Stolen Childhood: Slave Youth in Nineteenth-Century America

By Wilma King | Go to book overview

1
“In the Beginning”
THE TRANSATLANTIC TRADE IN CHILDREN OF AFRICAN DESCENT

Charlotte one of my fellow prisoners …
did comfort me when I was torn
from my dear native land…

Sarah Margru [Kinson]

“Your image has been always riveted in my heart, from which neither time nor fortune have been able to remove it; so that, while the thought of your sufferings have damped my prosperity, they have mingled with adversity and increased its bitterness,” wrote Olaudah Equiano, also known as Gustavus Vassa, as he reflected upon the fate of his beloved sister. In 1756, a woman and two men raided Isseke, the children’s village in present-day Nigeria, while the adults were working in a common field nearly an hour away by foot. The raiders took the girl and her elevenyear-old brother, Olaudah, whose name means “the fortunate one.” The children, descendants of a slaveholding Ibo chief, were aware of a previous battle between the Ibos and “their enemy.” The warfare resulted in the victors taking prisoners who were either sold away or kept within the community. Fighting among different ethnic and language groups was not unusual in this part of West Africa, and it probably intensified with increased demands for black laborers by whites in the Americas.1

Olaudah Equiano’s lengthy The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano: Written by Himself, which was wildly popular during his lifetime, may be a window into the lives of African boys and girls who experienced an abduction, sale, and removal from Africa. It is possible that Equiano’s graphic description of the Middle Passage garnered sup-

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