Olaudah Equiano
A peaceful interlude in Guernsey of 1757

My master lodged at the house of a gentleman in Falmouth, who had a fine little daughter, about six or seven years of age, and she grew prodigiously fond of me: insomuch that we used to eat together, and had servants to wait on us. I was so much caressed by this family, that it often reminded me of the treatment I had received from my noble African master. After I had been here a few days, I was sent on board of the ship; but the child cried so much after me, that nothing could pacify her till I was sent for again. It is ludicrous enough, that I began to fear that I should be betrothed to this young lady; and when my master asked me if I would stay there with her behind him, as he was going away with the ship, having taken in the tobacco again, I cried immedieately, and said I would not leave him. At last, by stealth, one night I was sent on board the ship again; and in a little time sailed for Guernsey, where she was in part owned by a merchant, one Nicholas Doberry.

As I was now amongst a people who had not their faces scarred, like some of the African nations where I had been, I was very glad at my not having permitted them to ornament me in that manner. When we arrived at Guernsey, my master placed me to board with and lodge with one of his mates, who had a wife and family there; and some months afterwards he returned to England, and left me in care of this mate, together with my friend Dick. This mate had one little daughter, aged about five or six years, with her I used to be much delighted. I had often observed that when her mother washed her face it looked very rosy; but when she washed mine it did not look so: I therefore tried oftentimes myself if I could not by washing make my face of the same colour as my little playmate, Mary, but it was all in vain; and I then began to be mortified at the difference in our complexions This woman behaved to me with great kindness and attention. She taught me every thing in the same manner as she did her own child, and indeed in every respect treated me as she did her own child, and indeed in every respect as such. I remained there till the summer of the year 1757; when my master, being appointed first lieutenant of his majesty’s ship the Roebuck, sent for Dick and me, and his old mate: on this we all left Guernsey, and set out for England in a sloop bound for London. As we were coming up towards the Nore, where the Roebuck lay, a man of war’s boat came alongside to press our people: on which did every man hide himself. I was very much frightened at this, although I did not understand the meaning thereof, and what to think or do. However I went and hid myself also under a hen-coop. Immediately the press-gang came on board, with their swords drawn, and searched all about, pulled the people out by force, and put them into the boat. At last I was found out also, and the man that discovered me held me up by the heels, while they all made their sport of me, I roaring and crying out all the time most lustily; but at last the mate, my conductor, seeing this, came to my assistance, and did all could to pacify me; but all to very little purpose, till I had seen the boat go off. Soon afterwards, we came to the Nore, where the Roebuck lay; and, to our great joy, my master came on board to us, and brought us to the ship.

This glimpse of Guernsey through the eyes of an enslaved African boy who was then about 12 comes from
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The African, Written by Himself. This was published in 1789 and has huge and lasting cultural importance, for this was one of the first accounts of slavery from a new perspective: that of the slave. The book was tremendously successful at the time of its publication, running to eight British and one US edition within Equiano’s lifetime (c1745- 1796).

The Interesting Narrative gives an account of the Equiano’s first enslavement in what is now eastern Nigeria, his experiences as a slave sold on to Europeans, his wide travels and adventures, and eventual freedom. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. points out in his introduction to The Classic Slave Narratives, that “his adventures include service in the Seven Years War with General Wolfe in Canada and Admiral Bocawen in the Mediterranean, voyages to the Arctic  with the 1772-73 Phipps expedition, six months among the Miskito Indians in Central America, and ‘a grand tour of the Mediterranean as personal servant to an English Gentleman,’ it is clear that this ex-slave was one of the best travelled people in the world when he decided to write a story of his life.”

The section above is again rather sketchy in its detail about Guernsey itself, and is at an early point in his travels. But he seems to have had some respite here from his many adventures.

This excerpt was taken from The Classic Slave Narratives, Edited and with an Introduction by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. first published by NAL PENGUIN INC in 1987.