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University Libraries - News, Events & Exhibits

Olaudah Equiano

Feb 1, 2007 - Apr 15, 2007
This year marks the two-hundredth anniversary of the Abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. In March 1807, both the British Parliament and the U.S. Congress passed legislation prohibiting the trade. The British act took effect almost immediately, from May 1, 1807, while the U.S. act took effect from January 1, 1808 (the first date allowable under Article I, section 9, of the Constitution). One factor in changing opinion about slavery was the publication of writings by African authors. This exhibit features recently-acquired early editions of three eighteenth-century African writers: * Ignatius Sancho (1729-1780), the only African to vote in a British parliamentary election in the period; * Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784), the Boston poet; and * Olaudah Equiano (1745-1797). Equiano’s autobiography The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself (London, 1789) went through nine British editions in only five years and another eight editions in the early nineteenth-century. Among subscribers listed in Equiano’s book is Thomas Cooper, of Manchester, second president of South Carolina College, after whom the library is named. With these writings are displayed contemporary sources on the Atlantic slave trade and slavery in the century before abolition (including an engraving by William Blake), contemporary responses to the writings of the three authors (including Thomas Jefferson’s comments on Wheatley and Sancho, a 1789 review of the first edition of Equiano, and a French commentary on his work from 1808), and published documents from British parliamentary investigations and debates. Especially notable among these is an 1808 engraving of Thomas Clarkson’s well-known plan showing how slaves were packed into the ships for the Middle Passage. All the materials on display come from Thomas Cooper Library’s Department of Rare Books & Special Collections, and many of them have been in the collections since soon after their original publication. Recent acquisitions have been made possible by generous gifts through the library’s Treasures Acquisitions Program (TAP).