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Ottobah Cugoano (c.1757, date of death unknown) was an African abolitionist who was active in England in the latter half of the eighteenth century.


Early life

Cugoano was born in 1757 near Ajumako, modern day Ghana. [1] He was a Fanti. [1] His family was friends with the local chief. At the age of 13 he was sold into slavery and sent to Grenada. [1]He remained in the West Indies until he was purchased by an English merchant. He was taken to England and in 1772 and was baptized with the name John Stuart. He obtained his freedom in England.


In 1784, he was employed as a servant by the artists Richard Cosway and his wife, Maria. This was a turning point in Cugoano’s life, since through the Cosways he came to the attention of leading British political and cultural figures of the time, including poet William Blake and the Prince of Wales. Together with Olaudah Equiano and other educated Africans living in Britain, he was active in the Sons of Africa, an abolitionist group that wrote frequently to the newspapers of the day, condemning the practice of slavery. In 1786 he played a key role in the case of Henry Demane, a kidnapped black man who was to be shipped back to the West Indies. He contacted Granville Sharp, a well known Abolitionist and was able to have Demane removed before the ship sailed. [2]

In 1787 with the help of his friend Olaudah Equiano, he published an account of his life as a slave, Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species (1787). By now a devout Christian, his work was rich with religious undertones. The narrative calls for the complete abolition of slavery and immediate emancipation of all slaves. It argues that the slave's duty is to escape from slavery, and that force should be used to prevent further enslavement. The narrative was sent to King George III and other leading politicians. It failed to persuade the king to change his opinion; George III, along with much of the royal family remained against the abolition of the slave trade.

Four years later, in 1791, Cugoano released a shorter version of his book, addressed to the "Sons of Africa." In it, he expressed qualified support for the failed British efforts to establish a colony for London’s Black Poor in Sierra Leone and called for the establishment of schools in Britain especially for African students.

Nothing is known about Cugoano after the release of this book.


  1. ^ a b c The Signifying Monkey, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr, Oxford University Press, hardcover, pages 146-147
  2. ^ Harris, Jennifer. Quobna Ottabah Cugoano. Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 2002. Detroit, MI: Gale Research Company, 2003.

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