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Extract from "The Interesting Narrative of the Life of O. Equiano", 1789 219

He spent the next four years on the island of Montserrat, during which time he began trading to such good effect that he was able to buy his freedom in 1766. This period forms the centrepiece of Olaudah’s account of his life, and a crucial source of information against which to balance what was happening to the slaves. At this point his writing has all the virtues of very good journalism. Arriving in the islands, for instance, he describes the “scramble”, the terror of the slaves, and the sexual abuse of the female captives. He discusses the system by which slaves were bought to be rented out by the day, and the consequent deprivation of its victims. He outlines the tricks by which the slaves were repeatedly robbed of whatever resources they could assemble, including the bundles of grass they gathered to take to market on their rest days.

When he begins buying and selling, with an initial capital of three-pence, he is repeatedly mugged by white sailors and planters. Later on an irascible doctor who is offended by his presence beats him to within an inch of his life. Reading this narrative is an emotional experience, and when Olaudah bursts out into frustration and anger at the planters’ perversion of humanity, it is like an echo of my own feelings.

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