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The Province Of Freedom

Before the American Revolution a small number of Africans had been brought to England as slaves. In 1772, in a case brought by abolitionist forces led by Granville Sharp, slavery was declared illegal in England. Because the freed blacks in England were largely unable to find work, they were popularly labeled the Black Poor and were regarded as a burden by British authorities.

With government backing a group of Sharp's supporters gathered a party of some 400 Black Poor and a handful of whites and sent them off to found a self-governing colony on the Sierra Leone Peninsula. Sharp drew up a democratic constitution for this colony, which he named the Province of Freedom. The colonists landed on May 10, 1787. Their British naval escort obtained permission from the local chief for the settlers to use much of the peninsula in return for trade goods worth sixty pounds sterling. A second treaty specifying that the grant was permanent had to be negotiated the next year with the king of the Temne state, who was the peninsula chief's overlord. Because of the Africans’ notions of land tenure, however, it remains doubtful that they intended to sell the land permanently.

As in other colonies, both the voyage out and the initial period of settlement took a heavy toll. Most of the settlers were city residents unskilled in agriculture; they arrived at the worst time of year; and they were unfamiliar with the diseases and problems they found in Africa.

In December 1789 a local chief, angered by the acts of passing ships, destroyed the settlement at Granville Town. Not until more than a year later was the settlement reestablished with only about fifty survivors from the original 400. Funds for the new settlement were put up by a new organization in England, the Sierra Leone Company, which sought to mix business and philanthropic motives. The government granted the company the land obtained by the earlier treaties. The company imposed its own rule, thus ending Sharp’s brief experiment in self-government but not the traditions it had sought to engender. as the settlers were long to retain a strong opposition to company rule.

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Page last modified: 03-05-2017 19:11:07 ZULU