By Adam Hochschild
Last updated 2011-02-17
Quobna Ottobah Cugoano was born around 1757 in the village that today is Ajumako, Ghana. At the age of about 13, he was kidnapped and sold into slavery. At one point he saw the exact price he fetched: 'a gun, a piece of cloth, and some lead.' From Cape Coast Castle, he was taken by ship to the West Indies. After several years of enslavement there, his master brought him to England. The late 1780s found him working as a house servant in London.
Just as abolition organising got under way in 1787, he published a book, 'Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species'. Although one of the first pieces of writing by a black Briton about slavery, surprisingly few pages of the book are about Cugoano's own experience. It mostly consists of religious and philosophical argument.
In that, Cugoano was quite bold for his time, attacking the colonial conquest of the Americas as well as slavery. The book seems to have been widely read. It went through at least three printings in 1787 and was translated into French. In 1791, Cugoano travelled to 'upwards of fifty places' in Britain promoting a revised and condensed edition, contributing his voice and first-hand personal testimony to the campaign against the slave trade.
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