The narrator of the autobiography, Equiano is an educated, intelligent, and ambitious former slave who intends to showcase the horrors of the slave trade in order to spur on the abolitionist cause. Equiano claimed he was born in Africa, but recent scholarship suggests he was born in South Carolina. Regardless, Equiano was sold to European slave traders, shipped to America and the West Indies, and purchased by a lieutenant, Michael Henry Pascal, in the Royal Navy. Equiano accompanied Pascal on his adventures during the Seven Years' War until he was sold to a Quaker merchant, Robert King. Equiano was ultimately able to secure enough money to purchase his freedom. After manumission, he traveled the world as a sailor and a steward, and even worked as an overseer on a Jamaica plantation for a time. Once he settled in England, he married and became involved in the abolitionist movement. Equiano was extremely religious, and ultimately converted to Methodism. He revealed himself to be an industrious and capable leader, thereby shattering racial stereotypes of the time.
Kidnapped along with Olaudah, his sister was also sold into slavery. She and Olaudah reunited once while still in Africa, but were soon thereafter parted again forever. These two partings bring much grief to Olaudah, and demonstrate the severity of family separations engendered by the slave trade.
Captain Michael Henry Pascal is Olaudah's first master. He purchases him soon after his journey from Africa, and takes him to England, intending him as a gift for some friends. He is responsible for naming Equiano "Gustavus Vassa." It is under Pascal that Equiano first develops his affection for the sea. Pascal is given several different commissions and promotions while fighting for England in the Seven Years' War, and Equiano accompanies Pascal on many of his military endeavors. Pascal denies Equiano his freedom, and when a woman manipulates him into fearing Equiano will escape, Pascal sells Equiano to Captain Doran. Pascal and Equiano meet once more in England, but Pascal continues to harbor bitterness against his now-freed slave.
While in England, Equiano hires himself out to Doctor Charles Irving, who was renowned for his water purification experiments. A kind and even-tempered man, Irving pleased Equiano as an employer. However, Irving did not pay Equiano too much money, and the latter left his service to travel at sea. Some time later, Irving bought a fine ship with the intention of sailing to Jamaica and starting a plantation there; he convinced Equiano to join him and work as overseer. Equiano eventually tired of the post and left. Irving's plantation was successful until Equiano's white replacement tortured the slaves into killing themselves in a failed escape attempt. Irving dies soon thereafter from eating poisonous fish.
Captain Thomas Farmer is an English captain who was a friend of Robert King and who took a liking to Equiano, requesting him as a sailor for his trips. Farmer made King a lot of money and was very "alert and active" (114). King reluctantly allowed Equiano to sail with Farmer on his many trips, and Farmer found Equiano very useful and hardworking. Under him, Equiano learned much about the sea and began to make money by trading goods between ports. Farmer did have the tendency to exercise his control over Equiano, forbidding him to take his bullocks onboard. After relenting, however, he was killed when one of the bullocks struck him in the chest.
Captain James Doran
The man to whom Equiano is sold by Pascal. Doran was the captain of the Charming Sally. He was strict, rather cruel, and unsympathetic to Equiano, but he followed Pascal's orders and sold Equiano to the amiable and just Robert King.
A Quaker merchant who purchases Equiano from Captain Doran, King was a kind, benevolent, and fair-minded man whom Equiano liked and trusted a great deal. He ultimately not only allowed Equiano to purchase his freedom, but also lent him money towards that goal. King was born in Philadelphia and used that city as his home base for his dealings in commerce. He had many storehouses and was connected with a prominent mercantile house in the city. King continued to hire Equiano on many of his mercantile voyages after the latter had purchased his freedom.
Richard "Dick" Baker is a young American boy whom Equiano meets while sailing with Pascal. Baker was educated and amiable, and became a close friend of Equiano. He did not possess a prejudiced or judgmental attitude. This young man helped Equiano speak better English, and introduced him to books. He and Equiano were separated and Dick later died at sea.
A free black man who is accosted by white men in Bermuda and ultimately loses his freedom, despite having papers to prove his status. Clipson's story cements Equiano's growing understanding that free blacks in some ways have a more difficult time than slaves.
An Englishwoman whom Equiano married in 1792.
An educated hairdresser onboard the Aetna, Queen befriends Equiano and teaches him to dress hair and to read passages from the Bible. Equiano considered him almost like a father, and hoped to work with him once he gained his freedom. This did not come to fruition, since Equiano was sold to Captain Doran.
Rich Old Gentleman
A Barbados slave owner who places a muzzle on one of his misbehaving slave women when Equiano first arrives there after being stolen from Africa. It is one of the first outrageous cruelties he beholds after leaving the ship.
Miss Guerin sisters
Two London ladies to whom Equiano is introduced by Pascal. They remain his friends throughout his life, even after Pascal betrays Equiano. They serve as a bridge to respectable society for him before he is able to accomplish that himself.
Widow at Guernsey
One of Equiano's hosts when he serves under Pascal. He first meets her alongside Dick Webster, when her husband is still alive, and later visits her again.
The prince of the Musquito people, who travels with Equiano and Doctor Irving from England to Jamaica. Equiano nearly converts him to Christianity, but the mockery of his peers keeps him from committing to it.
A British official for whom Equiano works later in life. The governor wants Equiano to work as a missionary to Africa, but he is unable to get Equiano properly authorized by a bishop.
A cruel slave-owner in Savannah who has Equiano severely beaten for visiting a slave friend. His treatment reveals both the harshness of the southern American colonies, and the limited protections that freedom presents a black man.
A kindly doctor in Savannah who saves Equiano's life after he is severely beaten on Dr. Drummond's orders. Dr. Brady proves a saving grace to Equiano in several subsequent threatening situations in Georgia, by vouching for him.
A Savannah slave-owner who tries to have Equiano punished after Equiano fights with one of his (Mr. Read's) slaves over an insult. Even though Equiano is legally free, Mr. Read tries to force Equiano to leave the ship, and might have been successful were it not for the intervention of his captain. Another example of how limited the protection of freedom was for blacks.
Captain John Hamer
Captain of the Andromache, the ship that finally brought Equiano back to England from Jamaica, where he had traveled to help Doctor Irving.
A black friend of Equiano's who lives in Savannah. On one visit, after buying his freedom, Equiano is visiting Mose and is accosted by some corrupt watchmen. He is only saved from punishment by the intervention of Dr. Brady.
A soothsayer of sorts, whom Equiano visits in Philadelphia. She knows much about him though they had never met, and she tells him he will not be a slave much longer.
Captain of the Delaware, a ship Equiano enlists on while living as a freedman in London. It sails to Villa Franca, Nice, Leghorn, and Turkey.
Captain David Watt
The captain who brings Equiano back to Jamaica for his first time after leaving the West Indies.
Captain William Roberson
Captain of the Grenada Planter, a ship that brings Equiano to the West Indies during his time as a freedman in London. He finds there that he is still mistreated and cheated by the whites.
Constantine John Phipps
Captain of The Race Horse, the ship that undertakes the failed expedition to the North Pole.
Captain Richard Strange
Captain of the Hope, the first ship Equiano serves on after his conversion. He is shocked by the blasphemy he hears on board.
The owner of a sloop that Equiano signs up for in order to leave Jamaica after traveling there with Dr. Irving. Hughes is a liar who tries to send Equiano elsewhere, and actually ties him up when Equiano complains. Equiano is only released because of his connection to Doctor Irving, but Hughes tries to shoot him as he paddles away. Another example of how little protection a free black man has.
A captain who recruits Equiano when he wants to leave Jamaica after traveling there to help Doctor Irving. Jenning proves to be a liar, and heads south to the Musquito shore instead.
Captain John Baker
A "very cruel and bloody-minded man, and was a very horrid blasphemer" who recruits Equiano on a trip ostensibly back to England from Jamaica, but who heads to Cartagena instead. He beats Equiano and almost blows the ship up. Another example of how little protection a free black man has.
Reverend Mr. Romaine
A Methodist preacher whom Equiano is proud to hear speak after his conversion.
The Musquito Governor
The leader of the Musquito people, who hosts Equiano and Dr. Irving when they work over there. He is very kind, but is also a drunk.
The Life of Olaudah Equiano Questions and Answers
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While being transported on the slave ship, Equiano was mesmerized by the way the ship worked. He believed the workings of the ship were based upon magic, and that the white men who commandee the ship were spirits. This kind of curiosity helped...
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano study guide contains a biography of Olaudah Equiano, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.
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