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Sierra Leone:-1600-1787

In the 17th century, Portuguese imperialism waned and, in Sierra Leone, the most significant European group became the British. By, at latest, 1628, they had a “factory” (their name for a trading post) in the vicinity of Sherbro Island, which is about 50 km south-east down the coast from present-day Freetown. One commodity they got was camwood, a hard timber, from which also could be obtained a red dye. It was at that time still easily accessible from the coast. Also, elephants still lived on Sherbro Island. The Portuguese missionary,Baltasar Barreira, left Sierra Leone in 1610. Jesuits, and later in the century, Capuchins, continued the mission. By 1700 it had closed, although priests occasionally still visited.

Map of Bunce Island from 1727

A company called the Royal Adventurers of England Trading into Africa received a charter from Charles II of England in 1663 and subsequently built a fort in the Sherbro and on Tasso Island in the Freetown estuary. They were plundered by the Dutch in 1664, the French in 1704, and pirates in 1719 and 1720. After the Dutch raid, the Tasso Island fort was moved to nearby Bunce Island which was more defensible.

The Europeans made payments, called Cole, for rent, tribute, and trading rights, to the king of an area. At this time the local military advantage was still on the side of the Africans, and there is a report, for instance, from 1714, of a king seizing Company goods in retaliation for a breach of protocol. Local Afro-Portuguese often acted as middlemen, the Europeans advancing them goods and they trading them to the local people, most often for ivory. In 1728 an overly aggressive Company governor united the Africans and Afro-Portuguese in hostility to him; they burnt down the Bunce Island fort and it was not rebuilt until about 1750. The French wrecked it again in 1779.

Map of Sierra Leone from 1732

During the 17th century the Temne ethnolinguistic group was expanding. Around 1600 a Mani still ruled the Loko kingdom (the area north of Port Loko Creek) and another ruled the upper part of the south shore of the Freetown estuary. The north shore of the estuary was under a Bulom king, and the area just east of Freetown on the peninsula was held by a non-Mani with a European name, Dom Phillip de Leon (he may however have been a subordinate to his Mani neighbour). By the mid-17th century this situation had changed: Temne, not Bullom was spoken on the south shore, and ships stopping for water and firewood had to pay customs to the Temne king of Bureh who lived at Bagos town on the point between the Rokel River and Port Loko Creek. (The king may actually have still considered himself a Mani—in fact Temne chiefs to this day are called by Mani-derived titles—but his people were Temne. The Bureh king in place in 1690 was called Bai Tura—”Bai” is a Mani form.)

The Temne had thus expanded in a wedge toward the sea at Freetown, and now separated the Bulom to the north from the Mani and other Mande speakers to the south and east.

In this period there are several reports of women occupying high positions. The king of the south shore used to leave one of his wives to rule when he was absent, and in the Sherbro there were woman chiefs. In the early 18th century a Bulom named Seniora Maria had her own town near Cape Sierra Leone.

During the 17th century, Muslim Fula from the Upper Niger and Senegal rivers moved into an area called Futa Jalon in the mountainous region north of present-day Sierra Leone. They were to have an important impact on the peoples of Sierra Leone because they increased trade and also produced secondary population movements into Sierra Leone. The Muslim Fula at first cohabited peaceably with the SusuYalunka, and non-Muslim Fula already at Futa Jalon, but around 1725 embarked on a war of domination over them. As a result many Susu and Yalunka migrated.

Susu—some already converted to Islam—came south into Sierra Leone, in turn displacing Limba from north-west Sierra Leone and driving them into north-central Sierra Leone where they now are. Some Susu moved as far south as the Temne town of Port Loko, only 60 km upriver from the Atlantic. Eventually a Muslim Susu family called Senko supplanted the town’s Temne rulers. Other Susu moved westward from Futa Jalon, eventually dominating theBaga, Bulom, and Temne north of the Scarcies River.

As for the Yalunka in Futa Jalon, they at first accepted Islam, then rejected it and were driven out. They went into north-central Sierra Leone and founded their capital at Falaba in the mountains near the source of the Rokel. It is still an important town, about 20 km south of the Guinea border. Other Yalunka went somewhat farther south and settled amongst the KorankoKissi, and Limba.

Besides these groups, who were more-or-less unwilling emigrants, a considerable variety of Muslim adventurers went forth from Futa Jalon. A Fula called Fula Mansa (Mansa = King) became ruler of the Yoni country 100 km east of present-day Freetown. Some of his Temne subjects there fled south to the Banta country between the middle reaches of the Bagu and Jong rivers, where they became known as the Mabanta Temne.

In 1652 the first slaves in North America were brought from Sierra Leone to the Sea Islands off the coast of the southern United States. During the 18th century there was a thriving trade bringing slaves from Sierra Leone to the plantations of South Carolina and Georgiawhere their rice-farming skills made them particularly valuable.

Britain and British seafarers – including Sir Francis DrakeJohn Hawkins, Frobisher and Captain Brown — played a major role in the transatlantic trade in captured Africans between 1530 and 1810. Treaty of Utrecht of 1713, which ended the Spanish War of Succession(1701–1714), had an additional clause (the Asiento) that granted Britain (among other things) the exclusive rights over the shipment of captured Africans across the Atlantic. Over 10 million captured Africans were shipped to the Caribbean Islands and the Americas and many more died during the raids, the long marches to the coast and on the infamous middle passage due to the inhumane conditions in slave ships. Britain outlawed the slave trade on 29 March 1807 with the Slave Trade Act 1807 and the British Navy operating from Freetown took active measures to stop the Atlantic slave trade.

An 1835 illustration of liberated slaves arriving in Sierra Leone.

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