In early 1766 King bought another ship, the Nancy, which was stocked for a trip to Philadelphia. The ship was the largest Equiano had ever seen, so he filled it with as much of his own merchandise as he could. On this trip he saw whales for the first time. In Philadelphia he sold his goods mostly to the Quakers, who were the most honest-seeming to him.
Equiano continues to be fascinated by the new sights that he sees traveling all around the world on the ships. This voyage is also important to Equiano because, as he attempts to amass enough money to buy his freedom, he can be more certain of honesty in Philadelphia.
One Sunday morning Equiano passed a meeting-house and saw, through an open door, a tall woman saying something he couldn’t understand; then he came to another church packed with people. He asked around and learned that the Reverend George Whitfield, whom he’d often heard of, was preaching. He crammed inside and saw the preacher earnestly pronouncing and sweating like Equiano had in Montserrat: Equiano was impressed and struck by such exertion, and he understood the contrast to the relatively thin audiences in other churches.
Equiano also continues to be curious about other kinds of religious traditions. His own spirituality and religious trajectory has been mostly personal, apart from the intercession of the Miss Guerins; here he is impressed by how fervent the congregations are, thanks to the powerful rhetoric of the preacher.
Back in Montserrat, Equiano thought he might be able to purchase his freedom, but King ordered the ship back to St. Eustatia and Georgia. Resigned to fate, Equiano submitted. In St. Eustatia they took on more slaves and proceeded to Georgia, but Equiano was eager to get back to Montserrat to buy his freedom.
King may be kinder than other masters, but ultimately his priority is economic: for him the slave trade is a business meant to make money for him and his shareholders.
While in Georgia, Farmer met with a wealthy silversmith who had traveled with him years before. The silversmith took ill and began to remind the captain of a promise he’d made to him earlier, that he’d bequeath some of his fortune to Farmer. The captain promised to give Equiano ten pounds of the man’s property when he died, since Equiano too had helped nurse him. Since this was above and beyond what Equiano needed to buy his freedom, he put out eight pounds of his own money to buy fine clothes for his freedom. However, when the man died they opened his trunk to find nothing more than a dollar and a half, barely enough to pay for the coffin.
For someone like Equiano, who, as a slave separated by force from the rest of his family, has no chance of acquiring wealth through inheritance as many white people in English society do, the captain’s offer is a remarkable opportunity for him to begin to work his way into this society. Such a drama of inheritance was common for English people at the time, as the contents of a relative’s will could remain a mystery until after his or her death, but the stakes are higher for Equiano.
They arrived safely in Montserrat, where Equiano was now in possession of 47 pounds. He went one morning to meet King and Farmer with the money in his hand. But when Equiano reminded his master of the promise he’d made, King began to recoil, asking in shock where Equiano had got the money. Farmer said he’d attained it honestly and industriously. King said he didn’t think Equiano would manage it so soon, but he agreed to take the money and he sent Equiano to the Register Office to draw up his manumission.
Even without the extra funds Equiano thought he might obtain from the silversmith, it turns out that he’s been successful enough to amass more than the necessary amount (40 pounds) to buy his freedom. King’s benevolence is obviously limited—he clearly didn’t think Equiano was intelligent and strategic enough to do this—but he does grudgingly keep his promise.
Equiano had tears in his eyes as he thanked the two men, and his thoughts turned to the 126th Psalm, about glorifying God in one’s heart. Reflecting on that moment, he compares his feelings to those of conquering heroes, mothers recovering a long-lost infant, a lover, and a weary mariner returning to port: the sentiments of these people could not equal his own. The man at the office congratulated Equiano and said he’d draw up the document at half price. Before that night Equiano, a slave that morning, had become his own master: it was the happiest day of his life.
In this moment, Equiano rises to rhetorical heights—perhaps influenced by the powerful rhetoric of the preacher he saw in Philadelphia—as he makes a number of comparisons between his own euphoria and that of these examples. Equiano uses rhetoric in order to try to convey to his readers just how formidable the feeling of freedom is for someone who’s never had it.
