When Macintosh met Equiano

Frontispiece and title-page of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789)

Frontispiece and title page of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789).

In my efforts to piece together, from secondary fragments, the trajectory of William Macintosh’s life, I am sometimes surprised by the strange coincidences and unexpected moments of encounter which are revealed. One such is contained in The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789).

Equiano’s significance, as a freed slave, to the eighteenth-century abolitionist movement is well documented, but I had been unaware that he and Macintosh had encountered one another in Grenada in 1771. Macintosh was, at that point, justice of the peace for the parish of St Andrew’s and Equiano came to him to seek redress (unsuccessfully) over an unpaid debt. Equiano records the incident in his autobiography thus:

In April 1771 I shipped myself as a steward with Capt. Wm. Robertson of the ship Grenada Planter, once more to [end p. 95] try my fortune in the West Indies; and we sailed from London for Madeira, Barbadoes, and the Grenades. When we were at this last place, having some goods to sell, I met once more with my former kind of West India customers. A white man, an islander, bought some goods of me to the amount of some pounds, and made me many fair promises as usual, but without any intention of paying me. He had likewise bought goods from some more of our people, whom he intended to serve in the same manner; but he still amused us with promises. However, when our ship was loaded, and near sailing, this honest buyer discovered no intention or sign of paying for any thing he had bought of us; but on the contrary, when I asked him for my money he threatened me and another black man he had bought goods of, so that we found we were like to get more blows [end p. 96] than payment. On this we went to complain to one Mr. M’Intosh, a justice of the peace; we told his worship of the man’s villainous tricks, and begged that he would be kind enough to see us redressed: but being negroes, although free, we could not get any remedy; and our ship being then just upon the point of sailing, we knew not how to help ourselves, though we thought it hard to lose our property in this manner. Luckily for us however, this man was also indebted to three white sailors, who could not get a farthing from him; they therefore readily joined us, and we all went together in search of him. When we found where he was, I took him out of a house and threatened him with vengeance; on which, finding he was likely to be handled roughly, the rogue offered each of us some small allowance, but nothing near our demands. This [end p. 97] exasperated us much more; and some were for cutting his ears off; but he begged hard for mercy, which was at last granted him, after we had entirely stripped him. We then let him go, for which he thanked us, glad to get off so easily, and ran into the bushes, after having wished us a good voyage. We then repaired on board, and shortly after set sail for England (vol. 2, 95–98).

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