Ukawsaw Gronniosaw began his life in what is today Nigeria. As a young child, Gronniosaw was lured away from his village by slave traders who promised to show him “houses with wings to them (that) walk upon the water.” These “houses” turned out to be slave ships, and Gronniosaw was sent to New York and purchased as a slave there.
His master, a minister named Theodore Frelinghuysen, ensured that he received a religious education. When Frelinghuysen died, Gronniosaw was freed—he remained at the Frelinghuysen home, however, serving the late minister’s wife and her children until they too passed away.
At that time, Gronniosaw decided to go to England, where he married. The couple worked hard to keep their children fed, and Gronniosaw published an autobiography to contribute to their meager income. His book, A Narrative of the Most Remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Grunniosaw, an African Prince, first appeared in 1772. Grunniosaw is heralded as the first former slave to publish his life story, shedding light on the awful circumstances of slavery that had, until then, been largely unknown by everyday people.