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The Abolitionist Movement’s Good Samaritans: Sensibility in William Cowper’s ‘The Negro’s Complaint’ and Olaudah Equiano’s Autobiography by Justin MacGregor

This essay evaluates William Cowper’s and Olaudah Equiano’s advocacy for abolition by analysing Cowper’s anti-slavery ballad, ‘The Negro’s Complaint’ (1788) and Equiano’s autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African (1789). The two works are examined through the lenses of sensibility, Christianity, and economics. William Cowper (1731-1800) was the most widely quoted poet within British and American abolitionist discourse. Olaudah Equiano, also known as Gustavus Vassa, (1745-1797) was a slave to a captain in the Royal Navy who bought his own freedom then moved to London, became Britain's first black civil servant, joined the abolitionist movement, then wrote a bestselling autobiography to influence the abolitionist debate in Parliament. This essay will concentrate on how two people from disparate backgrounds used different modes of communication – ballads and autobiography – to appeal to specific audiences and spread an important abolitionist message. The essay draws on contemporary accounts and secondary literature to consider how each literary form appealed to specific audiences. This study assesses how Cowper and Equiano crafted their arguments against slavery, the audiences they targeted, and the receptions they received. Cowper’s and Equiano’s works are found to have made significant contributions to the passing of the Slave Trade Act in 1807.

Date created: 
Thursday, April 13, 2023
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The Abolitionist Movement’s Good Samaritans: Sensibility in William Cowper’s ‘The Negro’s Complaint’ and Olaudah Equiano’s Autobiography by Justin MacGregor, All rights reserved.
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