navigation bar Houghton Mifflin Social Studies United States History: Early Years
Biographies Unit Biographies

Olaudah Equiano 1734–1797
Sailor and Author

Olaudah Equiano (OL uh dah eh kwee AH noh) was born the son of a village chief in Nigeria, a country in western Africa. When he was eleven, Equiano was captured by nearby villagers and sold into slavery. Separated from his family, he was forced to leave Africa for North America. Equiano and hundreds of other Africans suffered greatly during a long and terrible voyage by sea. Many Africans died.

In the colony of Virginia, Equiano was bought by a British naval officer. Together, they sailed all over the world. During his travels, Equiano learned to read and write. By 1766, he had earned enough money through trading to buy his freedom.

As a free man, Equiano continued his adventures as a sailor. He traveled to such distant places as Turkey and Central America. He also worked to set up a colony in Africa for freed slaves. In 1789, Equiano published his autobiography, which told of the horrors of slavery. His book was popular in both Great Britain and the United States. Equiano's writing later inspired future leaders of the anti-slavery movement.

Comprehension Check

What happened to Equiano when he was eleven years old?

Critical Thinking

Why do you think Olaudah Equiano wanted to tell his life story to the world?