London's slave trade
Olaudah Equiano's former house
111 Maze Hill, where Olaudah Equiano stayed in 1755 and 1770Born in Nigeria in 1745, Olaudah Equiano was sent as a slave to Barbados and Virginia, d where he was bought by a British naval officer, Captain Henry Pascal. Pascal brought him to London where he stayed with his master’s relatives, the Guerin sisters at 111 Maze Hill, who taught him to read and write. But after an encounter with Pascal in Greenwich Park, Equiano was sold again to a merchant in Monserrat. There, he was able to save enough money to finally purchase his freedom for £40 in 1766. On returning to London in 1767, he began to fight for justice for slaves. He formed a group called The Sons of Africa and lobbied Parliament for slavery’s abolition. His bestselling autobiography, ‘The Interesting Narrative’, contributed to William Wilberforce’s campaign against the trade in the House of Commons. Unfortunately, he did not live to see it – he died in 1797.
DL We are looking at the possibility of a blue plaque here. We need to ensure that more black and ethnic minority people who are a part of this country’s history are memorialised.
AT There’s a plaque to Equiano in Riding House Street, but it’s a green plaque [solely a Westminster-based scheme], and recently we found the grave of Equiano’s eldest daughter, Johanna, in Apley Park cemetery in Stoke Newington. What’s sad about Equiano’s story is that he was unrecognised even by the abolitionists. I have a copy of [eighteenth/nineteenth-centry campaigner] Thomas Clarkson’s writings against slavery and, in 500 pages, Equiano is never mentioned.
DL I think he would have been quite pleased that 200 years later, he is central in an official government publication.
AT Do you think the British government should formally apologise for the slave trade?
DL We need to work with the churches for a public service next year that will be attended by the government and the monarchy, and to have memorials in the City of London. We do have to be able to look squarely at this great injustice that was done to so many human beings and remember those millions of men, women and children who lost their lives in the middle passage.
I was reminded about the reverberations of the slave trade in a deep, deep way with what happened in New Orleans last summer. There’s much we have to do still, but let’s also have a complex tapestry of what it means to be black.
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