Today’s Google doodle celebrates the 272nd birthday of Olaudah Equiano, a Nigerian slave and writer who played a massive part in the fight against slavery.
Equiano wrote an autobiography titled The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, one of the first ever on slavery from the point of a view of a slave.
The book bolstered the abolitionist cause, inspiring William Wilberforce, Granville Sharp and their fellow campaigners to draft the Slave Trade Act of 1807, which would ultimately force an end to human trafficking across the British Empire.
He was born on 16 October 1746 in Essaka in the Eboe province of southern Nigeria. According to the man himself, slave traders abducted Olaudah and his sister at the age of 11 and shipped them to Barbados with 244 other captives before they were moved on again to Virginia (at that point still a British colony).
In America, Equiano was sold to Lieutenant Michael Pascal, a Royal Navy officer, who renamed him “Gustavus Vassa” after the sixteenth century king of Sweden, Gustav I.
By 1765, Olaudah was sold on to London ship’s captain James Doran, who set sail for Montserrat aboard the Charming Sally, where he was traded again, this time to Robert King, a well-to-do Quaker merchant from Philadelphia.
Olaudah served as King’s valet, deckhand and even barber and was allowed to earn money by making deals of his own. This concession, crucially, enabled Equiano to buy his freedom from King through funds accumulated from the sale of fruit, drinking glasses and other goods three years later.
King urged him to stay on as a business partner in the West Indies but Equiano feared recapture following a close call in Georgia.
He spent the next 20 years travelling the world, visiting places as exotic as Turkey, Central America’s Mosquito Coast and the Arctic, eventually settling in London, campaigning for abolition with his fellow “Sons of Africa” and writing the best-seller that would bring him international fame.
Freedom proved difficult to adjust to and Equiano confessed to entertaining suicidal thoughts, before finding solace through his Methodist faith and marriage to English wife Susannah Cullen, with whom he had two daughters. The family lived in Soham, Cambridgeshire, where he died on the 31st of March 1797, his legacy assured.