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Leyla Keough

Ottobah Cugoano was born in Ajumako, Ghana, and was abducted by slave traders in 1770. Horrified by the atrocities he experienced on the Middle Passage voyage, he exclaimed, “Death was more preferable than life, and a plan was concerted amongst us, that we might burn and blow up the ship, and to perish all together in the flames.” Though the plan was thwarted, the radicalism that marked the effort remained a theme in Cugoano’s life. Cugoano was bought by a white man in the West Indies and in 1772 was taken to England, where he learned to read and write and was baptized. His whereabouts are unknown until 1786 when he and another black man informed the abolitionist lawyer Granville Sharp of the unjust treatment of a slave tied to a mast by his owner At the time Cugoano worked for the court painter of the Prince ...


John Gilmore

English writer born at Lichfield in Staffordshire. After an unsettled and somewhat aimless youth, which included a period of just over a year (1728–9) at the University of Oxford, he made his home in London in 1737. In the capital he slowly established himself as a man of letters, and the appearance in 1755 of his Dictionary of the English Language gave him widespread recognition. This, and the astonishing variety of literary work that he continued to produce until his death, made him probably the best‐known British writer of the later 18th century.

Unlike many of his contemporaries—and unlike his rather younger friend and biographer James Boswell (1740–95)—Johnson was a staunch opponent of slavery and the slave trade. Johnson had taken this stance long before it became fashionable; for example, his review of his friend James Grainger'sThe Sugar‐Cane: A Poem (1764 complained ...


Aaron Myers

Born in Recife, Brazil, into an aristocratic and politically active family, Joaquim Nabuco spent the first eight years of his life on his family's large Sugar plantation in the northeastern province of Pernambuco. He later moved with his parents to Rio de Janeiro, then attended the prestigious law academies of São Paulo and Recife. At the former he met Antônio De Castro Alves, “the Poet of the Slaves,” and the abolitionist Rui Barbosa. Between 1873 and 1876 he made several trips to Europe and the United States, where he learned about abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison, in the process strengthening his belief in abolition.

Nabuco opposed slavery for moral reasons At the age of eight he became aware of the cruelties of slavery when a slave from a nearby plantation approached him and begged to be purchased by Nabuco s family explaining that his ...


Karen O'Brien

Abolitionist poet. Rushton lived most of his life in Liverpool, but gained first‐hand experience of the slave trade and of Jamaica when he worked as a ship's mate in the 1770s. A slave friend, Quamina, whom he had taught to read, died rescuing him when his boat capsized. During this time he contracted ophthalmia, which left him blind for most of his life. On his return, he bore witness to the brutality of slavery in his West‐Indian Eclogues (1787), a series of four poems written in the voices of fictional slaves and presenting them as dignified and seething with righteous anger. The poems, which attracted wide public notice, including that of Thomas Clarkson and William Roscoe, deal explicitly with the sexual abuse and sadistic punishments inflicted on slaves, and their right to violent resistance. The notes to the Eclogues make a more conservative case for ...


Liliana Obregón

José Antonio Saco received what was a typical education for Catholic boys in early-nineteenth-century Cuba. He first studied in a small schoolhouse next to his home and later transferred to a Catholic school in Santiago de Cuba. Saco continued higher-level education in modern philosophy at the San Carlos seminar in Havana. Under the tutelage of Father Félix Varela y Morales, one of the most influential professors and prominent intellectuals of his time, Saco studied with a group of young men who were to become representatives of the urban bourgeoisie that promoted the independence of Cuba from Spain. In his autobiography Saco claims that these early years with Varela, who provided guidance and friendship and whom Saco considered the “most virtuous man” he ever met, were definitive in the formation of his thinking and ideology.

In 1821 Varela asked Saco to take over his seminar in ...


Nick Nesbitt

Victor Schoelcher was born into a wealthy bourgeois Parisian family, allowing him to undertake the many voyages on which he observed firsthand the terrors of slavery and facilitating his decision to pursue political office.

Schoelcher affirmed his liberal political leanings in the period of the restoration of the French monarchy (1815–1830), and his ideological awakening occurred during a voyage he made in 1829 to Mexico, the United States, and Cuba, when he was exposed to the harsh reality of slavery. He returned from this trip a fervent abolitionist and joined the Society for the Abolition of Slavery in Paris. In 1833 Schoelcher published his first important work: De l'esclavage des noirs et de la legislation coloniale (On the Enslavement of Blacks and Colonial Legislation).

Abolitionist activism in France increased markedly during the more liberal July Monarchy (1830–1848 The example of Britain which outlawed slavery ...