Economic History of Sierra Leone
People of African descent were fewer in numbers in England in the days before the American Revolution and generally better treated. Most of the Black people of England at that time had been brought there as personal servant-slaves from the North American colonies or the British Caribbean possessions. A court ruled in 1772 that slavery in England was illegal and immediately there was a substantial number of free Black men in the cities of England. The story of the declaration of the illegality of slavery in Britain is an interesting one. In England at that time there was a religious sect called the Evangelicals but popularly known as the Saints. The Evangelicals were morally strict, being against alcoholic beverages, swearing, overeating and lewdness. They required also strict adherence to the sanctity of the Sabbath. They also opposed slavery and several prominent Evangelicals devoted their lives to the abolition of slavery. One of these, William Wilberforce, was instrumental in getting England to suppress the Atlantic slave trade. Another Evangelical or Saint was Granville Sharp. Granville Sharp was a key figure in the court decision which made slavery illegal in England. He was thrust in that role by chance.
One of Granville Sharp's brothers was a surgeon. One day Granville Sharp was visiting his surgeon brother and literally bumped into a slave, Jonathan Strong, who had been beaten by his owner so severely that it affected his eyesight. That owner had deemed Jonathan Strong worthless, beat him in the face and threw him into the street. Sharp and his brother put Strong into a hospital and when he recovered his health they gave him clothing and got him a job as a servant. Two years later the legal owner of Strong, a lawyer from Barbados, saw Strong working as a servant and sought to reclaim him as his property. The owner had Strong arrested, who fearing for his life, got a message sent to Granville Sharp. Sharp sought legal help but no lawyer was willing to take the case. Sharp had no legal training but in desperation he studied the law enough to argue the case himself. Sharp prepared a brief that argued that any slave who entered England automatically became free. His case was so well prepared that Jonathan Strong's former owner dropped his suit to recover possession of Strong. Sharp, however, was not content with obtaining just Strong's freedom. Sharp spent five years pursuing the issue until in 1772 he won the case of James Somerset before the High Court of England and obtained the judgement that slavery was illegal in England. Granville Sharp was not a rich man. All the while he was pleading the case against slavery he had to support himself as a clerk in the Ordnance Office of the British Government. Later his two brothers, who were more affluent than he was, offered to support him so that he could carry on his good work. After 1772 the problem of poverty among the freed Blacks replaced the abolition of slavery in the minds of Granville Sharp and the other Saints. The Saints started thinking of a settlement in Africa and by 1786 West Africa and in particular the territory of Sierra Leone had become the focus of their attention. Henry Smeathman presented a proposal before the Committee for the Black Poor for the establishment of such a colony in Sierra Leone. Smeathman died however in July of 1786 and the Committee consider a number of other locales for a settlement. The other places considered were the Brahamas Islands, the Gambia in Africa and New Brunswick in what is now Canada. The Black people who were interested in the scheme thought Sierra Leone was far superior to the other alternatives, although they did not know much about Sierra Leone. The Treasury of the British Government favored the plan and arranged for the Navy to provide transportation. There were as many as 500 Black people interested in the scheme, but only 300 who actually joined the...
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