Equiano Story Questioned

New evidence appears to suggest that Olaudah Equiano, whose memoir about being transported as a slave from Africa to the Carribean was published in 1789 (making it one of the earliest published books by an African author in England) may, in fact, have been born in South Carolina. A baptismal record and a ship’s muster both list the state as a place of birth for Equiano.

Equiano’s significance to transatlantic history has grown precipitously over the last few decades. History professor James Walvin bought a first edition of his book in 1967 for 5 shillings; today it is worth $12,000.

“So many people have a stake in Equiano that it is bound to upset a lot of people,” says Prof Walvin, from York university in England. “These are two documents among many. You can’t ignore them. But if it’s true then it’s a dynamite issue.”

A bit disturbing–that Equiano’s historical significance is measured in dollar amounts. The issue is quite larger, of course, and has to do with history as well as with racial politics. It’ll be interesting to see whether other evidence bears out this new interpretation.