Towards the end of the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century, the debate over whether or not to abolish the slave trade and emancipate the slaves became of premiere interest in Britain. An array of popular literature concerning slavery, written during the Romantic period, helped spur public interest in this debate. In this essay, I will first examine two popular Romantic period memoirs of former slaves, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, and The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, in order to show the viewpoint of slavery from the slave's perspective. Next, I will compare and contrast the slave's lives with two differing British perspectives on slavery, one of which describes slavery as a moral responsibility, as presented in the play The Benevolent Planters, by Thomas Bellamy, and another that finds slavery morally reprehensible, as seen in poetry by Ann Cromartie Yearsley and William Cowper.
Memoirs written by former slave traders and slaves supplied some of the most touching testimony favoring the abolition of slavery. One such work, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, written by former slave Olaudah Equiano, immediately became an international bestseller. Through Equiano's eyes, the reader sees the inhumanity of the white slave traders, the violence inflicted upon the slaves, in particularly the female slaves, and the hardships even a freed slave must endure. Equiano, also known as Gustavus Vassa, among other names given to him by his many different masters, was kidnapped from Africa at age ten and sold to an Englishman.
Aboard the slaver's ship during the Middle Passage, Equiano's innocence and naivetÃÂ© is reflected by his wonderment concerning his fate and the white men, whom Equiano believes are spirits because of their strange looks and ability to move the ship.