Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-made Man

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University of Georgia Press, 2005 - Social Science - 436 pages
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This definitive biography tells the story of the former slave Olaudah Equiano (1745?-97), who in his day was the English-speaking world’s most renowned person of African descent. Equiano’s greatest legacy is his classic 1789 autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. A key document of the early movement to ban the slave trade, it includes the earliest known firsthand description by a slave of the horrific Middle Passage from Africa to the Americas. Equiano, the African is filled with fresh revelations about this many-sided figure--most notably that Equiano may have been born not in Africa, as he claimed, but in South Carolina.

For Vincent Carretta, such disconnects between the public persona and actual life of Equiano only increase his importance as a window into a number of complex, overlapping worlds. Equiano was a sailor, adventurer, entrepreneur, and jack-of-all-trades. Carretta distills years of scholarly detective work on Equiano’s life and writings into a richly textured portrait of the man whose many transformations took him from slave to slave trader to anti-slave-trade advocate, and from pagan to Christian.

This is “life and times” history at its best. Throughout, Carretta relates The Interesting Narrative to the historical record on Equiano, as well as to the century’s economic, political, and religious undercurrents. Carretta argues that Equiano may have fabricated his African roots and his survival of the Middle Passage not only to sell more copies of his book but also to help advance the movement against the slave trade. Equiano, the African will leave readers with a fuller appreciation of the man’s achievements and a deeper understanding of race and slavery in the Atlantic world.

 

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Contents

Equianos Africa
1
The Middle Passage
17
At Sea
39
Freedom Denied
71
Bearing Witness
92
Freedom of a Sort
119
Toward the North Pole
135
Born Again
161
The Black Poor
202
Turning against the Slave Trade
236
Making a Life
270
The Art of the Book
303
A SelfMade Man
330
Notes
369
Bibliography
395
Index
419

Seeking a Mission
176

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About the author (2005)

Vincent Carretta, professor of English at the University of Maryland, is currently a senior fellow at Harvard University’s W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. His books include scholarly editions of the works of Equiano and of Equiano’s contemporaries Ignatius Sancho, Ottobah Cugoano, and Phillis Wheatley.

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