What evidence is there of a black presence in Britain and north west England?

Olaudah Equiano and abolition


Olaudah Equiano (about 1745-1797) was one of the most prominent people of African heritage involved in the British debate for the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.

In 1789 he published his autobiography, 'The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African'. The book was a best seller, and is still in print today. He travelled widely throughout Britain promoting the book. As well as helping the abolitionist cause, it made Equiano a wealthy man. It is one of the earliest books published by a black African writer and helped influence British parliament to abolish the trade through the Slave Trade Act of 1807.

Equiano used his experiences of slavery to campaign and persuade others to abolish the inhumane trade in African people. He had been captured from Africa and enslaved as a young man. He was intelligent and an astute business man and he eventually worked his way to a position where he purchased his freedom. He worked as a seaman, merchant, and explorer in South America, the Caribbean, the Arctic, the American colonies and Britain. After several years of travels and trading, Equiano came to London and became involved in the abolitionist movement.

Settled in England

He settled in Soham, Cambridgeshire, where he married Susannah Cullen in 1792. The original marriage register containing the entry for Equiano and Susannah is held in the County Record Office in Cambridge.

He announced his wedding in every edition of his autobiography from 1792 onwards, and it has been suggested that his marriage reflected his anticipation of a commercial union between Africa and Great Britain. The couple had two daughters, Anna Maria, born in 1793, and Joanna, born in 1795.

Equiano's death is recorded in London in 1797, but where he is buried is unknown. One of his last London addresses appears to have been Plaisterer's Hall in the City of London (where he wrote his will on 28 May 1796).