Part 1: The Problem
Part 2: Enquiry (page 5/17)
Part 3: Evidence
Part 4: Putting It All Together
The strongest direct evidence that Equiano was not born in Africa comes in the form of two documents, discovered by Carretta, in which his birthplace is stated unequivocally as South Carolina. The first is Equiano's 1759 baptismal register from St. Margaret's Church, Britain, which records him as "Gustavus Vassa a Black born in Carolina 12 years old". The name Gustavus Vassa appears to have been given to Equiano by his owner, Lieutenant Michael Henry Pascal, at least according to Equiano's own account. There seems little reason why Pascal would have mistaken or lied about Equiano's birthplace, although Equiano himself may not have had much input into what was written in the baptismal register.10 The same would not have been true in 1773, when as a free man he joined an expedition to the Arctic Ocean. In the muster roll of the HMS Racehorse, he is listed as "Gustavus Weston, identified as aged 28, and born in South Carolina".11 Equiano likely gave this information himself, and it seems unlikely he would have been penalized for stating he had been born in Africa, so Carretta sees no motive for Equiano to have lied. At least three other sailors in that same expedition listed their birthplaces as African locations.
(Examine the visual evidence by clicking on the image.)
Carretta goes on to provide corroborating evidence that Equiano may have been born outside of Africa by comparing parts of The Interesting Narrative to other historical sources. For example, Equiano claims to have been 11 years old when he was kidnapped from Africa, and that he arrived in Britain in 1757. Carretta states that these two claims are impossible. Using a combination of meteorological, newspaper, and naval records-- including data showing snowfall in Cornwall, where Equiano first arrived in England (!)— as well as the dates of events which he claims to have witnessed, Carretta deduces that Equiano must have arrived in 1754 and that he could only have been seven or eight years old when he had been abducted in Africa. 12 This evidence suggests that Equiano may have invented his life story up to that date.