|Ottobah Cugoano (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
Quobna Ottobah Cugoano, whom Henry Louis Gates has dubbed the "invisible man" of the eighteenth century,was born about the year 1757, at Ajumako a village in what is today Ghana. When he was about 13, he was kidnapped and put on board a ship that carried him to Grenada. After nine or ten months in the slave gang there, and a further year on different West Indian islands, he was brought to England by his owner at the end of 1772 and set free. Advised to get himself baptized in order not to be sold into slavery again, he took the name John Stuart. Later, he entered the service of Richard Cosway, principal painter to the Prince of Wales, and before long emerged as one of the leaders and spokesmen of London's black community.
In 1786, Cugoano played a key part in the rescue of Henry Demane, a black man who had been kidnapped and was being shipped out to the West Indies. Cugoano and another community leader, William Green, reported the kidnapping to the white abolitionist Granville Sharp, who got a writ of habeas corpus, and rescued Demane at the last minute, just as the ship was weighing anchor.
The following year Cugoano published a powerful contribution to the campaign for the abolition of the slave trade, his Thoughts and sentiments on the evil and wicked traffic of the slavery and commerce of the human species. It is believed that Olaudah Equiano collaborated with him on this work. In it, Cugoano and his collaborator destroyed the arguments in defence of slavery; that black slaves in the Caribbean were better off than the European poor; that slavery had divine sanction; that Africans were, by nature and complexion, peculiarly suited to slavery. On the contrary, the slaves were bought and sold and dealt with as their capricious owners saw fit, 'even torturing and tearing them to pieces, and wearing them out with hard labour, hunger and oppression'.
This etching by Richard Cosway shows the artist and his wife with a black servant, who may have been Quobna Ottobah Cugoano
Cugoano went further than just denouncing slavery. He was the first writer in English to declare that enslaved blacks had not only the moral right, but the moral duty to resist:
If any man should buy another man, and compel him to his service and slavery without any agreement of that man to serve him, the enslaver is a robber and a defrauder of that man every day. Wherefore it is as much the duty of a man who is robbed in that manner to get out of the hands of his enslaver, as it is for any hones community of men to get out of the hands of rogues and villains.
Cugoano sent copies of his Thoughts and sentiments to King George III, the Prince of Wales and the politician Edmund Burke; however, all remained supporters of the slave trade. In a postscript to a shorter version of his Thoughts, Cugoano announced his intention of opening a school, mainly for 'all such of his complexion as are desirous of being acquainted with the knowledge of the Christian religion and the laws of civilisation'. It is not known whether he succeeded in opening the school, nor what became of him after 1791. He was the first published African critic of the transatlantic slave trade, and the first African to demand publicly the total abolition of the trade and the freeing of the slaves - a position which scarcely any white abolitionist had taken by 1787.
Read Cugoano`s book Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery, here:http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0030MQJJ6/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_tmb
Cugoano is Kidnapped and Sold into Slavery
This extract, abridged from the Thoughts and Sentiments, describes how the young Cugoano was kidnapped, and put aboard a slave ship on the coast of Africa.At one point he saw the exact price he fetched: 'a gun, a piece of cloth, and some lead.' From Cape Coast Castle, he was taken by ship to the West Indies. After several years of enslavement there, his master brought him to England. The late 1780s found him working as a house servant in London.
Just as abolition organising got under way in 1787, he published a book, 'Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species'. Although one of the first pieces of writing by a black Briton about slavery, surprisingly few pages of the book are about Cugoano's own experience. It mostly consists of religious and philosophical argument.
