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Sierra Leone

Portuguese sailors, Alvaro Fernandez (1447) and Pedro Da Cintra (1462), were among the first European explorers to details their adventures along the coast of Sierra Leone.

West Coast of Africa
from "Atlas de Toutes Les Parties"
Charles Marie Rigobert Bonne

The Portuguese were the first to engage in the New World slave trade, and others soon followed. Slaves were considered cargo by the ship owners, to be transported to the Americas as quickly and cheaply as possible, there to be sold to labor in coffee, tobacco, cocoa, cotton and sugar plantations, gold and silver mines, rice fields, construction industry, cutting timber for ships, and as house servants.

The Rokel estuary was established as an important source of fresh water for sea traders and explorers who opened a bay for trading goods such as swords, kitchen and other household utensils in exchange for beeswax and fine ivory works. By the mid 1550 s, slaves replaced these items as the major commodity.

Though the Portuguese were among the first in the region and their language formed the basis for trade, their influence had diminished by the 1650 s. English, French, Dutch and Danish interests in West Africa had grown; during the years 1662-1759, some 106,800 slaves were exported on ships of the British Empire. Trade was controlled by coastal African rulers who prohibited European traders from entering the interior. Rent and gifts were paid for gold, slaves, beeswax, ivory and cam wood.

Muslim traders brought Islam to Sierra Leone during the 18th Century, along with a new form of identity and a changing cultural fabric. European colonial impact failed to arrest the spread of the faith.

In 1787, British philanthropists founded the "Province of Freedom," which later became Freetown, a British crown colony and the principal base for the suppression of the slave trade. By 1792, 1200 freed slaves from Nova Scotia joined the Maroons (the original settlers). Another group of slaves rebelled in Jamaica and travelled to Freetown in 1800.

Muslim Fula Merchants.

Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa.

Muslims in Freetown, West Africa.

Through the efforts of men such as William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson and Granville Sharpe, Lord Mansfield formed an administration in 1806, which was instrumental in the British Empire s abolition of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1807. The British established a naval base in Freetown to patrol against illegal slave ship and established a fine of 100 for every slave found on a British ship.

In 1808 Sierra Leone officially became a crown colony with the land possessions of Sierra Leone Company (formerly known as St George’s Bay Company) transferred to the crown. The colony was dedicated to demonstrating the principles of Christianity, “civilisation” and commerce.

In 1833 British Parliament passed the Emancipation Act, and in 1833 slavery was finally abolished. By 1855, over 50,000 freed slaves has been settled in Freetown. Known as the Krios, the repatriated settlers of Freetown live today in a multi-ethnic country. Though English is the official language Krio is widely spoken throughout the country allowing different tribal groups a common language.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Britain's main interest was in trade with India, which it had come to dominate by the end of the 18th century. The British interest in Africa was incidental to this--ships bound to and from India had to pass along the African coast where they obtained supplies and occasionally became shipwrecked. Only a few spots in West Africa, like the Gold Coast and the Slave Coast (modern Nigeria), offered enough profit to make them attractive in their own right and in the end, the British occupied only the Gambia, Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast and Nigeria.

Naturally, the British also acquired extensive holdings elsewhere in Africa, notably in Egypt, Kenya and South Africa, but in West Africa, most of the territory went to the French.

Most British attitudes about Africa were shaped by their experience with the slave trade. The British first became involved in the trade in the 16th century and became major players by the 18th century. Most merchant seaman had seen slaves at some time in their career and by the late 18th century the abolition movement began to introduce Africans and their land to a wider audience. The anti-slavery movement scored its first major victory during the Napoleonic Wars when the British government outlawed the transport of slaves in ships as part of its economic war against France's "Continental System." Afterwards, British ships patrolled against slavers from a naval base at Freetown in Sierra Leone.

The Castle of Elmina. Gold Coast.

Castle of Elmina. Gold Coast, Africa.

In the late eighteenth century, industrialization began to stimulate interest in Africa among wealthy English gentlemen who sought opportunities for commerce. A group that included Joseph Banks, a member of Captain Cook's 1868 expedition to the Pacific, formed the "Association for promoting the Discovery of the Interior Parts of Africa" (later known simply as the Africa Association) in 1788.

November 18, 1873, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California, U.S.A.

The Ashantee Expedition

NEW YORK, November 17th

A London dispatch states that the Ashantee expdition has advanced twenty-five miles from Elmina and that the Ashantees are retreatiang on the river Prape, having been defeated with great loss in killed and wounded, and five of their villages burned.

