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Piccadilly plaque recalls 18th-century abolitionist

25 August 2023

St James’s, Piccadilly

The Revd Lucy Winkett and the Bishop of Croydon, Dr Rosemarie Mallett, with the new plaque

The Revd Lucy Winkett and the Bishop of Croydon, Dr Rosemarie Mallett, with the new plaque

QUOBNA OTTOBAH CUGOANO was one of the most prominent slavery abolitionists of the 18th century, and on Sunday was commemorated with a plaque at the London church where he was baptised.

The service at St James’s, Piccadilly, was held exactly 250 years after his baptism. A series of events is honouring Cugoano’s contribution to the abolitionist movement.

The Bishop of Croydon, Dr Rosemarie Mallett, who preached, said that it was a “day of celebration” of the memory of Cugoano, but also an opportunity to reflect on the “circumstances then and now for people like Cugoano who faced, and face, discrimination, ostracism, or oppression, because they are deemed to be different to the norm.”

The Rector of St James’s, the Revd Lucy Winkett, said on Wednesday that “Cugoano’s contributions to the abolitionist movement and the history of London were huge, but under-narrated,” and so it “seemed obvious” that the church should commemorate him.

The slate plaque is inscribed with his birth name rather than the English name under which he was baptised, reflecting his stated wishes when his book, Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery, was published in 1787. Extracts from the book were read during the service, and in a prayer vigil on Saturday evening.

“His voice was very important in this, and in some ways it was our job mostly to get out of the way of this voice, and to listen to it again,” Ms Winkett said; and it was important that the commemoration acknowledge his African heritage.

Cugoano was trafficked into slavery from West Africa, and bought in the West Indies before being brought in 1772 to England, where he gained his freedom.

A further commemoration of Cugoano’s life and work is planned for late September, when a commissioned artwork by the Trinidad-based painter Che Lovelace will be unveiled.

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