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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Irony Upon Irony--Freetown, Sierra Leona

I am so happy to be learning about Geography. On the field trip to the art museum, when we studied very tall wooden masks, used in initiation ceremonies of the Bwa people of Dossi from Burkhina Faso, and one little guy pointed out how much the mask looked like a fish, I could explain to the docent that, no, Burkhina Faso is not on the coast--its above Cote D'Ivoire and Ghana, Togo and Benin, which are all along the coast--but Burkhina Faso does have rivers. 

And when we stopped to look at crazy-exuberant "debil" masks of Sierra Leone.  And I knew now that despite its Spanish-sounding name, parts of Sierra Leone were settled by British freed-slaves in 1781, hence the capitol name of Freetown. 

The British brought the ex-slaves "poor blacks from London Town." These "blacks" including Southeast Asians among the Afro-Caribbeans, Africans, and British-born people of darker ancestries. Color, it seems, mattered above all. The Committee For The Relief Of The Black Poor bought land for them in what was then called Koya Temne. The next Temne sub-chief, known in British history as "King Jimmy," soon reneged on his agreement and burned the new settlement to the ground. 

But the British kept bringing in more freed slaves--1100 from Nova Scotia, some of them escaped American slaves. These Nova Scotians were led Thomas Peters, I\(also known as Thomas Potters) who had fought for the British in the Black Company of Pioneers, a British Provincial military unit that fought in the Revolutionary War--on the British side. (Did you ever hear about them? I hadn't.) 

Peters--or Potters--was of the Yoruba tribe, born in Nigeria, captured at the age of twenty-two and sold into slavery in French New Orleans. After his third escape attempt, he was sold northward, into the Carolinas, probably to a Scotsman named Campbell. 

When the Revolutionary War broke out--Peters was then thirty-eight--Lord Dunmore, British governor of Virginia, promised freedom to any slaves who fought on the Loyalist side. Peters ran away from his owner's mill and joined up. He was married by this time, with two children. Peters fought in many encounters, reached the rank of sergeant and was wounded twice.  Among his fellow soldiers was a slave named Henry Washington, who escaped from the plantation of some guy named George, who happened to be the Commander In Chief of the Continental Congress.  (Yeah, the ironies continue to accumulate.) And remember, who slaves who joined the British ranks after the United States declared their independence would be stuck being slaves if the Americans won the war. 

Thomas Peters
Which they did. 

So, after the war, Peters was evacuated with many other slaves to Nova Scotia, where it was cold and rough and there was a lot of race hatred. He traveled to England to complain. Here, he met with the directors of the Sierra Leone company, who were looking for more settlers for Freetown. And that was that. (Apart from a long, difficult cross-ocean trip etc.) 

Life in Freetown, though free, remained extraordinarily difficult. The French pillaged and burned in 1794. The settlers rebuilt. Also, Freetown was a company town, run with scrip handed in at a company store. When the Nova Scotians rebelled against the low value of company scrip, the British put down their rebellion with Jamaican Maroons--descendants of Jamaican slaves who had escaped slavery in Jamaica and fought and maintained their independence for about a hundred years. (Irony piled on irony piled on irony.)

The rebels were expelled, although some were allowed back in. And then, the Maroons were given land right next to Freetown. The British crown took the colony over. They now used it as a place to relocate people liberate from slave ships encountered along the west coast of Africa, where tribes, including those right around Freetown, were active participants in the cross-Atlantic slave trade.  

So, Freetown became a colony made up of Creoles, plus members of tribes from all over the West Coast of Africa. And we're just up to around 1808. We haven't even gotten to the horrible civil war of the 1990's. 

So, hey, somebody, write about Thomas Peters, arguably the first African-American hero, a man fighting for freedom on the side that most Americans--also throwing around the word freedom--were fighting against.  

But for the Americans, freedom meant freedom for white male property owners. For Thomas Peters, it was more encompassing--though we'd have to talk to his wife, Sally and his daughter, Clairy, to learn if freedom included the female gender, as well. Sally, too, was a member of the Black Company of Pioneers. And that's another story. . .

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