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Peters in London go backgo upgo to next Clarkson's Mission

At the time of Thomas Peters' visit to London, there was already a project underway to relieve the freed slaves from their distress. Many Black Loyalists who had served in the Navy were brought to England at the end of the war. In 1772, the groundbreaking Mansfield decision had ended slavery in England. These events had left thousand of penniless blacks on the streets of London. Many of the Abolitionists who had campaigned for an end to slavery felt it was their obligation to do something to assist them. And so with great hopes the Sierra Leone Company was formed, hoping to create a promised land for the blacks who had been seized from Africa.

Sharp and the other members of the Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor had long considered a plan to return the black poor to Africa. Their idea coincided with the needs of a former civil servant named Smeadman who had been commissioned to decide if West Africa would make a suitable penal colony. Down on his luck after recommending against the idea (he felt neither the prisoners nor the guards would survive the climate), he hit on the idea of bringing London's black poor there. After meeting with Sharp and his friends the idea was enthusiastically adopted, and various abolitionists were encouraged to invest in the Sierra Leone Colony.

Once suitable sponsors were found, Smeadman commissioned ships and printed handbills to advertise 'The Province of Freedom', as it was called. About 600 blacks enrolled to be sent to Sierra Leone. An interesting story tells how several white prostitutes were given free liquor and brought on board ship just before sailing. As soon as they were out of sight of land they were induced to marry black men they had never seen before. From this it seems obvious that for some of the proposal's sponsors the real goal was to get rid of as many disreputable people as possible; a function once served by the American colonies.

Once these settlers arrived in Africa in 1787 things quickly became unpleasant. Some sort of a deal for land was made with the locals, but differing tribes and requests for tribute soon exhausted the settlers' patience and supplies. The original food and livestock soon ran out, and in order to eat, their tools were traded to the local natives. By 1788 a rough shantytown named Granville Town had been erected, but the situation was clearly grim. Many settlers joined the employ of local slave traders who had an important outpost nearby. They were considered useful as translators since most could speak African languages as well as English. Sharp personally sent relief supplies, but these were quickly used up and traded away as well.

In 1789, the local chief of the Temne tribe attacked the settlement over a dispute over rent for the land. Granville Town, the main settlement, was completely destroyed, and the settlers scattered either to be taken as slaves by the Temne or to enter the employ of the slave traders. Some of those same slave traders attacked the tribal villages with their cannons in retaliation for attacking a settlement of Europeans, but Granville Town was completely destroyed and relations with the locals were poisoned.

Undaunted, Granville Sharp and the Sierra Leone Company continued their efforts. New investors had been found, a royal charter had been granted, and in the person of Thomas Peters they had found a new group of distressed Black Christians to settle their colony, hopefully on a more successful basis.

Peters in London go backgo upgo to next Clarkson's Mission
Image of a Fleet of ships
Some of the first settlers to the Sierra Leone colony didn't know they were emigrating until the fleet set sail.

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John Clarkson