Kidnapped from a village in what is now Nigeria, Olaudah Equiano was sold into slavery in Virginia at 11 years old. After spending eight years travelling the world as slave to a British Royal Navy officer, he eventually bought his own freedom in 1766 for £40 – almost a year’s salary for a teacher. Equiano then worked as an explorer and merchant for 20 years before settling in England, where he supported other ex-slaves. With encouragement of other abolitionists, Olaudah published his memoirs in 1789, entitled The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. This book – one of the first in Europe by a Black African writer – was an enormous success, selling out immediately. Through the wealth and platform he gained, Olaudah campaigned as an abolitionist, utilising his voice to help bring an end to slavery. His ability to relate first-hand the horrors of slavery helped sway public opinion, and by 1807 Britain had formally abolished the trade. This tea towel celebrates Equiano’s exceptional life – from start to finish.
(The image by the way, is based on a painting by Allan Ramsay at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, which was for a long time assumed to be of Olaudah Equiano, but is now thought unlikely.)