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Black History: Sons of Africa Olaudah Equiano & Ottobah Cugoano


Known for most of his life as Gustavus Vassa, Olaudah Equiano was a writer and abolitionist from the Eboe region of the Kingdom of Benin (today southern Nigeria).

He was enslaved as a child, and taken to the Caribbean where he was sold as a slave to a Royal Navy officer. He was sold twice more before he purchased his freedom in 1766.

As a freedman in London, Equiano supported the British abolitionist movement. He was part of the Sons of Africa, an abolitionist group composed of Africans living in Britain. He was active among leaders of the anti-slave trade movement in the 1780s. He published his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano in 1789, which depicted the horrors of slavery.

The book went through nine editions in his lifetime and helped gain passage of the British Slave Trade Act 1807, which abolished the slave trade.


Ottobah Cugoano - originally from Ghana, was an abolitionist in England during the late 18th century. He was born in 1757, part of the Fanti people and member of a family of influence.

Between 1768-1769, Ottobah Cugoano was sold into slavery. Around three years later in the Caribbean plantations Alexander Campbell purchases him and he is taken to England and baptized as John Stuart.

Shortly after, the young Cugoano pursues an education in reading and writing. He is freed after around 10 years and begins working for artists Richard and Maria Cosway.

Eventually, he would meet Olaudah Equiano—known as Gustavus Vassa—and other educated Blacks in London. This led to him joining the Sons of Africa.

Cugoano’s writing culminates in the 1787 publishing of Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species. His book targets the institution of slavery from a very heavy Christian base and made the case that abolition was the answer. It also serves as an autobiography of his life prior to arriving in England. In his book, Cugoano highlighted the effects of slavery. He sent the book to key political figures in Britain, but the abolition of slavery remained a notion. In his book, Cugoano stated:

"Is it not strange to think, that they who ought to be considered as the most learned and civilized people in the world, that they should carry on a traffic of the most barbarous cruelty and injustice, and that many think slavery, robbery and murder no crime"?

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