Equiano Gains his Freedom
This extract, taken from Chapter Seven of the Interesting Narrative, contains Equiano's account of his own manumission in 1766. Equiano's owner, the Philadelphia Quaker Robert King, had in 1765 promised Equiano that he could buy back his own freedom if he ever raised the sum of forty pounds, the price King had himself paid for Equiano. King, who conducted much of his business from the island of Montserrat in the Caribbean Leeward Islands, put Equiano to work on one of his ships. Fortunately for Equiano, this meant that he could earn the money by petty trading, an activity in which he received some encouragement from the ship's 'friendly captain'; Thomas Farmer.
We set sail once more for Montserrat, and arrived there safe [...] When we had unladen the vessel, and I had sold my venture, finding myself master of about forty-seven pounds - I consulted my true friend, the captain, how I should proceed in offering my master the money for my freedom. He told me to come on a certain morning, when he and my master would be at breakfast together. Accordingly, on that morning, I went, and met the captain there, as he had appointed. When I went in I made my obeisance to my master, and with my money in my hand, and many fears in my heart, I prayed him to be as good his offer to me, when he was pleased to promise me my freedom as soon as I could purchase it. This speech seemed to confound him; he began to recoil; and my heart that instant sunk within me. “What!” said he, “give you your freedom? Why, where did you get the money; have you got forty pounds sterling?” “Yes sir,” I answered. “How did you get it”; replied he; I told him, “Very honestly.” The captain then said he knew I got the money very honestly, and with much industry, and that I was particularly careful. On which my master replied, I got money much faster than he did; and said he would not have made me the promise he did if he thought I should have got money so soon. “Come, come,” said my worthy captain, clapping my master on the back, “Come Robert, (which was his name), I think you must let him have his freedom; - you have laid your money out very well; you have received good interest for it all this time, and here is now the principal at last. I know Gustavus has earned you more than a hundred a-year, and he will still save you money, as he will not leave you: Come, Robert, take the money.” My master then said, he would not be worse than his promise; and, taking the money, told me to go to the Secretary at the Register Office, and get my manumission drawn up. These words of my master were like a voice from heaven to me; in an instant all my trepidation was turned into unutterable bliss; and I most reverently bowed myself with gratitude, unable to express my feelings, but by the overflowing of my eyes, and a heart replete with thanks to God; while my true and worthy friend the captain congratulated us both with a peculiar degree of heartfelt pleasure. As soon as the first transports of my joy were over, and I had expressed my thanks to these my worthy friends in the best manner I was able, I rose with a heart full of affection and reverence, and left the room in order to obey my master’s joyful mandate of going to the Register Office. As I was leaving the house, I called to mind the words of the Psalmist, in the 126th psalm, and like him, “I glorified God in my heart, in whom I trusted.” These words had been impressed on my mind from the very day I was forced from Deptford to the present hour, and I now saw them, as I thought, fulfilled and verified. My imagination was all rapture as I flew to the Register Office: and, in this respect, like the apostle Peter, (whose deliverance from prison was so sudden and extraordinary, that he thought he was in a vision), I could scarcely believe I was awake. Heavens! who could do justice to my feelings at this moment? Not conquering heroes themselves, in the midst of a triumph - Not the tender mother who has just regained her long-lost infant, and presses it to the heart - Not the weary hungry mariner, at the sight of the desired friendly port - Not the lover, when he once more embraces his beloved mistress, after she had been ravished from his arms! - all within my breast was tumult, wildness, and delirium! My feet scarcely touched the ground, for they were winged with joy, and, like Elijah, as he rose to Heaven, they “were with lightning sped as I went on.” Every one I met I told of my happiness, and blazed about the virtue of my amiable master and captain.
When I got to the office and acquainted the Register with my errand, he congratulated me on the occasion, and told me he would draw up my manumission for half price, which was a guinea. I thanked him for his kindness; and having received it, and paid him, I hastened to my master to get him to sign it, that I might fully be released. Accordingly he signed the manumission that day; so that, before night, I who had been a slave in the morning, trembling at the will of another, now became my own master and compleatly free. I thought this was the happiest day I had ever experienced; and my joy was still heightened by the blessings and prayers of the sable race, particularly the aged, to whom my heart had ever been attached with reverence.
As the form of my manumission has something peculiar in it, and expresses the absolute power and dominion one man claims over his fellow, I shall beg leave to present it before my readers at full length:
Montserrat. - To all men unto whom these presents shall come: I Robert King, of the parish of St. Anthony, in the said island, merchant, send greeting: Know ye, that I the aforesaid Robert King, for, and in consideration of the sum of seventy pounds current money of the said island, to me in hand paid, and to the intent that a negro man slave, named Gustavus Vasa, shall and may become free, have manumitted, emancipated, enfranchised, and set free, the aforesaid negro man-slave, named Gustavus Vasa, for ever; hereby giving, granting, and releasing unto him, the said Gustavus Vasa, all right, title, dominion, sovereignty, and property, which, as lord and master over the aforesaid Gustavus Vasa, I have had, or which I now have, or by any means whatsoever I may or can hereafter possibly have over him the aforesaid Negro, for ever. In witness whereof, I the abovesaid Robert King, have unto these presents set my hand and seal, this tenth day of July, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and sixty-six.