Remembering Equiano - 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of Slavery
 
Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa 'The African' - In Soham, Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom

Equiano's Family

Evidence to suggest that Equiano and his wife Susannah took up residence in Soham, Cambridgeshire comes from the fact that both of their children were born and baptised there. Their firstborn, Anna Maria arrived on 16th October 1793, and was baptised in St. Andrew's Church, Soham on 30th January 1794. Their second child, Joanna was born on 11th St. Andrew's Church, Soham on 29th April 1795. Susanna was always thought to have died during Joanna's birth, however, records show that she died a year later on 21st February 1796. She is believed to have been buried in St. Andrew's Church cemetery with her gravestone marked as 'Susannah Vassa, Wife of Gustavus the African, aged 34 years'.

The following year, in 1797, Gustavus Vassa died at the age of 52. His death was recorded in Paddington Street, Middlesex, London on 31st March 1797 but the whereabouts of his burial is still unknown. Sadly, his eldest daughter Anna Maria Vassa, died just a few months after Equiano on 21st July 1797 aged just four years and is buried at St. Andrew's Church, Chesterton, Cambridge where there is a commemorative plaque in her memory.


Anna Maria Vassa - b.1793 d.1797

Anna Maria Vassa - Memorial Plaque located at St. Andrew's Church, Chesterton, Cambridge:

Anna Maria Vassa's memorial plaque is located outside St. Andrew's Church, Chesterton, Cambridge:

Near this Place Lies Interred
Anna Maria Vassa
Daughter of Gustavus Vassa, the African
She Died July 21 1797
Aged 4 Years

Should simple village rhymes attract thine eye,
Stranger, as thoughtfully thou passest by,
Know that there lies beside this humble stone
A child of colour haply not thine own.
Her father born of Afric's sun-burnt race,
Torn from his native field, ah foul disgrace:
Through various toils, at length to Britain came
Espoused, so Heaven ordain'd, an English dame,
And follow'd Christ; their hope two infants dear.
But one, a hapless orphan, slumbers here.
To bury her the village children came.
And dropp'd choice flowers, and lisp'd her early fame;
And some that lov'd her most, as if unblest,
Bedew'd with tears the white wreath on their breast;
But she is gone and dwells in that abode,
Where some of every clime shall joy in God.
 


Joanna Vassa - b.1795 d.1857

Joanna Vassa's Gravestone at Abney Park Cemetery

Joanna Vassa's Gravestone at Abney Park Cemetery shortly after its re-discovery in 2005, awaiting restoration

The surviving daughter, Joanna Vassa, inherited a sizable estate from the wealth her father had accumulated from the sale of his book, equivalent to around 100,000 in today's money. She went on to marry The Reverend Henry Bromley and they ran a Congregational Chapel at Clavering near Saffron Walden in Essex, before moving to London in 1845.

Joanna died on 10th March 1857 at the age of 61 and was buried at Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington on 16th March 1857, her husband Henry survived her for 20 years and was eventually buried alongside her on 12th February 1878. It's not yet known whether they had any children. The inscription on her gravestone reads 'Memory of Joanna beloved wife of Henry Bromley, daughter of Gustavus Vassa, the African. Born April 11, 1795 and died March 1857'.


 

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