Encounter and Exchange: Conflicting Interests in Sierra Leone in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Century

Thursday, January 7, 2010: 3:00 PM
Manchester Ballroom F (Hyatt)
Suzanne Schwarz , Liverpool Hope University, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Sierra Leone was an important site of early abolitionist intervention in Africa. By the time the settlement was transferred to British Crown control in 1808, it had already been a site of abolitionist experimentation for more than two decades. In late eighteenth-century Sierra Leone, leading abolitionists were testing out ways of shaping a new identity for Africa by eradicating the traffic in slaves and attacking the system of plantation slavery. By emphasising the close interconnections between ‘Commerce, Civilization and Christianity’, the Sierra Leone Company anticipated the ‘New Africa’ policy of Thomas Fowell Buxton in 1839 and set the agenda for early Victorian debate on the regeneration of Africa. The Company’s vision for the reform of African economy, society and culture has been comparatively neglected in abolitionist historiography. This paper will examine the Company’s strategic plans in a wider context of anti-slavery thought in the Atlantic world in the late eighteenth century. Sierra Leone was a highly contested site in which European abolitionists and former slaves attempted to reconstruct the Atlantic world from very different perspectives. This paper examines the diverse forms of encounter between competing interest groups in Sierra Leone. The journals of Company employees shed light on attempts to engage Temne and Fula leaders in their abolitionist vision, as well as providing some evidence of the reaction of Africans to the Company’s presence on the coast. The Company’s failure to understand the aspirations of the Nova Scotian settlers to ‘make our Children free and happy after us’ was a source of bitter conflict. The nature of encounter and interaction between black settlers and neighbouring Africans also sheds light on the complexities of identity formation in Sierra Leone.
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