In that, Cugoano was quite bold for his time, attacking the colonial conquest of the Americas as well as slavery. The book seems to have been widely read. It went through at least three printings in 1787 and was translated into French. In 1791, Cugoano travelled to 'upwards of fifty places' in Britain promoting a revised and condensed edition, contributing his voice and first-hand personal testimony to the campaign against the slave trade.Here is the Excerpt:
"I was born in the city of Agimaque, on the coast of Fantyn; my father was a companion to the chief in that part of the country of Fantee, and when the old king died I was left in his house with his family; soon after I was sent for by his nephew, Ambro Accasa, who succeeded the old king in the chiefdom of that part of Fantee known by the name of Agimaque and Assinee. I lived with his children, enjoying peace and tranquillity, about twenty moons, which, according to their way of reckoning time, is two years. I was sent for to visit an uncle, who lived at a considerable distance from Agimaque. The first day after we set out we arrived at Assinee, and the third day at my uncle's habitation, where I lived about three months, and was then thinking of returning to my father and young companion at Agimaque; but by this time I had got well acquainted with some of the children of my uncle's hundreds of relations, and we were some days too venturesome in going into the woods to gather fruit and catch birds, and such amusements as pleased us. One day I refused to go with the rest, being rather apprehensive that something might happen to us; till one of my play-fellows said to me, because you belong to the great men, you are afraid to venture your carcase, or else of the bounsam, which is the devil. This enraged me so much, that I set a resolution to join the rest, and we went into the woods as usual; but we had not been above two hours before our troubles began, when several great ruffians came upon us suddenly, and said we must go and answer for it ourselves before him.
Soon some of us attempted in vain to run away, but pistols and cutlasses were soon introduced, threatening, that if we offered to stir we should all lie dead on the spot. One of them pretended to be more friendly than the rest, and said, that he would speak to their lord to get us clear, and desired that we should follow him; we were then immediately divided into different parties, and drove after him. We were soon led out of the way which we knew, and towards the evening we came in sight of a town, they told us that this great man of theirs lived there I was kept about six days at this man's house, and in the evening there was another man came and talked with him a good while, and I heard the one say to the other he must go, and the other said the sooner the better. Next day we travelled on, and in the evening came to a town, where I saw several white people, which made me afraid that they would eat me, according to our notion as children in the inland parts of the country. This made me rest very uneasy all the night. After I was ordered out, the horrors I soon saw and felt, cannot be well described; I saw many of my miserable countrymen chained two and two, some hand-cuffed, and some with their hands tied behind. We were conducted along by a guard, and when we arrived at the castle, I asked my guide what I was brought there for, he told me to learn the ways of the brow-sow, that is the white faced people. But when a vessel arrived to conduct us away to the ship, it was a most horrible scene; there was nothing to be heard but rattling of chains, smacking of whips, and the groans and cries of our fellow-men. Some would not stir from the ground, when they were lashed and beat in the most horrible manner. I have forgot the name of this infernal fort; but we were taken in the ship that came for us, to another that was ready to sail from Cape Coast. When we were put into the ship, we saw several black merchants coming on board, but we were all drove into our holes, and not suffered to speak to any of them. In this situation we continued several days in sight of our native land; but I could find no good person to give any information of my situation to Accasa at Agimaque. And when we found ourselves at last taken away, death was more preferable than life, and a plan was concerted amongst us, that we might burn and blow up the ship, and to perish all together in the flames; but we were betrayed by one of our own countrywomen, who slept with some of the head men of the ship, for it was common for the dirty filthy sailors to take African women and lie upon their bodies; but the men were chained and pent up in holes. It was the women and boys which were to burn the ship, with the approbation and groans of the rest; though that was prevented, the discovery was likewise a cruel bloody scene.
But it would be needless to give a description of all the horrible scenes which we saw, and the base treatment which we met with in this dreadful captive situation, as the similar cases of thousands, which suffer by this infernal traffic, are well known. Let it suffice to say, that I was thus lost to my dear indulgent parents and relations, and they to me. All my help was cries and tears, and these could not avail; nor suffered long, till one succeeding woe, and dread, swelled up another. Brought from a state of innocence and freedom, and, in a barbarous and cruel manner, conveyed to a state of horror and slavery: this abandoned situation may be easier conceived than described. From the time that I was kid-napped and conducted to a factory, and from thence in the brutish, base, but fashionable way of traffic, consigned to Granada, the grievous thoughts which I then felt, still pant in my heart; though my fears and tears have long since subsided. And yet it is still grievous to think that thousands more have suffered in similar and greater distress, under the hands of barbarous robbers, and merciless taskmasters; and that many even now are suffering in all the extreme bitterness of grief and woe, that no language can describe. The cries of some, and the sight of their misery, may be seen and heard afar; but the deep sounding groans of thousands, and the great sadness of their misery and woe, under the heavy load of oppressions and calamities inflicted upon them, are such as can only be distinctly known to the ears of Jehovah Sabaoth.
