Image: Olaudah Equiano, pictured in his 1789 autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (1789). Source: Learn NC
Equiano was enslaved as a child but eventually bought his own freedom. After purchasing his freedom, he became an influential abolitionist in England. Friends and fellow abolitionists persuaded him to write a book about his experiences as an enslaved man. His account was one of the earliest slave autobiographies. It became an powerful tool in the abolitionists’ fight against slavery.
In the following passage, Equiano describes some of his experiences aboard the slave ship that would bring him across the Atlantic Ocean.
"I was soon put down under the decks, and there I received such a greeting in my nostrils as I had never experienced in my life; so that, with the loathsomeness of the stench, and crying together, I became so sick and low that I was not able to eat, nor had I the least desire to taste anything. I now wished for the last friend, death, to relieve me; but soon, to my grief, two of the white men offered me eatables; and, on my refusing to eat, one of them held me fast by the hands, and laid me across, I think, the windlass, and tied my feet, while the other flogged me severely. The white people looked and acted, as I thought, in so savage a manner; for I had never seen among my people such instances of brutal cruelty. The closeness of the place, and the heat of the climate, added to the number in the ship, which was so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself, almost suffocated us. The air soon became unfit for respiration, from a variety of loathsome smells, and brought on a sickness among the slaves, of which many died. The wretched situation was again aggravated by the chains, now unsupportable, and the filth of the necessary tubs, into which the children often fell, and were almost suffocated. The shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying, rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable."