At each stop on the walk there will be a story and an activity. Worksheets for children to use during the walk need to be downloaded and printed off at school and brought with you.
Story One: Anna Maria Vassa (1793–1797) and her father Olaudah Equiano / Gustavus Vassa (1745–1797)
When he was only 11 years old, Olaudah was at home with his sister. His parents were out working in the fields. A gang of kidnappers climbed over the garden wall and grabbed the two children. They tied them up and carried them off. Every day they travelled further and further from home. Every night Olaudah and his sister lay huddled together trying to sleep. One morning, his sister was dragged out of his arms, and that is the last time Olaudah saw anyone from his family ever again. Olaudah was sold as a slave to lots of different masters, and he was sent on a terrible voyage across the Atlantic Ocean on a slave ship.
At this time lots of people in England thought it was all right to buy slaves in Africa and take them off in ships to America and the Caribbean. The slaves were forced to work growing things for people in England, like sugar and cotton. Lots of English people got very rich, and they didn’t care how badly the slaves were treated. Some of Olaudah’s masters were very cruel, but then he was sold to a ship’s captain who was kinder to him. He even taught him English and gave him money when he worked hard. Olaudah saved up, and when he was 20 he managed to buy his freedom. He wasn’t a slave any more! He came to England because it wasn’t safe to go back to Africa, and he wrote a book about his time as a slave.
Olaudah travelled round Britain telling people about his book. He met a lady called Susannah, from Soham, just outside Ely. They got married and had two daughters called Anna Maria and Joanna. At last he had a family again! Then some sad things happened. Susannah died, and the girls came to Chesterton to stay with their grandmother. Olaudah carried on with his important work, but when he was in London he became ill and died. Anna Maria was only four. Then Anna Maria caught measles, which was a much more serious illness in those days, and she died.
Anna Maria Vassa
“Near this place lies interred Anna Maria Vassa, daughter of Gustavus Vassa, the African. She died July 21 1797 aged 4 years.”
This is a very grand gravestone for a little girl who died when she was only four. But she wasn’t an ordinary little girl – not many children in England two hundred years ago had a father who was from Africa.
Even after she died Anna Maria helped to continue her father’s work! There is a poem on her grave stone about the children of Chesterton bringing white flowers to put on her grave. Every year, the children of St Andrew’s Church still put white flowers beside her grave on the Sunday nearest the 21st July, the date she died. Anna Maria only lived for four years, but her story is still helping to spread an important message.
Activity One: Slave ship role-play
Children will think about being taken on a slave ship across the Atlantic Ocean. They will be shown an engraved plan of slave ship ‘The Brookes’ (Resource Card D), which was widely distributed in the late 1780’s, and helped draw public attention to the terrible conditions on board the slave ships. It will be explained that slaves would have been chained up throughout the voyage and shown a heavy chain and feel the weight.
The children will them be invited to sit/lie on floor squashed together, as they would have been on a slave ship. They will be asked to close their eyes and imagine what it was like, whilst an excerpts from Equiano’s description of the horrific conditions crossing the Middle Passage is read to them.
“The sight of the sea and the slave ship … filled me with astonishment which was soon converted into terror when I was carried on board. … When I looked around I saw a multitude of black people of every description all chained together; every one of their faces expressing horror and dejection. I no longer doubted my fate; and, quite overpowered with horror and anguish, I fell motionless on the deck and fainted. … I was soon put down under the decks, and the stench that greeted my nostrils was worse than I had ever experienced in my life. … I feared I should be put to death, for the white people looked and acted in such a savage manner. I saw one man flogged so unmercifully with a large rope that he died, and they tossed him over the side as they would have done an animal. … The whole ship’s cargo was confined together, and the stench became absolutely pestilential. The closeness of the place, the heat of the climate, added to the number of slaves in the ship, which was so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself, almost suffocated us. This produced copious perspirations so that the air soon became unfit for breathing, from a variety of loathsome smells, and brought on a sickness among the slaves, of which many died. …
The wretched situation was aggravated by the rubbing of the chains, which now became unbearable, and the toilet tubs, into which children fell and were almost suffocated. The shrieks of the women, the groans of the dying, made the whole a scene of horror almost unimaginable.”
Children will be asked to describe how the experience made them feel, and what it would have been like for the slaves.
Response to Olaudah and Anna Maria’s Story
Children will be asked to find the first activity sheet in their pack – with the flower template. Invite them to write a word in each petal of the flower showing what the story of Olaudah and Anna Maria has made them think of, and/or decorate the flower to show how the story has made them feel.