{[ promptMessage ]}

Bookmark it

{[ promptMessage ]}

Carretta.Does-Equiano-Still-Matter

Carretta.Does-Equiano-Still-Matter - Lending String...

Info iconThis preview shows pages 1–7. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Background image of page 1

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Background image of page 2
Background image of page 3

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Background image of page 4
Background image of page 5

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Background image of page 6
Background image of page 7
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

Unformatted text preview: Lending String: EMU,*RRR,JHE,JHE,DGU Call #: D'l .H53 Patron: MiLLER, Joseph Location: FRR Journal Title: Historically speaking. Date: 03—24-08 Volume: 7 Issue: 3 MonthIYear: 2006 _ Pages; Arlel ODYSSEY ENABLED Article Author: Historical Society (Boston, Mass.) Borrower [email protected] Article Tifle: Vincent Carrelta; éDoes Equiano . , - — Shipping Address: Still Matteflo . . . . . UniverSIty of Virginia Alderman LibraryllLL - . - - - 160 N. McCormick Road t: . Impnn Boston, Mass , Hustorical Seeiety, [199 Charlottesvme‘ VA 22904 Fax: 804 982—2307 Ariel: 128.143.166.41 ILL Number: 41032844 Ema": |llllilllllll|||||l||l|lllllllllllllllllllllll University of Rochester ILL ‘ lLLiad m: 453929 lllllllllllllfllllllllllllllllllllllllll If you need to request a resend, please do so within five (5) business days. INDICATE PROBLEM: —m___...._..______________p________ University of Rochester Library (RRR) Rochester, NY 14627 Phone: (585) 275-4454 Ariel: 128.151.189.155 Odyssey: 123.151.2445 Jan/Feb 2006 Historically Speaking - HISTORICALLY SPEAKING Vol. VII No. 3 CONTENTS Olaudah Equiano, the South Carolinian? A Forum Does Equiano Stilt Matter? \t‘lnoenl Carrefla Constmction oilde ‘ :Olauo‘ah Equrano or Gustavus assa? Faul'E Lovejoy Gondbye, Equiano, the African Trevor Bumard Beyond Equiano Jon SensbaCh Response to Lovejoy, Barnard. and Sensbach \vlnoent Carretta PosMan An interview with Tony Judi Conduded by Donald A Yams Racing the Enemy:A Critical Look Mimael Kol‘t The Future of War: A Forum Been Them! Done That! Blood in the Crystal Ball Colin St Gray Comment on Gray Peter Patel TheC lBalllsBlood but savor??? y T, X Home Comment on Gm y Viclar Davis Hanson History and the Future of War ,Anmlio J, 5mm n Comment on Gray Mulran Baoavich With Clausem'tz to Etemity Colin S. Gray Historical Thinhiri is Unnami, and Immense lm ntIAn interview Mth Sam nebury Concluded by Joseph 5. Lucas Histont over the Water Derek \Mlson What Have l-fistorians Been Reading? Book Exhibit intonnation for the Historical Society's 2006 Conference Pralimin ngigam torthe Historical I Socrety’s 006 nferenqe: Globalization. Empire, and impenalism in Historical Perspective JanuaryiFebruary 2006 OLAUDAH EQUIANo, THE SOUTH CAROLINIAN? A FORUM OLA UDAH EQUIANO ’3 THE TNTERESTING NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF OLAUDAH Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African is widely used in college classrooms to acquaint stu- dents with the horrors of the transatlantic voyage on slave ships as well as with life in 18th- century West Afiica. As Vincent Carretta notes below, "it is dtfiicult to think of any historical I account ofthe Middle Passage that does not quote... [Equiano ’5] eyewitness description ofits horrors as primary evidence. " But what this definitive account was created by an ex-slave _ horn in South Carolina, not Afiica? In the newly published Equiano the African: Biography of a 1' Self-Made Man ( University of Georgia Press. 2005). Cornelia, who has also edited the Penguin I: edition oquuiano's Interesting Narrative, argues that Equiano may have fitbricated his African identity. That said Carretta maintains that Equiano is still extremely valuable to historians because of his constructed identity as an “Atlantic creole. " " Carrettafv thesis is grist for a very lively florum. He begins by laying out the contours of his argument developed in Equiano the African. Paul Lovejoy, Trevor Barnard. and Jon Sensliach respond. The forum concludes with Carrettas rejoinder .i l _ DOES EQUIANO STILL MATTER? Vincent Carretta have been invited to address the question of whether—despite the possibility that be fabricated his personal and African identi- ties—tho man best known today as Olaudah Equiano remains a central figure in the recon~ struction of Atlantic history, and to our under- standing of the Atlantic world. Before I do so, let me briefly summarize his life, as he recounts it in his autobiography, and touch on the significant role he has played in historical and literary studies. According to The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Eqniano. or Gustavus Vassar, the African. Written by Himself (London, 1'789), Equiano was born in 1745 in what is now southeastern Nigeria. There, he says, he was enslaved at the. age of eleven, and sold to English slave traders who took him on the Middle Passage to the West Indies. Within a few days, he tells us, he was taken to Virginia and sold to a local planter. Alter about a month in Virginia he was purchased by Michael Henry Pascal, an officer in the British Royal Navy who brought him to London. Pascal ironically renamed him Gustavns Vassa after the 16th-century Swedish monarch who liber-. 