Saturday, January 23, 2010

Slave Narrative of Olaudah Equiano

Read a portion of the slave narrative of Olaudah Equiano today - The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African (published in 1789). Equiano states in this best seller of the day that he was born in Africa and was captured when he was about 11 years of age. Abolitionists in England utilized his life story as a tool for reform. The full text is here.

Another slave narrative is The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, Related by Herself. This autobiography was published in 1831 and was also an important literary tool for the abolitionists. Mary Prince, born about 1788 in Bermuda and into slavery, was likely the first female slave to be the subject of such a narrative.

It took many years, of course, and many such narratives and accountings of human atrocities to finally bring about the end of the slave trade. One of the leaders of the movement was William Wilberforce. These readings for class reminded me of a quote from John Newton to Wilberforce in 1796 upon the defeat of his proposal to end the slave trade in the English colonies. Not knowing it would be another 11 years of sustained effort before success, Wilberforce was expressing to his old friend Newton (pictured below) his willingness to consider retirement from public life.

Here is Newton's reply, which convinced Wilberforce to stay the course.
Daniel, likewise, was a public man, and in critical circumstances; but he trusted in the Lord; was faithful in his department, and therefore though he had enemies, they could not prevail against him.

Indeed the great point for our comfort in life is to have a well-grounded persuasion that we are where, all things considered, we ought to be. Then it is no great matter whether we are in public or in private life, in a city or a village, in a palace or a cottage. The promise, "My grace is sufficient for thee," is necessary to support us in the smoothest scenes, and is equally able to support us in the most difficult. . . .

[Christ] is always near. He knows our wants, our dangers, our feelings, our fears. By looking to him we are enlightened and made strong out of weakness. With his wisdom for our guide, his power for our protection, his fullness for our supply, and proposing his glory as our chief end, and placing our happiness in his favour, in communion with him, and communications from Him, we shall be able to "withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand."

Source of Quote: William Wilberforce: A Hero for Humanity by Kevin Belmonte (Zondervan, 2007, pages 137,138)

John Newton is the author of the hymn Amazing Grace, which also serves as the title to the wonderful film that captures the life of William Wilberforce (see pdf study guide). I recommend you rent the DVD!
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