Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano’s 1789 autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African, told the story of his time in enslavement. His 18th century story is unique in the fact that he was able to purchase his freedom and become an inspirational leader for the abolitionist movement.

Early in Equiano’s life, a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy named Michael Pascal purchased Equiano in the state of Virginia. During his time with Pascal, Equiano voyaged the seas for eight years and he was renamed Gustavus Vassa. While on his travels, he was taught to read and write, which was not common for enslaved people, but many of those that did went on to become great leaders in the fight for abolition.


After Equiano’s time with Pascal, a mercantile businessman named Robert King purchased Equiano. While with King, Equiano worked several trades. He was able to save enough money through bartering and purchased his freedom. He accomplished this seemingly impossible feat in just three short years.

During Equiano’s years of freedom, he travelled the world before he settled in London. While there Equiano worked with abolitionist groups and wrote his life’s story in his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African. The book was widely circulated, and his story inspired many to fight for abolition. His tale is illustrated how a formerly enslaved people continued resisting the institution of slavery after they were free.