Their main activity was the funding of expeditions to Africa and public lectures to present the results. Their earliest projects included expeditions by Simon Lucas and John Ledyard, which never got under way, an expedition by Daniel Houghton which ended with his disappearance east of the Gambia River, and an expedition by Mungo Park, who made it to the Niger River and back in 1795-1797.

February 15, 1802, The Times, London


Dispatches 'have been received from the Governor and Council of Sierra Leone dated 16th December which state a sudden and unprovoked attached on the Settlement, to have been made by some neighbouring natives, on the 18th of November.

"The enemy, though baffled in their enterprize, full-maintained a threatening position to the wellward of the Colony, apparently with the hope of recruiting their numbers.

It became therefore an object of the first importance to dislodge them; and several expeditions, undertaken with this view, in which the Maroons affiliated, were attended with s uch success that by the 4th of December they had been completely drive from the district which lies between the Settlement and Cape Sierra Leone, which scarcely any loss on the part of the Colony.

This trreacherous and unprovoked aggression is exclusively attributed to the Timmaneys, and it appears to have strongly excited the indignation of many of the neighbouring African Chiefs, several of whom had repaired, with a considerable number of men, to the assistance of the Settlement, and had joined in the excursions which were undertaken against the enemy . . .

Captain Bullen of his Majesty's sloop the Wasp has been felicitous from the hour of his arrival . . . The presence and aid of a ship of war, in a situation like ours, are invaluable.

18 people were killed; 38-56 wounded.

In 1808 Sierra Leone officially became a crown colony with the land possessions of Sierra Leone Company (formerly known as St George's Bay Company) transferred to the crown. The colony was dedicated to demonstrating the principles of Christianity, civilisation and commerce.

In 1833 British Parliament passed the Emancipation Act, and in 1833 slavery was finally abolished. By 1855, over 50,000 freed slaves has been settled in Freetown. Known as the Krios, the repatriated settlers of Freetown live today in a multi-ethnic country. Though English is the official language Krio is widely spoken throughout the country allowing different tribal groups a common language.

June 20, 1889, Cambridge City Tribune, Cambridge City, Indiana

Primitive Intercourse

R. Andree has lately been collecting information as to the use of signals by primitive peoples, and the facts he has brought together are summarized in Science. It appears that American Indians use rising smoke to give signals to distant friends. A small fire is started, and as son as it burns fairly well, grass and leaves are heaped on the top of it. Thus a large column of steam and smoke arises... Recently attention has been called to the elaborate system of drum signals used by the Cameroon negroes by means of which long messages are sent from village to village. Explorations in the Congo basin have shown that this system prevails throughout central Africa. The Bakuba use large wooden drums, on which different tones are produced by two drumsticks. Sometimes the natives "converse" in this way for hours, and by the energy displayed by the drummers, and the rapidity of the successive blows, it seems that the conversation was very animated.

Mendi Expedition, Sierra Leone.
Palaver Hut used as Mess.

The Galla, South of Abyssinia, have drums stationed at certain points of the roads leading to the neighboring states. Special watchmen are appointed, who have to beat the drum on the approach of enemies. Cecchi, who observes this custom, designated it as a "system of telegraph." The same use of drums is found in New Guinea. From the rhythm and rapidity of the blows, the natives know at once whether an attack, a death, or a festival is announced. The same tribes use columns of smoke or (at night) fires to convey messages to distant friends. The latter are also used in Australia. Columns of smoke of different forms are used fro signals by the inhabitants of Cape York and the neighboring island . . .

Rev. Dr. Flickinger, of Dayton, Ohio, Missionary Secretary of the United Brethren spent much of his life in Africa starting in 1885 and returned seven times, the last time in May 1883. He travelled the United States giving lectures on his impressions; the following is a partial excerpt from one of his deliveries from the

July 26, 1884, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California

Along West Africa

The doctor exhibited a map of West Africa, in which the missions with which he has been operating for the past twentynine years are located. On the north could be seen Free Town, a British port in the Sierra Leone country. South of this the Bherbro and the Mendi countries; and southeast, the Bomphe country. The United Brethern have twelve stations in the Sherbro and Bomphe countries, from which they operate in one hundred and eighty towns. The Mendi Mission was turned over to them by the Congregationalists for five years, with $5,000 per year to defray the expenses of operating it. The missionaries of Sherhro labored twelve years before a soul was converted. The thirteenth year there were two converted and to-day above 700 converts are to be found at the stations, and hundreds are rapidly turning from idolatry to God.

Morality of Slave Traders

Execution of Nathaniel Gordon the Slave Trader
New York, February 21, 1862

Execution of a Slave Trader.

