History of Freetown

Published on 20th March 2007

Freetown is the capital city of Sierra Leone. With a population of 1,070,200 (2004), the city lies on the Freetown Peninsula on the Atlantic coast. The city is a port on the Atlantic Ocean and its economy revolves largely around its harbor, which handles the country's main exports. Industries include fish packing, rice milling, petroleum refining, and the manufacture of cigarettes. It is the nation's administrative, communications, and economic center.

The area was first settled in 1787 by freed slaves from England and Canada as well as Jamaican Maroons and Black American Loyalists. It is said to have previously been a slave market, by British abolitionists, who started the Sierra Leone Company. In 1970, the local population burnt it down under King Jimmy.

Led by former slave Thomas Peters, Freetown was founded in 1792 as part of a resettlement plan for former slaves from Nova Scotia, many of whom were born in the colonial United States. In 1794 the city survived being pillaged by the French and in 1800 the indigenous inhabitants revolted 1800; however, the British retook control beginning expansionism which led to the creation of Sierra Leone. The city served as the capital of British West Africa from 1808 to 1874. It expanded rapidly as many freed slaves settled, accompanied by African soldiers who had fought for Britain in the Napoleonic Wars. In 1893 it was made the first British colonial municipality in Africa, with the right to elect a mayor. During World War II, Britain maintained a naval base at Freetown.

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.

Roads and a railroad link Freetown with the interior of the country and the city is served by an international airport in nearby Lungi. Guma Dam provides water and hydroelectric power for Freetown.

One the most recognizable features of the city is the cotton tree which has reportedly been in the same position since colonists settled in the area in 1787 when the tree was still a young sapling. It now stands outside the Freetown Museum.

Notable buildings include Freetown Law Courts, the Slave Gate and Portuguese Steps, St John's Maroon Church (built around 1820), St George's Cathedral (completed in 1828), Foulah Town Mosque (built in the 1830s) and the Roman Catholic Sacred Heart Cathedral. In Freetown are assorted beaches and markets, and the Sierra Leone Museum. The city is the site of the Univ. of Sierra Leone (1967), which incorporates Fourah Bay College (1827) and Njala Univ. College (1963).  



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