In 1793, Olaudah Equiano (1745 - 1797) published the sixth edition of his book The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, which includes this image of him. The autobiography was originally released in 1789. Captured as a slave when he was just 11, Olaudah became educated, bought his freedom and told his story to a wide audience.
Slave-traders used inhuman devices to capture, and control, their victims. They kept track of their cargo as though people were commodities, like guns or sugar:
Deplorable conditions existed onboard slave ships as captives crossed the Atlantic. How were people, including children, able to endure such a crowded and foul environment? What goes through a child's mind as he or she is kidnapped from home and turned into a slave?
Olaudah Equiano, born in 1745 (in what is now Nigeria), answered those questions. (Follow this link for tips on reading old printed books and manuscripts. Scroll down 80% for a description of the letter "s" as it appears in the middle of a word.) The son of a chief - and later one of Britain's leading abolitionists - Equiano was one of the first Africans to live through chattel slavery and write about it. The following are some first-hand observations from his book.
When I looked round the ship too and saw a large furnace of copper boiling, and a multitude of black people of every description chained together, every one of their countenances expressing dejection and sorrow, I no longer doubted my fate and quite overpowered with horror and anguish, I fell motionless on the deck and fainted...I asked if we were not to be eaten by those white men with horrible looks, red faces and long hair?
Olaudah Equiano spent many years at sea as the slave of a naval man. Although he became a freeman in 1766, for the sum of forty pounds sterling, he never saw his parents or sister again.
Thanks to the Library of Congress, you can read an early edition of Equiano's narrative. Initially published in 1789 - when he was Britain's leading abolitionist - Equiano's book asks compelling questions. Here are two examples:
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