William Ansah Sessarakoo
William Ansah Sessarakoo, Gentleman's Magazine, June 1750
© National Portrait Gallery, London
William Ansah Sessarakoo was the son of a wealthy West African slave trader who in 1749 was sent by his father with a companion to Europe for his education. Despite his high social standing he was put into slavery by the treacherous captain of the ship bringing him to Europe. He was rescued by the British government, which had been informed of his fate, and brought to London where he was treated as a prince. His captivity and rescue made him a celebrity. He was introduced to King George II and became the subject of popular accounts that compared him to Oroonoko, the African hero of a much-performed play in which a noble African prince was also wrongly sold into slavery.
Gabriel Mathias's portrait of Sessarakoo, was unique of its period in showing an African portrayed as a real individual in a finished oil painting. Other visitors were the subject of portrait engravings, such as Job ben Solomon, a Muslim scholar who had also been wrongly enslaved on his way from the Gambia to England in 1734, and the African American poet Phillis Wheatley, who came in 1773 for the publication of her poems.