Olaudah Equiano had been a slave who had been shipped to Barbados and Virginia before being bought by an English naval officer and accompanying him in his service at sea. He bought his freedom in 1766 and moved to London.
He came to prominence thanks to the American War of Independence which saw many blacks escaping enslavement in the colonies through service in the British armed forces. A scheme was set up to establish a Sierra Leone settlement scheme to allow ex-slaves to return to Africa. It was in the capacity of a commissary that he came to Plymouth to ensure that the scheme was being provisioned and equipped appropriately. He was appalled by the profiteering and lack of care being contemplated for the journeys back to Africa. He was supposed to travel with the returnees but was dismissed due to his outspoken criticisms of the scheme and its implementation. The expedition was a disaster and, as predicted by Equiano, was ill prepared to deal with the harsh conditions of West Africa.
His criticisms of the scheme brought him to the attention of various radicals and abolitionists who were intrigued by his eloquence and wisdom. He became an active campaigner against slavery and wrote widely on his own experiences in order to bring the barbarity of the institution to a wider audience.
Empire in Your Backyard: Plymouth Article | Significant Individuals