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Olaudah Equiano (Gustavus Vassa)

In St Margaret's church Westminster is an oval memorial tablet to author and slave abolitionist Olaudah Equiano who was baptized in that church when he was a slave. It was unveiled, at the west end near the font, on 9th February 2009 by the Archbishop of York and the sculptor was Marcia Bennett-Male. The inscription reads: 

"'THE AFRICAN' OLAUDAH EQUIANO Baptized Gustavus Vassa in this church 9 February 1759, Author and Abolitionist"

He was born in Africa (probably modern day Nigeria)  in 1745 and was a slave in various countries from the age of eleven. His slave name was Gustavus Vassa. One of his masters, Captain Pascal, allowed him to be baptized in St Margaret's. Having acquired some education from British sailors he was able to do some trading on his voyages and eventually to buy his freedom in 1768. He worked as a hairdresser in London and then returned to sea on various expeditions including one to the Arctic when Horatio Nelson was part of the group. Later he became a leading figure in the British debate for slave trade abolition (which happened in 1807). In 1792 he married Susanna Cullen and had two daughters Ann Maria and Joanna. He died in London on 31st March 1797 but his place of burial is not recorded.

Further reading

Autobiography "The Interesting narrative of the life of Olaudah Equiano..." 2 vols, 1789 (edition 1995 edited by Vincent Carretta)

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004

His portrait is at the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Died

31st March 1797

Memorial

9th February 2009

Field

Writer; abolitionist

Location

St Margaret's Church

Memorial Type

Tablet

Olaudah Equiano (Gustavus Vassa)
Olaudah Equiano (Gustavus Vassa)

By Daniel Orme, after W. Denton (National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG D8546) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Olaudah Equiano (Gustavus Vassa)
Olaudah Equiano memorial

© The Dean and Chapter of Westminster

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

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