This extract is abridged from Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery, ed. Vincent Carretta (London and New York: Penguin, 1999), pp. 12-16.
Cugoano Calls for a Righteous Empire
This extract from the Thoughts and Sentiments comes from towards the end of the book, after Cugoano has argued at length that slavery and Christianity are incompatible. Cugoano's view that the British Empire could become a force opposed to slavery may seem odd now, but it was a widespread opinion in the late eighteenth century, and one which was embraced by the British government during the nineteenth century. However, whether the British government's motives for opposing slavery then were altruistic or self-interested remains a matter for debate.
To put an end to the wickedness of slavery and merchandizing of men, and to prevent murder, extirpation and dissolution, is what every righteous nation ought to seek after; and to endeavour to diffuse knowledge and instruction to all the heathen nations wherever they can, is the grand duty of all Christian men. But while the horrible traffic of slavery is admitted and practiced, there can be but little hope of any good proposals meeting with success anywhere; for the abandoned carriers of it on have spread the poison of their iniquity wherever they come, at home and abroad. Were the iniquitous laws in support of it, and the whole of that oppression and injustice abolished, and the righteous laws of Christianity, equity, justice and humanity established in the room thereof, multitudes of nations would flock to the standard of truth, and instead of revolting away, they would count it their greatest happiness to be under the protection and jurisdiction of a righteous government. And in that respect, in the multitude of the people is the King's honour; but in the want of people, is the destruction of the Prince.
We would wish to have the grandeur and fame of the British empire to extend far and wide; and the glory and honor of God to be promoted by it, and the interest of Christianity set forth among all the nations wherever its influence and power can extend; but not to be supported by the insidious pirates, depredators, murderers and slave-holders. And as it might diffuse knowledge and instruction to others, that it might receive a tribute of reward from all its territories, forts and garrisons, without being oppressive to any. But contrary to this the wickedness of many of the White People who keep slaves, and contrary to all the laws and duties of Christianity which the scriptures teach, they have in general endeavoured to keep the Black People in total ignorance as much as they can, which must be a great dishonor to any Christian government, and injurious to the safety and happiness of rulers.
This extract taken from Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery, ed. Vincent Carretta (London and New York: Penguin, 1999), pp. 107-108.
Quotes From Quobna Ottobah Cugoano
Quobna Ottobah Cugoano was kidnapped by slave traders when he was 13 years-old in Africa in the late 1700s and taken to England. (His slave name was John Stuart.) After experiencing much cruelty and suffering, he finally got his freedom and learned to read and write.
These quotations come from his book: Thoughts And Sentiments On The Evil And Wicked Traffic Of The Slavery And Commerce Of The Human Species, Humbly Submitted To The Inhabitants Of Great Brittain which was published in 1787.
“I was brought from a state of innocence and freedom, and in a barbarous and cruel manner, conveyed to a state of horror and slavery.” QOC
“How wonderful is the divine goodness displayed in the Old and New Testaments! O what a treasure to have and to be able to read therein.” QOC
“Those men that are the procurers and holders of slaves are the greatest villains in the world. They must be lost to all sensibility thinking that the stealing, robbing, enslaving, and murdering of men are not crimes.” QOC
“If a man have not love in his heart for his fellow creatures, all his other virtues are not worth a straw.” QOC
“The destroyers and enslavers of men can not be Christians, for Christianity is the system of love, and its followers are devoted to honesty, justice, humanity, meekness, peace, and good will to all men.” QOC
“Good soldiers of Jesus Christ have many battles to fight with their unbelief, with the perverseness of their nature, with evil temper, and with besetting sins.” QOC