There were white traders who, in their own country, were considered as respectable citizens, who purchased these helpless slaves and often accumulated a fortune, left there and returned to their own land to live in luxury, as the honored of society. They were married, after their return, to white women, while in Africa their purchased wives with their yellow-faced children can be seen to-day in the misery and wretchedness of the sad and lonely life to which they have been consigned and then abandoned by these lords of wealth.

Some are inclined to inquire, ''What good can you do in Africa?'' To which the reply comes with emphasis, that the same objections might be offered to this or any other country. With some of them we can do but very little; about as much as with some white men. There are low black men, and there are low white men.

The ships sent there from England, Germany, France and America are usually loaded in the hull with many barrels of whisky, while upon the deck are found one or two missionaries. The natives say: Him whisky must be good, when you good people send him."

The Diary of Antera Duke: An Eighteenth-Century African Slave TraderAfrican Slave Trader.
TheDiary of Antera Duke.Stephen D. Behrendt, A. J. H. Lathma, David Northrup
In his diary, Antera Duke (ca.1735-ca.1809) wrote the only surviving eyewitness account of the slave trade by an African merchant. A leader in late eighteenth-century Old Calabar, a cluster of Efik-speaking communities in the Cross River region, he resided in Duke Town, forty-five miles from the Atlantic Ocean in what is now southeast Nigeria. His diary, written in trade English from 1785 to 1788, is a candid account of daily life in an African community at the height of Calabar's overseas commerce. It provides valuable information on Old Calabar's economic activity both with other African businessmen and with European ship captains who arrived to trade for slaves, produce, and provisions.

Basil Davidson states that by examining three important areas of Africa in the history of slavery against a general background of their time and circumstance he was taking "a fresh look at the oversea slave trade, the steady year-by-year export of African labour to the West Indies and the Americas that marked the era of forced migration." (Africans were joined by abused laborers from China, "indentured servants" from Ireland, and Britain's hideous prison hulks.)

The Middle Passage: White Ships/ Black CargoWhite Ships, Black Cargo.
Tom Feelings
Alex Haley's Roots awakened many Americans to the cruelty of slavery. The Middle Passage focuses attention on the torturous journey which brought slaves from Africa to the Americas, allowing readers to bear witness to the sufferings of an entire people. 64 paintings.

The Counter-Revolution of 1776:
Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America
Slave Resistance.
Gerald Home
The successful 1776 revolt against British rule in North America has been hailed almost universally as a great step forward for humanity. But the Africans then residing in the colonies overwhelmingly sided with London. In this trailblazing book, Gerald Horne complements his earlier celebrated Negro Comrades of the Crown, by showing that in the prelude to 1776, the abolition of slavery seemed all but inevitable in London, delighting Africans as much as it outraged slaveholders, and sparking the colonial revolt.

Middle Passages: African American Journeys to Africa, 1787-2005Middle Passages: African American Journeys to Africa.
James T. Campbell
Many works of history deal with the journeys of blacks in bondage from Africa to the United States along the middle passage, but there is also a rich and little examined history of African Americans traveling in the opposite direction. In Middle Passages, award-winning historian James T. Campbell recounts more than two centuries of African American journeys to Africa, including the experiences of such extraordinary figures as Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois, Richard Wright, Malcolm X, and Maya Angelou. This series is under presiding editor Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

1899. World's Fleet. Boston Daily Globe

Lloyds Register of Shipping gives the entire fleet of the world as 28,180 steamers and sailing vessels, with a total tonnage of 27,673,628, of which 39 perent are British.

Great Britain10,990 vessels, total tonnage of 10,792,714
United States 3,010 vessels, total tonnage of 2,405,887
Norway 2,528 vessels, tonnage of 1,604,230
Germany 1,676 vessels, with a tonnage of 2,453,334, in which are included her particularly large ships.
Sweden 1,408 vessels with a tonnage of 643, 527
Italy1,150 vessels
France 1,182 vessels

For Historical Comparison
Top 10 Maritime Nations Ranked by Value (2017)

  Country # of Vessels







1 Greece 4,453 206.47 $88.0
2 Japan 4,317 150.26 $79.8
3 China 4,938 159.71 $71.7
4 USA 2,399 55.92 $46.5
5 Singapore 2,662 64.03 $41.7
6 Norway 1,668 39.68 $41.1
7 Germany 2,923 81.17 $30.3
8 UK 883 28.78 $24.3
9 Denmark 1,040 36.17 $23.4
10 South Korea 1,484 49.88 $20.1
Total 26,767 87.21 $466.9

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



Merchant Shipping

Merchant Shipping.Merchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.  
History of Merchant Shipping and Ancient CommerceMerchant Shipping and Ancient Commerce.
W. S. Lindsay

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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