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Unveiling the Impact of Olaudah Equiano’s Life and Work on Abolitionism

Olaudah Equiano was an important historical figure since he significantly contributed to the struggle against slavery. An enslaved person, he was fortunate enough to obtain his freedom and join the abolitionist movement in Britain. Among his numerous efforts to inform the public about the misfortunes of enslaved people, his autobiography The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano made a remarkable difference. Even though Equiano as a free person, no longer suffered from such terrors of slavery as field work, brutal punishments, starvation, and so on, his narrative fueled the anti-slavery movement. Indeed, his experience as an enslaved person was extraordinary as his masters were mostly kind and reasonable men who encouraged him to attend school and church and valued him for his service and character. As the author remarked, his name meant fortune or change, and fortune was often on his side. Throughout the narrative, one can hardly find him offending his white enslavers or complaining. Equiano had always accepted his destiny; he had been loyal to his masters and appreciated them as people; he was curious about the world and strived for knowledge. Moreover, as a highly religious man, Equiano stayed true to his values and morality. His personality helped him acquire needed skills, such as the ability to read and write, work on the ship, and so on, and earn money, as well as become attractive to people who had owned his life and who could help him obtain his freedom by ensuring their support.

The narrative starts with describing the author’s native town and his family’s traditions. The way Equiano speaks of his family and his mother, as well as his respect for his father and the wisdom of his community, presents him as a loving and joyful person. His words of sadness when he and his sister were separated, the fact that he was so naive to believe anyone who claimed to know where his sister was, only proved this statement. His sympathy for the slaves in West Indies, whose suffering he had observed throughout his service for Mr. King, proved his empathy and compassion. Thus, Equiano had the right values to be loved by his masters, especially Mr. King, who later helped him gain his freedom.

While reading the chapters about Equiano’s early life, one could notice how important human connections were to him. When describing any new place he had visited, the author never missed mentioning who he had been able to speak to or how close or different the language spoken somewhere had been to his native language. Even on the slave ship, as Equiano wrote, the voyage was slightly less terrible when he met his countrymen. The author also remarked how hard it was for him to have no one to talk to when he just arrived in Virginia and did not know English yet. Still, Equiano’s desire to communicate did him a good service since he soon learned the languages and found friends at any stage.

Equiano was a loyal, loving and caring friend whenever he found someone he connected to. The story of his friendship with Richard Baker showed how sincerely attached he was to his first friend in a new unknown world. The way he was loved by children, who were often less prone to be prejudiced against others, described him as a friendly and agreeable companion. For instance, his first playmate, Marry, did not let him go away with the ship. His amicable character was why he was loved by Miss Guerin and his master, Mr. Pascal. This was also the reason why he was sold to the best master in America – Mr. King, who would play a crucial role in his life. Thanks to his character, Equiano also established good relations with the captain he was working with for Mr. King. This enabled him to earn income and gather money to buy his freedom. In such a way, his sailing experience for Mr. Pascal unexpectedly was quite fortunate.

Those who met Equiano were often fascinated by his curiosity and desire to learn. The author often described how amazed he was by the inventions of Europeans when he thought of these things as magic. He was interested in religion and asked Richard Baker, Ms. Guerin, and Daniel Queen to help him. Miss Guerin even insisted on him being baptized. Daniel Queen also became rather close with Equiano and taught him many useful skills, such as shaving and dressing; they even planned to become partners after Equiano had his freedom. Since he had a great interest in books, Equiano often followed Mr. Pascal and Richard, and eventually, he was sent to school to learn how to read and write. Those skills contributed greatly to his favorable position and attitude toward Mr. King. Hence, by demonstrating curiosity and desire to learn, Equiano obtained skills that not all free people had at the time, which made him a valuable enslaved person.

Various circumstances allowed Equiano to start rising in the world. The above-described qualities of his character made him a highly-valuable enslaved person. Thus, he repeatedly mentioned that he had saved Mr. King around one hundred pounds per year, and Mr. King refused to sell him several times. While doing different jobs for Mr. King, Equiano started sailing across the Caribbean islands at some point and became rather helpful to the ship’s captain. This allowed him to start his merchant activities. After an unfortunate event when two white people took away his goods, he obtained the captain’s protection and continued to pursue his deals more safely. Thus, the captain helped Equiano keep earning money to gain his freedom.

The friendship with the captain allowed Equiano to revive his hopes of freedom, born in the years of participation in the Seven Years’ War. Once, the author was called by his master and was told that Robert King had considered selling him as there were rumors that Equiano had wanted to escape. Upon being assured that it was not among Equiano’s intentions and after receiving excellent recommendations from his captain, Mr. King revealed that he was aware of Equiano’s merchant activities and was ready to support him, eventually allowing the slave to buy his freedom. Thus, the day Equiano built a connection with the captain saved him from being sold and helped him gain his freedom quicker since Mr. King was now ready to let him buy his freedom and help him earn money faster.

As one can see, Equiano had a unique personality and mindset that allowed him to accept his fortune. His values guided him; one could perceive as Providence, as the author thought, or luck he had due to his name. He was curious, empathic, and joyful since he took his duties responsibly, always looked for the best in people, and appreciated their help greatly. Equiano did not allow himself to judge or hate others. His emotional intelligence helped him gain the positive image and status of a valuable enslaved person and find friends who helped him overcome the challenges of slavery. Being hardworking and honest, he used his best qualities to earn money, become free, and succeed.

📎 References:

1. Equiano, Olaudah. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by Himself. Cambridge University Press, 2013.

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