This Far by Faith




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People of Faith Olaudah Equiano

Albert Cleage James Cone Warith Deen Mohammed Thomas Dorsey Frederick Douglass Olaudah Equiano Prathia Hall Daniel Payne Howard Thurman Sojourner Truth Henry McNeal Turner Denmark Vesey Cecil Williams

Olaudah Equiano

Photo of Olaudah Equiano "I might say my sufferings were great: but when I compare my lot with that of most of my countrymen, I regard myself as a particular favorite of Heaven, and acknowledge the mercies of Providence in every occurrence of my life." --from The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself, 1789

Olaudah Equiano composed the first-ever slave autobiography as a freed slave living in England. His autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Written by Himself, became a best-seller both in England and America, and fueled the beginnings of an anti-slavery movement. Equiano tells the story of his life from boyhood onwards; he was born in an Ibo village in western Africa, sold into slavery to another village, moved to yet another village as a slave, and finally captured and sold to European slavers. His narrative is one of the few that discusses the difference between American and African forms of slavery. His autobiography discusses the religious practices of western Africans, compares these practices to Christianity and Judaism, and also narrates his trials as a slave in Africa. The book is best-known for its description of the inhumane "middle passage" to America, which killed perhaps 50% of those who were captured by or sold to European slavers. Equiano eventually ended up in the West Indies, a region characterized by particular savagery on the part of slave-owners. While a slave, he learned the trade of merchant sea-faring, traveling up and down the coast of America. On the side, he was able to raise enough money to buy his freedom. He moved to England, married, and had children. In 1789, he published The Interesting Narrative of the Live of Olaudah Equiano, Written by Himself.

Read Equiano's book

"O, ye nominal Christians! might not an African ak you -- Learned you this from your God, who says unto you, Do unto all men as you would men should do unto you? Is it not enough that we are torn from our country and friends, to toil for your luxury and lust of gain? Why are parents to lose their children, brothers their sisters, or husbands their wives? Surely this is a new refinement in cruelty, which, while it has no advantage to atone for it, thus aggravates distress, and adds fresh horrors even to the wretchedness of slavery." --from The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself, 1789



Equiano was born in Essaka, a small village in Benin, in 1745. His father was an Embrenche, an elder or chief, and oversaw disputes and punishments. He had five brothers and one sister, and was his mother's favorite child. He vividly describes the way of life, customs and religion of his village in his narrative.


In 1756 Equiano and his sister were kidnapped by Aro peoples. They were separated, and Equiano was sold to various masters in Africa. He endured the Middle Passage to Barbados and was then sent to Virginia. He describes this trip at length in his narrative: "The closeness of the place, and the heat of the climate, added to the number in the ship. . . almost suffocated us. . . This wretched situation was again aggravated by the galling of the chains, now become insupportable; . . . The shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying, rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable."


Equiano was baptized a Christian in London at St. Margaret's Church in 1759. In his Narrative, he explains that a female relation of his master often told him that he could not go to Heaven unless he was Baptized. He asked this woman, Miss Guerin, to have him baptized, and she convinced his master to do so. She then went on to teach Equino to read and instructed him on the principles of Christianity Six years later, he heard the famous preacher of the Great Awakening, George Whitefield, preach in Savannah.


Equiano traveled to Nicaragua in 1775 as a Christian missionary. He was accompanying a man named Dr. Irving who wanted to establish a plantation on the Mosquito Coast. Equiano sought to Christianize the Indian population there.


In 1788, after establishing a central role in the British Abolitionist Movement, Equiano petitioned Queen Charlotte for an end to slavery in England. The following year, he published his Interesting Narrative in England, with Dutch and American editions printed in the following two years. In 1792, he married an English woman, Susan Cullen.


Equiano died in London in 1797

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