Emancipation and Indenture in Colonial Sierra Leone

Friday, January 8, 2016: 2:50 PM
Room 304 (Hilton Atlanta)
Richard Anderson, York University
Between 1808 and 1863, an estimated 99,752 Africans disembarked at Freetown, Sierra Leone from slave ships intercepted by the Royal Navy as part of Britain’s campaign to suppress the trans-Atlantic slave trade. For thousands of these liberated Africans, liberation meant indenture. The 1807 Abolition Act listed apprenticeship, along with enlistment, as the two approved forms of settlement, or ‘disposal,’ of Africans taken from intercepted slave ships. For abolitionists, apprenticeship was a metaphor for the control and tutelage they thought necessary for a free labor colonial economy. Along with the Cape Colony, Sierra Leone became part of the empire in which the British deployed a concept of apprenticeship prior to its introduction to the British Caribbean.

For over half a century, indenture was central to British policy in Sierra Leone. Apprenticeship was both an abolitionist concept and a colonial expedient. The nineteenth century trans-Atlantic slave trade was, to an unprecedented degree, a trade in children. Indenting children to masters for periods up to fourteen years was thus an economical means of overseeing and socializing children who arrived in Sierra Leone from across West and Central Africa. This paper traces colonial debates about the purpose of apprenticeship, the role of children in a post-emancipation society, and the range of lived experiences of indenture.