Freetown is the capital and largest city of Sierra Leone. It is a major port city in the Atlantic Ocean and is located in the Western Area of Sierra Leone. Freetown is Sierra Leone's major urban, economic, financial, cultural, educational and political center. The city proper had a population of 772,873 at the 2004 census, As of 2010, the population of Freetown is estimated at 1.2 million. The city's economy revolves largely around its harbor - occupying a part of the estuary of the Sierra Leone River in one of the world's largest natural deep water harbours.
Freetown is home to the Fourah Bay College, the oldest university in West Africa, founded in 1827. The university not only played a key role in Sierra Leone’s colonial history, but also a key role in the history of the English-speaking West-African nations.
As the capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown is home to the Sierra Leone House of Parliament, the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone and the State House, the official workplace of the President of Sierra Leone. All of the foreign embassies in Sierra Leone are based in the city.
Freetown is one of Sierra Leone's six municipalities and is locally governed by a directly elected city council, headed by a mayor. The mayor and members of the Freetown city council are directly elected every four years by the residents of Freetown. The municipality of Freetown is politically divided into three regions: East End Freetown, Central Freetown, and West End Freetown, which are subdivided into wards.
The population of Freetown is ethnically, culturally, and religiously diverse among Muslims and Christians. The city is home to a large population of all of the country's ethnic groups, with no single ethnic group forming a majority. As in virtually all parts of Sierra Leone, the Krio language is the city's primary language of communication and is by far the most widely spoken language in the city.
The city of Freetown was founded in 1792 by Abolitionist John Clarkson as a land for freed African American slaves, called the Nova Scotian who had fought on the side with British during the American Revolutionary War. The settlers called their new settlement Freetown, as a land for freed slaves . Around 500 Freed Jamaican slaves made the journey to Freetown in 1800 through the Sierra Leone Company. During the next decades, thousands of freed African American, West Indian and Liberated Africans came to Freetown as settlers, through the Sierra Leone Company. Their descendants are known today as the Sierra Leone Creole people.
Province of Freedom 1787–1789
The area was first settled in 1787 by 400 formerly enslaved Black Britons sent from London, England, under the auspices of the Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor, an organisation set up by the British abolitionist, Granville Sharp. They established the 'Province of Freedom' or Granville Town on land purchased from local Koya Temne subchief King Tom and regent Naimbana, a purchase which the Europeans understood to cede the land to the new settlers "for ever." The established arrangement between Europeans and the Koya Temne did not include provisions for permanent settlement, and some historians question how well the Koya leaders understood the agreement.
Disputes soon broke out, and King Tom's successor, King Jimmy, burnt the settlement to the ground in 1789. Alexander Falconbridge was sent to Sierra Leone in 1791 to collect the remaining Black Poor settlers, and they re-established Granville Town (later on renamed Cline Town, Sierra Leone) near Fourah Bay. It should be noted that these 1787 settlers did not establish Freetown. The bicentennial of Freetown was celebrated in 1987, when in reality Freetown was founded in 1792.Shaw, Rosalind, Memories of the Slave Trade: Ritual and the Historical Imagination in Sierra Leone (2002), University of Chicago Press, p. 37.
Freetown Colony 1792–1808
The basis for the Freetown Colony began in 1791, when Thomas Peters, an African American who had served in the Black Pioneers, went to England to report the grievances of the black population. Peters met with the directors of the Sierra Leone Company, and it was there he learned of proposals for a new settlement at Sierra Leone (following the collapse of the 1787 colonization attempt). The directors were eager to allow the Settlers to build a settlement at Sierra Leone; the London-based and newly created Sierra Leone Company had decided to create a new colony but before Peters' arrival had no colonists. Lieutenant John Clarkson was sent to Nova Scotia in British North America to register immigrants to take to Sierra Leone for the purpose of starting a new settlement.
