I just want to make a few observations on the Equiano controversy.

Chima J. Korieh,
Rowan University

"Author casts shadow over slave hero"

A few days ago, a friend sent me some information regarding the controversy over where Equaino was born. The baptismal record located at the City of Westminster Archives Centre has this description. "Olaudah Equiano's baptism states that he is 'A Black born in Carolina, 12 years old'. He had been taken from Africa to America as a slave and later brought to England by his master. In 1766 he bought his freedom and became a campaigner against slavery."


I think this raised more questions than answers and challenges Vincent Carretta's scholarship, at least to the extent that he may have ignored the uncertainties that the record contains itself. If this record is true, then there is a deliberate attempt to ignore the "taken from Africa part" and emphasize "a black born in Carolina." Who wrote the baptism card? Could it be that they meant to write "taken from Carolina." It really makes no sense to be born in Carolina and taken to Africa. The problem is the document on which Carretta based his new scholarship is suspect. What was the clear intent of the writer? Could it be that Equaino preferred to be identified as an American at the time of his baptism having arrived from via the Carolinas? Could it be that the records wrongly recorded the place he was purchased as the place of birth? Since we do not have any other collaborating evidence from the Carolinas to support Carretta's conclusion that he may have be born in America, the issue is not yet resolved. At age 12, and still a slave, did Equiano or his owner decide what should be on the record at St Margaret's Westminster in 1759? I think the crucial issue here is an attempt to destroy the authenticity of an African voice that was visible at a time when African were regarded as less than human. But I think Carretta has done a fine job of promoting his book by raising the debate to a high level even before the book is published.

Baptism of 'Gustavus Vassa', St Margaret's Westminster, 1759
Source: http://www.westminster.gov.uk/libraries/archives/blackpresence/08.cfm