trade act of 1788. Plymouth Chapter of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade (1788), United States Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington.

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