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Sierra Leone as colony

The early years of the Sierra Leone settlement were not free of tensions. The settlers wished for self-government, while the Sierra Leone Company wanted all important policy decisions to remain in its hands. The Company insisted that the settlers should pay rent for the land they occupied; the settlers, who had been misinformed on this point, resented being placed in the position of tenants.

Violence flared up sporadically and there was initial antagonism between the ‘Nova Scotians’ and a group of 500 new settlers, runaway slaves from Jamaica who had been deported to Canada, who arrived in 1800.

A view of Freetown, from: Thomas Winterbottom. An account of the native Africans in the neighbourhood of Sierra Leone. Volume I. London: printed by C. Whittingham and sold by John Hatchard and J. Mawman, 1803 [FCO Historical Collection DT516 WIN]A view of Freetown, from: Thomas Winterbottom. An account of the native Africans in the neighbourhood of Sierra Leone. Volume I. London: printed by C. Whittingham and sold by John Hatchard and J. Mawman, 1803 [FCO Historical Collection DT516 WIN]More serious was the growing realisation of the local African rulers that the Sierra Leone Company regarded the settlement as theirs in perpetuity. The African kings had believed that, like other groups of European traders, the Company was their tenant.

The arrival of the Jamaican settlers in company with British troops brought the dawning realisation that they were losing their land forever. They attacked Freetown in 1801, 1802 and 1807 but were defeated on each occasion and ended up by signing away perpetual sovereignty to the Sierra Leone Company.

The Company itself, however, was by this time virtually bankrupt, its trading opportunities badly affected by the war with France. It was heavily subsidised by the British government and in 1808 the inevitable happened; the Company was wound up, the government assumed control and Sierra Leone became a British colony. Thus, in barely twenty years a settlement begun as an idealistic experiment in emancipation had led to the loss by local rulers of land they had held for centuries and the subservience of the free settlers to a remote London government.

The plate shows Freetown, shortly after the arrival of the Jamaican settlers; a British naval vessel can be seen on the left.

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