3th his people from Danish tyranny. Darin ' the 18th century slaves were oltcn given iron- . ically inappropriate names of powerful histor— ical figures like Caesar and Pompey to cmpha— size their subjugation to their masters‘ wills. . With Pascal, Equiano saw military action on I both sides of the Atlantic Ocean during the Seven Years’ War. In 1762, at the end of the conflict, Pascal shocked Equiano by refusing to free him, selling him instead in the West ‘; Indies. Escaping the horrors of slavery in the f sugar islands, Equiano managed to save , enough money to buy his own freedom in 1766. in Central America he helped purchase and supervise slaves on a plantation. He set off on voyages of commerce and adventure to North America, the Mediterranean, the West Indies, and the North Pole. He was now a man of the Atlantic. A close encounter with death during his Arctic vOyage forced him to recog- nize that he might be doomed to eternal T damnation. He resolved his spiritual crisis by i embracing Methodism in l774. Later, he became an outSpoken opponent of the slave .g—nnds I ' author l trade, first in his letters to newspapers and then in his autobiography. He married an Englishwoman in 1792, with whom he had two daughters. Thanks largely to profits from his publications, when Equiano died on March 3], I797, he was probably the wealthiest, and certainly the most famous, person of African descent in the Atlantic world. Over the past thirty— five years, historians, literary critics, and the general public have come to recognize the author of The Interesting Narrative as one of the most accom- plished English—speak— ing writers of his age, and unquestionably the most accomplished of African descent. Several mod- ern editions are now available of his autobi- ography.» The literary status of The Interesting Narrative has been acknowledged by its inclusion in the Penguin Classics series. It is universally accept- ed as the fundamental text in the genre of the slave narrative. Excerpts from the book appear in every anthol- ogy and onany Web site covering American, African-American, British, and Caribbean history and literature of the 18th century. The most frequently . excerpted sections are the early chapters on = his life in Africa and his experience on the Middle Passage crossing the Atlantic to America. Indeed, it is difficult to think of any historical account of the Middle Passage that does not quote his eyewitness descrip- tion of its horrors as primary evidence. Interest in Equiano has not been restricted to academia. He has been the subject of televi- sion shows, films, comic books, and books written for children. The story of Equiano‘s life is part of African, African-American, Anglo-American, African-British, and African-Caribbean popular culture. Equiano is also the subject of a biography published . tin s raver s "ii/AS s a, January/February 2006 - in 1998 by James Waivin, an eminent histo— rian of slavery and the slave trade. These last thirty-five years have wit- messed a renaissance of interest in Equiano’s autobiography and its author. During Equiano’s own lifetime The Interesting Narrative went through an impressive nine fitttrwrflf .i' ,' I {into/w! brim/e / 51.1.14! Kr la... Olaudah Equiano from The interesting Narrative of the Life of Oiauciah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, 1794. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division. [Digital ID: rbcmisc ody0201]. editions. Most books published during the 18th century never saw a second edition. A few more editions of his book appeared, in altered and often abridged form, during the twenty years after his death in 1797. Thereafier, he was briefly cited and some— times quoted by British and American oppo- nents of slavery throughout the first half of the 19th century. He was still well enough known publicly that he was identified in 1857 as “Gustavus Vassa the African“ on the newly discovered gravestone of his only child who survived to adulthood. But after 1857 Equiano and his Interesting Narrative seem to have been almost completely forgot- Historically Speaking 656 Beacon Street, Mezzanine Boston, MA 02215—2010 ph. 617.358.0260 fX. 6l7.358.025l} [email protected] www.bu.edu/historic PRESIDENT Franklin W. Knight EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Louis A. Ferteger SECRETARYIFREASURER Jeffrey Vanke ASSISTANT DIRECTORS, EDITORS, HISTORICHLL I’SPEIIKING Joseph S. Lucas Donald A. Yerxa ASSOCIATE EDITOR, HIS T ORICALLY SPEAKING Randall J. Stephens EDITOR, THE JOURNAL OF THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY George Huppert MANAGING EDITOR, THE JOURNAL OF THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY Scott Hovey BOARD OF GOVERNORS Pete Banner-Haley Lewis Baternan Martin Burke Peter Coclanis Darryl (1 Hart John Higginson Margaret King Alan Charles Kors Han'iet Lightman James Livingston Pauline Maier Joyce Malcolm Scott Marier Wilfred M. McClay David Moltke-Hansen Paul A. Rahe Joseph Skely Mark Smith Marc Trachtenberg Jon Westiing Sean Wilentz John Wilson John Womack 4 Historically Speaking - ten on both sides of the Atlantic for more than a century. A notable exception was W.E.B. Du Bois, who in 1913 recognized Equiano’s auto— biography as “the beginning of that long series of personal appeals of which Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery is the latest?