Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa

Marriage & Family in Soham, Cambridgeshire

Gustavus Vassa - Marriage CertificateThe marriage certificate of Gustavus Vassa and Susannah Cullen at St Andrew's Church, Soham - 7th April 1792

Quite how such an eminent member of London's abolition movement came to reside in Soham remains a mystery, perhaps by a chance meeting in Cambridge during one of his many book tours. On 7th April 1792, Gustavus Vassa - An African (Bachelor of St. Martin in the Fields) married Susannah Cullen (Spinster of the Parish of Soham) at St. Andrew's Church, Soham Cambridgeshire. The marriage was by special licence and witnessed by Francis Bland and Thomas Cullen. Previous accounts of this marriage have recorded the bride as coming from either Ely or Fordham, whereas the actual record shows Susannah as 'Spinster of the Parish of Soham'. Unfortunately, as there is no record of her birth or baptism in the Parish, it is likely that she came to Soham with her parents as an infant, probably from the nearby village of Fordham (Cullen or Collen being a local name).

Evidence to suggest that the couple took up residence in Soham comes from the fact that both of their children were born and baptised here. Their firstborn, Anna Maria arrived on 16th October 1793, and was baptised in St. Andrew's Church, Soham on 30th January 1794. Their second child, Joanna was born on 11th April 1795, and was baptised in St. Andrew's Church, Soham on 29th April 1795. Susannah was always thought to have died during Joanna's birth, however, records show that she died a year later on 21st February 1796. She is buried in the Fordham Road Cemetery at Soham with her gravestone marked as 'Susanna Vassa, Wife of Gustavus the African, aged 34 years'.

One of Equiano's last London addresses appears to have been Plaisters Hall in the City of London from where he drew up his will on 28th May 1796 after the death of his wife. He then moved to John Street, Tottenham Court Road, London which is close to Whitefield's Methodist Chapel (where there is a small, recent memorial). The following year, in 1797, Gustavus Vassa died at the age of 52. His death was recorded in Paddington Street, Middlesex, London on 31st March 1797 but the whereabouts of his burial is still unknown. Sadly, his eldest daughter Anna Maria Vassa, died just a few months later on 21st July 1797 aged just four years and is buried at St. Andrew's Church, Chesterton, Cambridge where there is a commemorative plaque in her memory.


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