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Extract from "The Interesting Narrative of the Life of O. Equiano", 1789 79

Kidnapped in 1754 at the age of eleven off the West African coast, Equiano, is terrified at first, convinced that he is about to be sacrificed to some strange god or killed and eaten. He refuses to eat and is flogged. Some of his fellow captives attempt suicide by jumping over the side, some plot their escape, some are sunk in despair. Equiano almost immediately begins to ask questions. What makes the ship go? Why are all the sailors’ men? Where are their women? How do they stop the ship? Trying to satisfy his curiosity he observes the sails, the anchor and he begins understanding the uses of navigation and mathematics.

On arrival in Barbados the slaves were taken to a merchant's yard to be sold. Several of his brothers were sold in separate lots and Equiano writes of how moved he was by their distress at being parted. He was to remain in the West Indies for only a short time before being taken to Virginia, where he was sold to a planter. After a month here, he was sold again, this time to an officer in the Royal Navy, and renamed Gustavus Vassa. He travelled to England in 1757, and for the next four years worked as a slave on British ships, at the same time learning to read, write and use mathematics. He converted to Christianity, settled in London, but was kidnapped once again in 1762 and despatched to the West Indies.

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