“ The declining interest in the author and his book is probably explained by the shift in emphasis from the abolition of the British- dominated transatlantic slave trade to the abo- lition of slavery, particularly in the United States. _ The 20th-century recovery of the man and his work began with the publication in 1969 by Paul Edwards of a facsimile edition of The Interesting Narrative. l have been teaching and researching Equiano since the early 1990s. Although I had heard of Equiano before then, I had never seen a copy of his work, and from what I had read about it I assumed that it was a text more appropriate for American literature cours- es than for the British courses I was teaching at the time. Placing Equiano in the tradi— tion of American autobiographical writing exemplified by Benjamin Franklin went unchallenged. They were both seen as self— made men who raised themselves by their own exertions from obScurity and poverty. No one thought to point out that since the publication in London of Equiano‘s autobiography pre— ceded by decades that of Franklin’s in the United States, rather than considering Equiano an African-American Franklin we would more accurately call Franklin an Anglo-American Equiano. Preparing to teach The Interesting Narrative, and later editing the text for Penguin Putnam, I began a series of discover— ies that led to my decision to write a biography of its author. Many of those discoveries were ones I never expected, indeed, never wanted to make because they so profoundly challenged my sense of who Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African, was. Recent biog— raphical discoveries cast doubt on Equiano’s story of his birth and early years. The avail- able evidence suggests that the author of The Interesting Narrative may have invented rather than reclaimed anAfrican identity. if so, Equiano’s literary achievements have been vastly underestimated. Baptismal and naval records say that he was born in South Carolina arotmd 1747. If they are accurate, he invented his African childhood and his much quoted account of the Middle Passage on'a slave ship.2 Other newly found evidence proves that Januarthehruary 2006 Equiano first came to England years earlier than he says. He was clearly willing to manip- ulate at least some of the details of his life. Problematic as such evidence may be, any would-be biographer must now take it into account. Reasonable doubt raised by the recent biographical discoveries inclines me to believe that the accounts of Africa and the Middle Passage in The Interesting Narrative were constructedmand carefully so—rather than actually experienced, and that the author probably invented an African identity. But we - must remember that reasonable doubt is not the same as conviction. We will probably never know the truth about the author’s birth and upbringing. The burden of proof, howev- By forging a part of his personal identity and creating an'Igbo national identity avant. la lettre, Equiano became an reflective spokesman for his fellow diaSporan Africans. er, is now on those who believe that The Interesting Narrative is a historically accurate piece of nonfiction. Anyone who still contends that Equiano’s account of the early years of his life is authentic is obligated to account for the powerful conflicting evidence. And we must consequently reasseSs the ways in which we have interpreted and used his autobiography. Equiano was certainly African by descent. The circumstantial evidence that Equiano was also African-American by birth and African— British by choice is compelling but not absolutely conclusive. Supporting Equiano’s claim of an African birth, Adam Hochschild argues, is “the long and fascinating history of autobiographies that distort or exaggerate the truth . . . . But in each of these cases, the lies and inventions pervade the entire book. Seldom is one crucial portion of a memoir totally fabricated and the remainder scrupu- lously accurate; among autobiographers, as with other writers, both dissemblers and truth- tellers tend to be consistent.”3 A writer as skill— ful and careful as Equiano, however, could have been one of the rare exceptions that Hochschild acknowledges exist. Equiano cer- tainly knew that to do well financially by doing good for the abolitionist cause he need» ed to establish and maintain his credibility as an eyewitness to the evils of the transatlantic slave trade and slavery in its various 18th-cen- tury forms. He also knew what parts of his story could be corroborated by others, and, more important if he was combining fiction 2 with fact, what parts could not easily be con— tradicted. ‘; Why might Equiano have created an ‘ African nativity and disguised an American birth? The timing of the publication of The Interesting Narrative was no accident, Mainly through the efforts of the philanthropist I Thomas Clarkson, the organized