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Freetown Colony 1792-1800

Freetown Colony 1792-1800

Street-level view of Freetown and the Cotton Tree where former American slaves prayed under and christened Freetown in 1792.

The basis for the Freetown Colony began in 1791 with Thomas Peters, an African American who had served in the Black Pioneers and settled in Nova Scotia as part of the Black Loyalist migration. Peters traveled to England in 1791 to report grievances of the Black Loyalists who had been given poor land and faced discrimination. Peters met with British abolitionists and the directors of the Sierra Leone Company. He learned of the Company’s plan for a new settlement at Sierra Leone.

The directors were eager to allow the Nova Scotians to build a settlement at Sierra Leone; the London-based and newly created Sierra Leone Company had decided to create a new colony but before Peter’s arrival had no colonists. Lieutenant John Clarkson was sent to Nova Scotia to register immigrants to take to Sierra Leone for the purpose of starting a new settlement. Clarkson worked with Peters to recruit 1,196 former American slaves from free African communities around Nova Scotia such as Birchtown. Most had escaped Virginia and South Carolina plantations.

Some had been born in African before being enslaved in America. The settlers sailed in 15 ships from Halifax, Nova Scotia and arrived in St. George Bay between February 26 and March 9, 1792. Sixty four settlers died en route to Sierra Leone, and even Lieutenant Clarkson was ill during the voyage. Upon reaching Sierra Leone, Clarkson and some of the Nova Scotian ‘captains’ “despatched on shore to clear or make roadway for their landing”. The Nova Scotians were to build Freetown on the former site of the first Granville Town which had become a “jungle” since its destruction in 1789.

Though they built Freetown on Granville Town’s former site, their settlement was not a rebirth of Granville Town, which had been re-established at Fourah Bay in 1791 by the remaining Old Settlers. The women remained in the ships while the Settler men worked tirelessly to clear the land. Clarkson told the men to clear the land until they reached a large cotton tree.

The Settler men toiled and many were scratched and hurt by the shrubbery and bush. After the work had been done and the land cleared all the Settlers, men and women, disembarked and marched towards the thick forest and to the cotton tree, and their preachers (all African Americans) began singing:

Awake and Sing Of Moses and the Lamb
Wake! every heart and every tongue’
To praise the Saviour’s name
The day of Jubilee is come;
Return ye ransomed sinners home.

On March 11, 1792, Nathaniel Gilbert, a white preacher, prayed and preached a sermon under the large Cotton Tree, and Reverend David George preached the first recorded Baptist service in Africa. The land was dedicated and christened ‘Free Town’ according to the instructions of the Sierra Leone Company Directors.

This was the first thanksgiving service in the newly christened Free Town and was the beginning of the political entity of Sierra Leone. Eventually John Clarkson would be sworn in as first governor of Sierra Leone. Small huts were erected before the rainy season. The Sierra Leone Company surveyors and the Settlers built Freetown on the American grid pattern, with parallel streets and wide roads, with the largest being Water Street.

On August 24, 1792, the Black Poor or Old Settlers of the second Granville Town were incorporated into the new Sierra Leone Colony but remained at Granville Town.[32] It survived being pillaged by the French in 1794, and was rebuilt by the Nova Scotian settlers. By 1798, Freetown had between 300-400 houses with architecture resembling that of the American South with 3–4 feet stone foundations with wooden superstructures. Eventually this style of housing (brought by the Nova Scotians) would be the model for the ‘bod oses’ of their Creole descendants.

In 1800, the Nova Scotians rebelled and it was the arrival of the 500 Jamaican Maroons[33] which caused the rebellion to be suppressed. Thirty-four Nova Scotians were banished and sent to either the Sherbro or a penal colony at Gore. Some of these of the Nova Scotians were eventually allowed back into Freetown. After the Maroons captured the rebels, they were granted the land of the Nova Scotian rebels. Eventually the Maroons had their own district at Maroon Town.

The Maroons were a free community of blacks from Trelawny Parish who had been resettled in Nova Scotia after surrendering to the British government. They petitioned the British government for settlement elsewhere due to the climate in Nova Scotia.

After the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, the British Naval Squadron was stationed in Freetown to intercept and seize slave ships participating in the illegal slave trade. The slaves that were held on these vessels were released into Freetown and were called ‘Captured negroes’, ‘Recaptives’ or ‘Liberated Africans’.

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