“An Upright and Faithful Boy”: Children of the Elite and Children Removed from Slavery within the CMS Mission Schools, 1806–16

Friday, January 8, 2016: 2:30 PM
Room 304 (Hilton Atlanta)
Katrina Keefer, York University
In the first two decades of the nineteenth century, the upper Guinea Coast saw a number of important changes culturally, many of which were intimately concerned with the suppression and abolition of the slave trade. In that turbulent period, one of the branches of the abolitionist enterprise was the Church Missionary Society, which systematically sent educators both to convert and to teach children in the region. The schools founded from 1806 onward by these men were unique and transformative in their impact; by applying new trends in education, these mission schools rewarded students by their academic achievement as opposed to their social standing. More remarkably, I suggest, the early mission schools welcomed pupils not only from the local elites and slave traders, but from the ranks of the previously enslaved. Classrooms featured formerly enslaved African children learning alongside the privileged sons and daughters of Sierra Leone’s settlers, of Europeans, of local elite, and of local trader families. The glimpses offered into the lives and experiences of these students offer a window into what I argue is a unique moment in time.
Prior to the retrenchment of mission schools in 1816 for the region, the missionary documents offer an individualized perspective into the lives of the children. This period was still informal to a degree, with no standardized means of recording pupil numbers or behaviours, which allowed certain missionaries room to expound upon what they observed in their students both elite and formerly enslaved. Aptitude, merit, and the peccadilloes of childhood and adolescence are displayed in letters and reports sent to the CMS headquarters in London. These glimpses into childrens’ lives offer an intriguing picture of individuals and their experiences as Sierra Leone’s cultural landscape was changing tremendously.
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