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Ottobah Cugoano
Narrative of the Enslavement of Ottobah Cugoano, a Native of Africa; Published by Himself in the Year 1787. In "The Negro's Memorial; or, Abolitionist's Catechism; by an Abolitionist" (pp. 120-127), by [Fisher, Thomas] 1781?-1836
London: Printed for the Author and Sold by Hatchard and Co., 1825.


Quobna Ottobah Cugoano (ca. 1757- ?) was one the most forceful and influential Afro-Britons to fight for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade. Born at "Agimaque, on the coast of Fantyn" and "the country of Fantee" in what is present-day Ghana, Cugoano was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1770 (p. 121). Cugoano endured the grueling Middle Passage and worked on a sugar cane plantation in Grenada, where he was bought by an English gentleman and taken to England in 1772. In England, Cugoano converted to Christianity and was baptized with the name John Stuart. He was freed, and he learned to read, gradually integrating himself into high society. Cugoano also developed close ties within the Afro-Briton community; he befriended Olaudah Equiano and Ignatius Sancho. After publishing his Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species in 1787 and reprinting a modified edition of the same text in 1791. Cugoano dropped out of the public record, and no further information on his life or death is available. Both editions of Cugoano's Thoughts were sold by subscription, and the text was well received. I t went through three printings in 1787 and was translated into French in 1788. This text of Cugoano's Narrative is excerpted from his earlier, more extensive Thoughts and was published in 1825 as an appendix to The Negro's Memorial, an abolitionist tract.

Cugoano begins his Narrative with an account of his birth in and his memories of Africa, from which he was kidnapped "with about eighteen or twenty more boys and girls, as we were playing in a field" (p. 120). After several weeks in captivity, Cugoano is eventually brought to a trading post. There, he sees "many of my miserable countrymen chained two and two, some handcuffed," and "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" (p. 123). Cugoano's captor sells him for "a gun, a piece of cloth, and some lead," telling the new slave that he must "learn the ways of the browfow, that is, the white-faced people" (p. 124).

The white slave traders who buy Cugoano are less humane than his original captors. On board the ship there is "nothing to be heard but the rattling of chains, smacking of whips, and the groans and cries of our fellow-men" (p. 124). The slaves agree that death is "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 country women, who slept with some of the headmen of the ship, for it was common for the filthy dirty sailors to take the African women and lie upon their bodies; but the men were chained and pent up in holes" (p. 124). After weeks in the filthy and debasing conditions that were typical of the Middle Passage, Cugoano and his fellow slaves arrive in Grenada, where they are sold to work on sugar cane plantations.

On the plantations, Cugoano and his fellow slaves are again subject to the whims and cruelty of others. Slaves discovered eating sugar cane are "cruelly lashed, or struck over the face, to knock their teeth out" (p. 126). Other slaves have "their teeth pulled out, to deter others, and to prevent them from eating any cane" even before they ever work in the fields (p. 126). Cugoano does not claim to have suffered any more than the other slaves, and he is more fortunate than most in that he is sold, taken to England, and eventually freed.

In England, he develops "a strong desire to learn" and "applied myself to learn reading and writing, which soon became my recreation, pleasure, and delight; and when my master perceived that I could write some, he sent me to a proper school for that purpose to learn" (p. 127). Later, as a free and educated man, Cugoano never forgets the suffering he endured, and he fights for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade. He repudiates white and black slave traders alike. Although white masters are more cruel than their black counterparts, Cugoano refuses to blame whites for all the problems of slavery. He sadly recalls that his own journey into slavery started with an African slave trader: "I was first kidnapped and betrayed by some of my own complexion" (p. 126).

Works Consulted: Carretta, Vincent, Introduction, Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery, New York: Penguin Books, 1999, ix-xxviii.

Zachary Hutchins

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