Followed Equiano’s Footprints

17 04 2010

A small mark for a larger than life humanitarian, Olaudah Equiano

 

 We attended the Good Friday afternoon service at this Church – St Andrew in Soham, Cambridgeshire. We came to this Church because there is a plaque on a wall inside the Church in honour of Olaudah Equiano. His name was changed to Gustavus Vassa, the African. This was a common practice during the slave trade when ‘bought slaves’ were renamed by the ‘slave owner’.  A close friend told me about Equiano and his importance to the abolition of the slave trade – a history that is so alien to Papua New Guineans except for a brief record of ‘blackbirding’ in the Pacific for the sugar plantations in Queensland, Australia. I did quite a bit of research to find out more about Equiano who had played a large part in the abolition of the slave trade in the 18th Century. He was a man of many noble pursuits. Equiano was born circa 1745 in a village in Benin, West Africa and in some accounts a part of Nigeria that is now Benin. How he came to Britain was horror itself and his story is just one part in the tapestry of the greatest tragedy and travesty in human history – http://www.black-history-month.co.uk.        

Equiano, a best-selling author whose autobiography, “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African” was a seminal piece of work and had been translated into Dutch and German. His autobiography was the strongest written evidence of inhumanity that strengthened the fight against the slave trade. His writing and the support from friends and like-minded society figures helped and underpinned the increasing momentum and urgency that led to the end of the the slave trade in the 19th Century especially in Britain.        

Equiano was a ‘free man’ having bought his own freedom for £40 from his own savings in 1766. He became one of the most prominent African champions for and involved in the fight for the abolition of the slave trade. He was a prolific writer, activist and humanitarian.        

Olaudah Equiano and Susannah Cullen were married in this Church on 7 April, 1792

 

Equiano married Susannah Cullen from Ely in 1792 in St Andrew’s Church, and had two daughters: Joanna Vassa and Anna Maria Vassa who died at the tender age of 4 years. Three years ago on 17 April, 2007, St Andrew’s Church in Soham hosted the re-enactment of Equiano and Susannah’s wedding in its entirerity complete with actors attired in period costumes. On this occasion a plaque was unveiled (as in the photo above) by a leading expert on Equiano and the founder of the Equiano Society, Arthur Torrington, and a book on Joanna Vassa was launched by author Angela Osbourne, “Equiano’s Daughter”. Equiano is listed as one of the 100 Great Black Britons.  Some have  assumed that Equiano lived and died in Middlesex in 1797. We came to St Andrew not only for the Good Friday afternoon service but to also worship at the church where Equiano may have spent many Sundays.        

Finding out more about Equiano led me to these sites: http://www.100greatblackbritons..com; http://www.brycchancarey.com; http://www.lhi.org.uk; http://www.soham.org.uk/history; http://www.answers.com/topic/olaudah-equiano, and no doubt there are many more for students of Equiano’s life and times. I am honoured and privileged to have followed Equiano’s footprints to Soham, Cambridgeshire.








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