opposition to l the African slave trade gathered and published evidence against the infamous practice from L 1787 on. But before 1789 the evidence and arguments against the slave trade came from 5' white voices alone. The only published black ;. witnesses were clearly fictitious, found, for example, in the poems of Hannah More and "“ William Cowper. in An Essay on the Slaven’ and Commerce of the Human Species (London, 1736}, ii, Equiano’s future subscriber Clarkson acknowledged the victim’s point of view. ‘ Clarkson dramatized the transatlantic slave trade by. placing the trade in “the; clearest, and most conspic ous point of view.” Employing the virtual re ity of fiction to convey factual experience, imagined himself interviewing a “melancho f African.” “We shall,“ he wrote, “throw a co " siderable part of our information on this he into the form of a narrative: we shall suppose, ourselves, in short, on the continent of Africa; and relate a scene, which, from its agreem with unquestionable facts, might not unrea-i sonany be presumed to have been presented to our view, had we really been there} 1 _ Initially, not even black opponents of the trade _ recognized the rhetorical power an authentic - African voice could wield in the struggle. When Equiano’s friend, collaborator, and '. future subscriber Quobna Ottobah Cugoano published Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Trafi‘ic of the Slavery and Commerce ofthe Human Species in London in 1787, he chose not to describe Africa or the i Middle Passage in much detail. A member of the Fante people from the area of present-day ' Ghana who had been kidnapped into slavery around 1770, Cugoano believed that “it would be needless to give a description of all the hor- rible scenes which we saw, and the base treat- ment which we met with in this dreadful cap- tive situation, as the similar cases of thou- sands, which suffer by this infernal traffic, are well known.”5 Equiano knew that what the anti-slave trade movement needed most in 1789 to con- tinue its increasing momentum was the rhetor- desirability of hearing till? i A Him—.H‘. January/February 2006 ' :| (u rut-s Iwntbu w Wflhflid nicer. ' 'i:=éhde‘A'-X=9¥LfiaiTact . .- "N‘swwuflwvu- ical power an authentic African voice could wield in the struggle. His autobiography cor- . roborated and even explicitly drew upon earli« American, voice was what “uni-:14“ 9.”; w -' ' 5 personal identity and creating ' ..became : millions of people forcibly ‘1 taken brought to the Americas as or reports of Africa and the trade by some white observers, and challenged those of oth— ers. His account of Africa is a combination of printed sources, memory, and imagination. Equiano appreciated that “only something so particular as a single life . . . could capture the multiplicity of . . . lives” in the 18th-century Atlantic worlds The aboli- tionist movement required precisely the kind of account of Africa and the Middle Passage that he, and perhaps only he, could supply. An African, not an African- was needed. He spoke for the from Africa and slaves. Equiano recognized a way to do very well financial~ ly by doing a great deal of good in supplying that much needed voice. By forging a part of his an Igbo national identity grant [a iettre, Equiano an effective spokesman for his fellow diasporan Africans. As the Nigerian Nobel laureate Chinua Achebe has observed, the conscious- ness of the Igbo identity that Equiano asserts is a far more recent phenomenon: In my area, historically, {the Igbo peo— ple] did not see themselves as Igbo. They saw themselves as people from this village or that village. In fact in some places “‘lgbo” was a word of abuse; they were the “other” people, down in the bush. And yet, after the experience of the Biafran War, during a period of two years [1967-1970], it became a very powerful conscious— ness. But it was real all the time. They all spoke the same language, called “lgho,” even though they were not using that identity in any way. But the moment came when this identity became very very powerful . . . and over a very short period.7 Contemporary scholars value Equiano’s “unique first-hand account of 18th-century Igboland” so highly because so little other direct information about the mid-lSth-century Igbo exists.E But this same absence of evi- dence gave Equiano the opportunity for inven- tion he needed if he was born in South Carolina rather than Africa. Equiano uses his autobiography to practice nation-formation as well as self-creation. He was a pioneer in the forging of an lgbo national identity. To be sure, an argument has been made that an lgbo national identity was developing African slaves being led by two guards. From L'ittfrique, on Historic, moaurs, usages et coutumes des africains: le Sénégai (Paris, 1814). Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Yale University, during the 18th century, but even if such an identity had been established by the time Equiano was writing, it was not the primary identity a native West African would likely have claimed, except possibly to outsiders.9 During the 18th century the now more famil- iar national sense of Igbo identity was th...
View Full Document

{[ snackBarMessage ]}