Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Black Loyalists Part 6

This post is the sixth part of an occasional series I have been writing on parts of the history of the Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia. To find the earlier posts you can use this link.

As with many decisions in the late 18th century, the decision to resettle the Black Loyalists of Nova Scotia in the Sierra Leone colony was one largely influenced by economics. More specifically, this was a decision made to partially ease the white population of Nova Scotia of a perceived burden while at the same time hopefully creating a new economic engine on the west coast of Africa. While the desire of the Black Loyalists to resettle in Africa and live in freedom may have been at the heart of the movement, it was the potential gain of the British mercantile empire which finally led to the establishment of this free Black colony.

What many modern Nova Scotians may not realize is that the establishment of Freetown in 1792 was not the first attempt to establish a free Black colony in Sierra Leone. In 1787, the St. George's Bay Company established a settlement called Granville Town. This settlement, named for British abolitionist Granville Sharp consisted of about 320 members of what were known as the Black Poor of London. For the sake of those familiar with the geography of the Annapolis Royal region I should hasten to add that Granville Sharp is not the person who Granville Ferry, Nova Scotia is named for. The Black Poor were an interesting collection consisting mostly of escaped or freed American and Caribbean slaves. Most of these people toiled at menial jobs for which there was poor pay. Added to this group were a collection of about 70 white women from the streets of London and a handful of tradesmen. While individuals like Granville Sharp may have had the best of intentions, there is some debate as to whether the decision to resettle the Black Poor was entirely altruistic. Some historians feel that the foundation of Granville Town was merely an attempt to clear a problem from the streets of London. To Granville Sharp this was an attempt to establish an idealized and peaceful colony. To other supporters of the St. George's Bay Company this was an opportunity to derive some profit from the west coast of Africa. Ideally these settlers would quickly start producing goods which could be sold in Britain and British colonies around the world. Whatever the motivation for the establishment of the colony, the settlers of Granville Town arrived on the coast of Africa in May of 1787.

Granville Town was established on land purchased from Koya Tenme chief King Tom. It is not clear whether the Koya Tenme fully understood the implications of what the English agreement intended and whether they expected them to use the land for settlement. Because of this disputes very quickly broke out with the settlers. In additions to problems with the neighbours this was not a problem free life in the Province of Freedom. If the residents of Granville Town were not careful they were captured by local slave traders and returned to slavery. Disease and death also made their way into Granville Town. These problems reached a climax in 1789 when King Jimmy (King Tom's successor) burned the settlement to the ground.

The failure of this first attempt to settle a free Black colony is the backdrop for the arrival of the Black Loyalists from Nova Scotia. The image at the top of today's post is a print depicting the arrival of the ships carrying the Black Loyalists to Sierra Leone.

All for now,

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