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Quobna Ottobah Cugoano: a Former Slave Speaks Out


Ottobah Cugoano

Quobna Ottobah Cugoano, usually known by the shorter form Ottobah Cugoano, was born in present-day Ghana in the 1750s. Kidnapped and taken into slavery, he worked on plantations in Grenada before being brought to England, where he obtained his freedom. He was baptised as 'John Stuart' in 1773, a name he continued to use over the next fifteen years, during which time he worked as a servant to the artist Richard Cosway.

While working for Cosway he wrote his Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Commerce of the Human Species, the first directly abolitionist publication in English by an African, which was published in 1787. In London, he was a friend of Olaudah Equiano and a neighbour of Ignatius Sancho. After publishing his work, he dropped out of the historical record, and we do not know where, when, or how he died.

His work; part autobiography, part political treatise, and part Christian exegesis, has an enduring legacy as the first substantial anti-slavery text written in English by an African.

The image on this page, a detail from Richard Cosway’s The Artist and his Wife in a Garden with a Black Servant (1784), is presumed to be of Cugoano.


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