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"The Nova Scotian Settlers and the founding of Freetown" by Nigel Davies & Akindele Decker

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  • January 15, 1792: Departure of the fifteen vessels containing the Nova Scotian Settlers
  • February 26th-March 9th 1792: Arrival of the Nova Scotian Settlers in Sierra Leone
  • March 11, 1792: Thanksgiving Service and Dedication of Freetown
  • August 1792: The second Granville Town is incorporated into the Colony
  • 1794: A French attack on Freetown occurs. The settlement is ravaged but is rebuilt by the Settlers
  • 1796: First two story house built in Freetown by Sophia Small; shopkeeping licenses given to six colonists
  • 1800: Settler rebellion and end of representative government within the Colony

The second attempt to establish a Colony in Sierra Leone was successful and lasted as a political entity until 1961; it lasts today as the present day and (appropriately named) ‘Western Area’ of Sierra Leone. This second attempt to establish a Colony in Sierra Leone began in March 1792. Black Americans who came to Sierra Leone via Nova Scotia founded this second colony and settlement.

Though rooted in the same community of blacks as some of the Black Poor of London, these colonists were more resilient than their predecessors. Many of the colonists were skilled artisans or had other trades, and some were pioneers in the community. The arrival of the Nova Scotians and the idea of founding another colony in Sierra Leone began with an attempt to revive the first colony in Sierra Leone. Granville Sharp was disappointed at the destruction of the Province of Freedom and realized he could not support the colony without government support. Along with some wealthy friends, he founded the St. George Bay Company. This company was to encourage trade between Africa and England and encouraged people to buy shares of the Company.

In 1791, it sent out an agent to Sierra Leone called Alexander Falconbridge. Falconbridge collected 64 of the remaining Black Poor settlers and moved them to Fora Bay, and abandoned Temne village. There the colonists reestablished Granville Town; today the area is known as Cline Town. Back in London, the St. George Bay Company was undergoing a transformation. An offshoot or renamed extension of the St.George Bay Company was founded in its stead. The Sierra Leone Company was formed in 1791 and an English banker called Henry Thorton was made the head director. The company planned to introduce the “blessings of industry and civilization” into Africa.

As the company began to develop its plans for a new colony in Africa, a middle aged former millwright called Thomas Peters arrived in London. Peters was actually born as Egba of the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria (some say an Egba prince) and he arrived in London between 1790-1791. He had fought valiantly for the British cause during the war, and he met one of his old generals who remembered him fondly. Eventually Peters met with officials and directors of the Sierra Leone Company. He explained the situation of blacks in Nova Scotia and how their complaints had been rejected. Peters’ description of his compatriots in Nova Scotia gave the Sierra Leone Company the impression that these blacks would make excellent colonists.

Peters was sent back to Nova Scotia to spread the word of emigration scheme; Lt. John Clarkson, a naval officer and brother of the famous abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, would join him. Clarkson was to oversee the venture and to oversee transportation to Sierra Leone. While in Canada, Clarkson endeared himself to the Nova Scotians, and he admired many aspects of their culture. Many responded not only because of their dissatisfaction with the Nova Scotian government but also because they strongly believed the promises of John Clarkson regarding Africa.

Eventually on January 15th 1792, a fleet of fifteen ships left for the shores of Africa. It was the largest fleet of blacks ever to immigrate to West Africa. Between February 26th and March 9th, the Nova Scotians arrived on the shores of Sierra Leone.The arrival of the Nova Scotians has often been seen as the second group of immigrants to Freetown; in reality they founded Freetown and the Colony of Sierra Leone. Primary sources of the time indicate two separate colonies; the first being the Province of Freedom and the second being the Colony of Sierra Leone founded by the Nova Scotians. The Nova Scotians were brought by the Sierra Leone Company to form a “new settlement”. John Clarkson, the first governor of the Colony of Sierra Leone said that “...there could not be any people in existence...better calculated for forming a new settlement, than those I brought with me from America...” Clarkson and Falconbridge attest to the fact that the Nova Scotians were brought not to be members of the defunct “Province of Freedom” nor to rebuild Granville Town (which had already been rebuilt at modern day Cline Town by the 64 remaining Black Poor settlers.) but to form their own colony and their own settlement.

The Nova Scotians’ colony was to be formed on “new principles”. Because of their service during the war, the British government paid the expenses for the Nova Scotians exodus to Sierra Leone. About 15,000 pounds alone was spent on transporting them to Sierra Leone; about 30,000 pounds total spent on them alone. The Settlers put it to good use. The Sierra Leone Company ships, which had been sent ahead of the Nova Scotian fleet, did not prepare for the Settlers arrival, and the Nova Scotians themselves cleared the land, which was complete forestry and shrub. 

By March 11th, the Nova Scotians were able to gather around a cotton tree (which is according to legend the famous cotton tree near St. George Cathedral) and sing to the Lord for their arrival in Africa. They imported a North American pioneer tradition, which came from their American heritage. The historical “bod oses” of the Krio people most likely originated from the Nova Scotians who built two storied wooden houses with stone foundations, and shingled roofs as early as 1796.

By the 1820s they were black bourgeoisie; most upper class blacks looked to them or Europeans in the colony for fashionable style in clothing and housing. Proud of their transatlantic roots, the Nova Scotians called themselves the “Settlers”; and from their arrival in Africa to the late 19th century, the term “Settler” was used in reference only to the Nova Scotians and their descendants.

 

Nova Scotian Settlers

Jamaican Maroons

Liberated African Village

Krio Language