Over 1,100 former American slaves from Nova Scotia sailed in 15 ships and arrived in St. George Bay between February 26-March 9. Sixty four settlers died en route to Sierra Leone, and even Lieutenant Clarkson was ill during the voyage. Upon reaching Sierra Leone, Clarkson and some of the Nova Scotian 'captains' "dispatched on shore to clear or make roadway for their landing". The Nova Scotians were to build Freetown on the former site of the first Granville Town which had become a "jungle" since its destruction in 1789. Though they built Freetown on Granville Town's former site, their settlement was not a rebirth of Granville Town, which had been re-established at Fourah Bay in 1791 by the remaining Old Settlers. The women remained in the ships while the Settler men worked tirelessly to clear the land. Lt. Clarkson told the men to clear the land until they reached a large cotton tree. The Settler men toiled and many were scratched and hurt by the shrubbery and bush. After the work had been done and the land cleared all the Nova Scotians, men and women, disembarked and marched towards the thick forest and to the cotton tree, and their preachers (all African Americans) began singing: Awake and Sing Of Moses and the Lamb Wake! every heart and every tongue To praise the Saviour's name The day of Jubilee is come; Return ye ransomed sinners home On March 11, 1792, Nathaniel Gilbert, a white preacher, prayed and preached a sermon under the large Cotton Tree, and Reverend David George preached the first recorded Baptist service in Africa. The land was dedicated and christened 'Free Town' according to the instructions of the Sierra Leone Company Directors. This was the first thanksgiving service in the newly christened Free Town. Eventually John Clarkson would be sworn in as first governor of Sierra Leone. Small huts were erected before the rainy season. The Sierra Leone Company surveyors and the Settlers built Freetown on the American grid pattern, with parallel streets and wide roads, with the largest being Water Street. On August 24, 1792, the Black Poor or Old Settlers of the second Granville Town were incorporated into the new Sierra Leone Colony but remained at Granville Town.Post of the Month: Freetown It survived being pillaged by the French in 1794, and was rebuilt by the Nova Scotian settlers. By 1798, Freetown had between 300-400 houses with architecture resembling that of the United States-3–4 feet stone foundations with wooden superstructures. Eventually this style of housing (brought by the Nova Scotians) would be the model for the 'bod oses' of their Creole descendants. In 1800, the Nova Scotians rebelled and it was the arrival of the 500 Jamaican Maroons which caused the rebellion to be suppressed. Thirty-four Nova Scotians were banished and sent to either the Sherbro or a penal colony at Gore. Some of these of the Nova Scotians were eventually allowed back into Freetown. After the Maroons captured the rebels, they were granted the land of the Nova Scotian rebels. Eventually the Maroons would have their own district at Maroon Town, Freetown.
Freetown as a Crown Colony 1808–1961
Later on, indigenous inhabitants attacked the colony in 1801, but the British eventually took control of Freetown making it a Crown Colony in 1808, beginning the expansionism that led to the creation of Sierra Leone. From 1808 to 1874, the city served as the capital of British West Africa. It also served as the base for the Royal Navy's West Africa Squadron which was charged with halting the slave trade. Most of the slaves liberated by the squadron chose to settle in Sierra Leone, and Freetown in particular, rather than return home; thus the population included descendants of many different peoples from all over the west coast of Africa. The Liberated Africans established the suburbs of Freetown Peninsula, and they were the largest group of immigrants which made up the Creole people of Freetown. The city expanded rapidly as many freed slaves settled, accompanied by West Indian and African soldiers who had fought for Britain in the Napoleonic Wars. During World War II, Britain maintained a naval base at Freetown. Descendants of the various freed slaves who landed in Sierra Leone between 1787 and 1792, are called the Creoles. The Creoles play a leading role in the city, even though they are a minority of the overall Sierra Leone population.
Civil war, 1990s
The city was the scene of fierce fighting in the late 1990s. It was captured by ECOWAS troops seeking to restore President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah in 1998, and later it was unsuccessfully attacked by rebels of the Revolutionary United Front.