Equiano was given a new name, “Freeman,” the most desirable he could ask for. His fine blue clothes began to make an impression, even on the ladies who had formerly been aloof, but he still hoped to return to London. King and Farmer, though, expressed hope that he’d stay with their ships. Struggling between desire and duty, Equiano finally agreed to remain employed with them at 36 shillings a month. He hoped to return to England the next year and see Pascal again, imagining that Pascal might be pleased to see him free rather than enslaved.
Equiano recognizes that, while the certificate ensuring his freedom is vital and potent, it’s not enough in a society that has such entrenched inequality between black and white people—a society in which external signs like clothing are important markers of social status and shorthand for the way people should be treated. While Equiano may not agree with such inequality, he understands how it works.
Equiano embarked for St. Eustatia and Georgia again on the Nancy; this time they had to deal with a number of alligators on the river, which frightened him. In Georgia, a merchant, Mr. Read, had a slave who began to insult Equiano. Eventually Equiano lost his temper and beat the slave. The next day Mr. Read came to the ship and ordered Equiano ashore so that he might be whipped throughout the town for beating his slave. Equiano refused, and Mr. Read left, swearing that he’d bring all the town constables to the ship—a threat Equiano feared could prove true, as he’d seen free blacks treated in such a way before.
Equiano continues to balance his own personal history with anecdotes about different natural wonders he comes across, including animals native to different parts of the world. Such anecdotes are juxtaposed with far more sobering elements of the narrative, in which Equiano’s status as a free man doesn’t prevent him from being treated like a slave.
Indeed, Equiano knew of a free black carpenter who was jailed for asking for his wages, and subsequently exiled from Georgia on a false accusation of intending to set his employer’s house afire. Equiano determined to physically resist anyone who tried to lay hands on him, preferring to die a free man than submit to punishment like a slave. Farmer encouraged him to hide, since Mr. Read was known to be spiteful, and after first refusing, Equiano agreed to hide outside town. After he left, the constables did search the ship and they continued to pursue Equiano for days. Finally Farmer told Mr. Read that Equiano’s absence was hurting his business; Mr. Read said that Equiano could go to hell, but he wouldn’t bother Farmer any more.
Equiano has learned about the plight of other free black people, whose legal status similarly didn’t exempt them from cruel and unjust treatment. Freedom, to Equiano, is existentially important to him—so much so that he prefers to die free than to be enslaved again, even if freedom has turned out to be less than the unqualified good he once imagined it to be.
Equiano returned aboard and they prepared to carry cattle to the West Indies. Equiano had gotten permission to carry two cows for his own profit, as well, but at the last minute Farmer said there was no room. Upset, Equiano threatened to leave the ship, but after the captain cajoled him and promised to make things up to him in the West Indies, Equiano agreed to stay. Soon after, one of the bulls, coming aboard, rammed the captain so hard that he never recovered. To make amends, Farmer pressed Equiano to take turkeys instead, and, while skeptical about their hardiness, Equiano agreed, surprised at the captain’s insistence.
Farmer, too, is relatively kind and fair towards Equiano, but he is ultimately concerned with his bottom line, rather than what’s best for Equiano. Although it’s not stated explicitly, this is another one of those cases in which it seems, within a belief system like Equiano’s, that Providence intervenes in order to correct un-Christian behavior among humans.
Not long into the voyage, storms began to beset the ship, and after a week several of the cattle died. Farmer, the mate, and others grew ill, such that Equiano was left almost alone in charge. Approaching death, Farmer called for Equiano and asked if he’d ever done Equiano any harm. As Equiano was saying no, Farmer died. Equiano was deeply affected by the death, remaining attached to the captain for his generosity and help in attaining his freedom.
Farmer has remained Equiano’s master from his captivity into his freedom—a clear example of the way in which even being freed doesn’t entirely do away with a black person’s captivity—but Equiano draws on his religious beliefs in order to feel gratitude and generosity rather than bitterness towards him.
The mate, now in charge, was unable to prevent the other cattle from dying, but Equiano’s turkeys thrived: he ended up benefiting from not taking the cattle. 10 days later, under Equiano’s supervision, the ship reached Montserrat, and Equiano began to be called “captain,” which flattered his vanity.
After Farmer’s death, Equiano proves himself much more of a successful captain than the mate—another example of his ability to refute, through his own life, stereotypes about black people’s inferiority.