Resettlement of Freed Slaves
The Sierra Leone resettlement scheme was
designed to provide a new life for 400 destitute mainly black people in
London. This was also seen by some as a good way of disposing of a troublesome
minority. Olaudah Equiano was appointed commissary of provisions and stores
for the emigrant poor going to Sierra Leone.
Following the American war of independence there was also a large number
of slaves and freed slaves who had fought for the British. These black
loyalists were rewarded with land in Nova Scotia, but the hostility of
white loyalists and the harsh climate made them sign up for Sierra Leone
They were followed by Maroons - slaves who had rebelled against the British
in Jamaica and been sent to Nova Scotia as punishment; given the choice,
the Maroons left Nova Scotia too for Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone was made
a colony in 1808 and the hinterland was proclaimed a protectorate in 1896.
In the early years of the colony Sierra Leoneans were great traders. In
the middle of the 19th century, Sierra Leone became a great centre for
education in West Africa and beyond.
Liberia was colonised in 1822 by freed slaves coming directly from America
through the administration of the American Colonisation Society. Independence
was achieved in 1847 under J.J. Roberts,
who was born a free man in Norfolk Virginia. He was a successful and ambitious
trader, with great diplomatic skills, and was noted for his public speaking.
"When we look abroad and see by what slow and painful
steps, marked with blood and ills of every kind, other states of the world
have advanced to liberty and independence, we can not but admire and praise
that all gracious Providence, who by his unerring ways, has, with so few
sufferings on our part, compared with other states, led us to this happy
stage in our progress towards those great and important objects…
He will miraculously make Liberia a paradise, and deliver us, in a moment
of time from all the ills and inconveniences consequent upon the peculiar
circumstances under which we are placed…"
J.J. Robert's Inaugural Address.
to President J.J.Roberts's Independence speech
However much Liberians resented America
it continued to be a point of reference for the Liberian elite. The indigenous
people in turn were hostile to these newcomers from overseas and harassed
and attacked them regularly throughout the 19th century.
"The natives have been kept in a state of rebellion,
by influence of one Grando, a chief, who was always opposed to the life
of civilisation. Although he sold a tract of land to the government, and
received payment, giving his signature, still he has always acted the
rogue. He has ever kept Bassa tribe in a state of hostility to the emigrants
and the government."
History of Republic Liberia, by a
resident of Monrovia.
Back in America some abolitionists attacked
Liberia for being a place to dump freed slaves, so confusing the issue
of emancipation. Like the elite of Sierra Leone, the Liberians of Monrovia
focussed more and more on the professions - medicine, law, administration
- rather than trade. Education at home and abroad became hugely prized.
In the 1880's Liberia came up against European colonial ambition, first
losing territory to British-ruled Sierra Leone; then the south east of
the country was taken by France in 1891 with subsequent territorial losses
around the 1900's. However, Liberia along with Ethiopia had the distinction
of being self-ruling in Sub-Saharan Africa, where everywhere else was
under colonial rule.