In the late 1790s to 1800s, various North American, British and other European black and white slavery abolitionist groups began to advocate for the end of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, and mass groups of freed or escapee slaves were resettling around the Global North and on the African continent.
Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone, was founded by freed American slaves in 1792
who arrived from the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. They were a mixed group of Londoners, Nova Scotians, and Jamaican maroons who intermarried to create what was known as the Creole (presently referred to as Krio) population. When they arrived in Freetown they first settled around a massive tree known as the Cotton Tree
and threw a party! They sang praises and hymns of finally reaching a free land. The Cotton Tree still stands today in the center of Freetown’s downtown commercial district separating shops, restaurants and banks from Government buildings. Several national events happen around the Cotton Tree till this day. It’s pretty cool, but I digress. Although the Freetownians were overjoyed to reach a “free land” they soon discovered that Freetown was part of Sierra Leone – an African nation inhabitted by a multitude of ethnic groups, and controlled by the English under United Kingdom colonial administration. They would have to fight once again, for independence.
In the meantime the city and country melted into a cultural and commercial hub of West African tribes with strong practices around academia, art, trade, food and more. As a chief port city of Sierra Leone, Freetown was (and still is) a commercial center for trade in rutile, bauxite, platinum, gold, and diamonds. It is also known as the home of Fourah Bay College
, established in 1827 as the first Western-influenced college in West Africa. Through the 19th Century, Fourah Bay College attracted students from across the continent.
Sierra Leone gained independence in 1961 after Sierra Leoneans along with the entirety of West Africa led fierce anti-colonial wars, boycotts and protests
against the economic exploitation and racial, social and political injustices of colonialism. Colonialism became too expensive for the British to maintain given all the riots and wars.
Once Sierra Leone gained independence, Freetown like most capitals of newly created African nations, received thousands of migrants in search of employment – further expanding the multicultural melting pot that is Sierra Leone as a whole. This legacy is reflected in the multiple (16) languages, tribes, and cultures of Sierra Leoneans today. And they all lived in harmony and peace for sometime.
Unfortunately, Sierra Leone’s ability to avoid political unrest ended in 1991 when a civil war broke out. The war was largely a result of political power mongering on the part of the country’s political elite who had come to view politics as a means to enrich themselves via corruption, while leaving the populace to fend for themselves. The war destroyed much of the city’s infrastructure and economy before ending in 2002.
Since 2002, Freetown has come quite a way in rebuilding its political, economic, and social sectors. The city currently has a full functioning and peaceful democracy, and budding economic sectors (mining, telecoms, agro-processing, fishing, hospitality/tourism and fast moving consumer goods). The majority of Freetown and Sierra Leone’s potential to be an economic powerhouse remains untapped and the city is ripe for lucrative investment opportunities.
Below is a list of resources to help you discover the rich history of Freetown, and Sierra Leone as a whole.