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Province of Freedom 1787-1789
The area, said to have previously been a slave market, was first settled in 1787 by 400 formerly enslaved Black Britons sent from London, England, under the auspices of the Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor, an organisation set up the British abolitionist, Granville Sharp. They established the 'Province of Freedom' or Granville Town on land purchased from local Koya Temne subchief King Tom and regent Naimbana, a purchase which the Europeans understood to cede the land to the new settlers "for ever." The established arrangement between Europeans and the Koya Temne did not include provisions for permanent settlement, and some historians question how well the Koya leaders understood the agreement. Disputes soon broke out, and King Tom's successor, King Jimmy, burnt the settlement to the ground in 1789. Alexander Falconbridge was sent to Sierra Leone in 1791 to collect the remaining Black Poor settlers, and they re-established Granville Town (later on renamed Cline Town, Sierra Leone) near Fourah Bay. It should be noted that these 1787 settlers did not establish Freetown. The bicentennial of Freetown was celebrated in 1987, when in reality Freetown was founded in 1792.
Freetown Colony 1792-1808
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, when Thomas Peters, an African American who had served in the Black Pioneers, went to England to petition the British government to get a better deal for the Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia. Peters met with the directors of the Sierra Leone Company, and it was there he learned of a new settlement at Sierra Leone for freed Black British settlers. 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. Over 1,100 former American slaves from Nova Scotia sailed in 15 ships and arrived in St. George Bay between February 26-March 9. 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 Nova Scotian 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 Nova Scotians, men and women, disembarked and marched towards the thick forest and to the cotton tree, and their preachers (all African Americans) began singing:
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.
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 United States-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 Jamaican Maroons 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 would have their own district at Maroon Town. Freetown.
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. 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 Nova Scotians built Freetown on the American grid pattern, with parallel streets and wide roads, with the largest being Water Street.
Freetown as a Crown Colony 1808-1961
Later on, the indigenous inhabitants attacked the colony in 1801, but the British eventually took control of Freetown making it a Crown Colony in 1808, beginning the expansionism that led to the creation of Sierra Leone.
From 1808 to 1874, the city served as the capital of British West Africa. It also served as the base for the Royal Navy's West Africa Squadron which was charged with halting the slave trade. Most of the slaves liberated by the squadron chose to settle in Sierra Leone, and Freetown in particular, rather than return home; thus the population included descendants of many different peoples from all over the west coast of Africa. The Liberated Africans established the suburbs of Freetown Peninsula, and they were the largest group of immigrants which made up the Creole people of Freetown.
The city expanded rapidly as many freed slaves settled, accompanied by West Indian and African soldiers who had fought for Britain in the Napoleonic Wars. During World War II, Britain maintained a naval base at Freetown. Descendants of the various freed slaves who landed in Sierra Leone between 1787 and 1792, are called the Creoles. The Creoles play a leading role in the city, even though they are a minority of the overall Sierra Leone population.
The city was the scene of fierce fighting in the late 1990s. It was captured by ECOWAS troops seeking to restore President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah in 1998, and later it was unsuccessfully attacked by rebels of the Revolutionary United Front.