Home: Our Story: Exodus: Freetown
Voyage THE END
Both Clarkson and the blacks expected fortifications to be constructed, streets laid out, and lots surveyed on their arrival in Sierra Leone. The reality was far different. When they disembarked, they discovered that conditions were similar to their arrival at Shelburne: thick forest, no town plan, and indeed no planning of any sort. Rations were short, and the weather was terrible, with tornadoes and constant rain. Clarkson, who had expected to return to England, was informed that he was to be the new governor, with all his decisions to be ratified by a council of eight white officials.
Thomas Peters, in particular, was furious that the blacks had been lied to by Clarkson about black democratic control of the colony and freedom from land rents. Clarkson rejected Peter's petitions for black police and elimination of the quitrent. Soon after this Peters was accused of theft, and died from a sudden sickness within a few months.
The Methodists and Baptists began to fight among each other at this point. The Methodists tended to advocate revolution and protest, while the Baptists were more conciliatory. Clarkson tried to mediate disputes between the various parties, but the effort exhausted him.
By December of 1792, Clarkson was ill and tired of the continual conflict. He returned to England for what was supposed to be a temporary visit. After a few months recovering there, the directors of the company suggested that he retire with a substantial pension. He refused and they promptly fired him. The era of conciliation was over.
Meanwhile, the chief surveyor Richard Dawes had been appointed governor in Clarkson's absence. As soon as Clarkson was out of sight over the horizon, Dawes ordered that all surveying of settlers' land and public works be halted so that all available resources could be concentrated on building fortifications. Many of the locals thought he was 'Fort-Mad'. His reputation also suffered from having been an official at the infamous Botany Bay penal colony in Australia.
Dawes did institute the innovation of an elected assembly, where every ten families would elect a tythingiman, and ten tythingmen would in turn elect a hundredor from among them. Although Dawes only really intended them to have responsibility for settling petty disputes, they became the foundation of the settlers' democratic representation in Sierra Leone.
In 1783 the settlers were so fed up with their treatment at Dawes' hands that they nominated Cato Perkins and Isaac Anderson to travel to England to present their complaints to the directors of the Company. It's unclear how they traveled there - the most likely explanation seems to be that they traveled on a slave ship. Once in England however, the directors refused to meet with them. All John Clarkson's influence could not arrange a meeting for them.
Dawes was replaced in 1784 by a Scottish military officer named Zachary Macaulay. Macaulay wasn't very interested in all the talk of freedom and equality. As far as he was concerned order and discipline were what was needed to establish the colony. He immediately imposed land taxes (which Clarkson had promised would never be collected), and arrested a black man who insulted a slave trader passing through the colony. This last provocation brought the colony into open revolt, and rioters controlled the streets for several days. Macaulay was frightened, but as the riots calmed he issued a statement claiming that infighting and revolt would lead them into the hands of the slave traders, and that those who were unhappy in Sierra Leone would be shipped back to Nova Scotia. This had the desired effect and the settlement slowly returned to its normal activities.
Later that year the French attacked Freetown, bombarding the town with cannon and raiding through the streets. Macaulay surrendered unconditionally to the French, and they looted the town. Apparently the French were only interested in the English, and not only left the blacks unharmed but allowed them to salvage lumber and supplies. Many of the whites were protected by the black settlers from the pillaging French forces.
When they left a week later, Freetown was very nearly completely destroyed. Lacking any resources and having little chance of obtaining any within a year, Macaulay felt that he needed every piece of lumber that could be found. He demanded the return of all looted supplies, and threatened to fire and withhold medical treatment from anybody who withheld the smallest piece of salvage. He demanded that each settler should Sign an Oath or Restitution swearing that he had returned everything salvaged from the wrecked city. The settlers were furious, feeling that anything they had salvaged at considerable danger to themselves was rightfully theirs. Almost nothing was ever returned; some signed Macaulay's oath but kept the supplies, but many others refused him directly.
The colony again came close to open revolt, with some of the settlers leaving Freetown entirely and others banned from receiving education and medicine. Only two years later did Macaulay relent, having turned what might have been a unifying event into another source of division.
Sierra Leone's history and that of the Black Loyalists' continues on from here, but we have to end our story somewhere. The Nova Scotians became an important ethnic group in Sierra Leone, and their descendants still meet and dominate certain churches to the present day. We hope that you've found this story to be interesting and informative, and we suggest that you look at our documents section if you want to learn more about the Black Loyalist experience.