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I speak of Africa

The Sierra Leone Company

Map showing Freetown and its environs, from: Sierra Leone Company. An account of the colony of Sierra Leone, from its first establishment in 1793. London : printed and sold by James Philips, George Yard, Lombard Street, 1795 [FCO Historical Collection DT516 SIE]Map showing Freetown and its environs, from: Sierra Leone Company. An account of the colony of Sierra Leone, from its first establishment in 1793. London : printed and sold by James Philips, George Yard, Lombard Street, 1795 [FCO Historical Collection DT516 SIE]During the 1780s Granville Sharp (1735-1813), a leading abolitionist, became increasingly concerned at the plight of the large number of unemployed and homeless Africans in London, most of them escaped slaves from North America who had made their way to Britain at the end of the American War of Independence.

With the support of the British government, he arranged for a group of 400 men and women to sail for a new home on the West African coast, at the mouth of the Sierra Leone river. The Royal Navy captain who brought them to Sierra Leone negotiated a treaty with the local ruler, King Tom, allowing them to stay, and then returned to England, Britain having no further responsibility for the settlement.

This first settlement was a failure; defeated by disease, heavy rainfall and the animosity of King Tom’s successor, King Jimmy, the settlers scattered and within two years the settlement was abandoned. Undeterred, Sharp set about winning financial backing for a new settlement, and the Sierra Leone Company was formed. New settlers were recruited, most of them former slaves who had escaped to Canada, and 1,000 set sail for Sierra Leone in 1792.

The second settlement was far more successful. The ‘Nova Scotians’ (as they were known in Sierra Leone) were skilled and enterprising. Most were nonconformist Christians and possessed the sobriety and diligence associated with their religious background. They built their new town, Freetown, in the North American style and began to develop it as a trading centre.

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