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Olaudah Equiano and Igantius Sancho

Paul Edwards profiles two black men who settled in 18th Century Britain.

Olaudah Equiano and Igantius Sancho are two of the most interesting personalisties among the 18th century blacks who settled in Britain. Sancho, a prosperous trader, was also respected as a writer and we reproduce a letter he wrote to a friend in which his vivid description of the Gordon Riots also throws light on his experience as a black man in 18th-century London. Equiano's autobiopgraphy is a fascinating insight into his life as a slave and then as a freeman and voice against slavery.

Olaudah Equiano

The beginnings of Nigerian literature in English are much older than many people realise, going back to Olaudah Equiano's autobiography, published in 1789, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African, written by himself.

Equiano was born around 1745 and captured by local raiders when he was about 11 years old. He was taken to the coast by forest path and canoe, and there he was sold to slave traders - 'white men with horrible looks,  red faces, and loose hair', as he first saw them. His book describes life aboard the slave ship, and his purchase by an English naval officer with whom he served for some years on British warships,on Wolfe's campaign at Quebec and Admiral Boscawen's in the Mediterranean. With the help of some amiable ladies, cousins of his owner, some of his fellow seamen, and the schools established aboard warships at this time, he began his new education. He was distressed when his master sold him back to American slavery, but by resourceful petty trading on his own behalf he was able to buy back his freedom before he was 20.

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