Many readers will be aware of recent British military operations in Sierra Leone. By contrast, many readers won’t be aware that the origins of the modern state, as with neighbouring Liberia, are to be found in freed slaves settling in the area. While it was American freed slaves who laid the foundations of Liberia, it was British freed slaves who laid the foundations of the nation of Sierra Leone.
We had been actively involved in the slave trade in the area, setting up trading posts at Bunce and York Islands in the seventeenth century. In 1787, things took a different turn. In that year, the Province of Freedom was established, with Granville Town, which is now Cline Town in Sierra Leone.
The new inhabitants of Granville Town (named after Granville Sharp, the British anti-slavery activist who played a major part in establishing the settlement) included many black loyalists from America, who had been given their freedom by the British Army in return for service with the army during the American Revolution, and Londoners. The settlement was not a huge success. Disease took a toll and in 1789 the local Temne people burned the settlement down.
Shortly afterwards another attempt was made, this time much more successfully. The venture included freed black slaves who had originally settled in Nova Scotia, before making for the much warmer climate of Sierra Leone. In 1792 they founded Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. Then in 1794 the French came along and burned Freetown, but the settlers rebuilt it and in 1800 hundreds of Jamaicans also arrived in Sierra Leone. In 1807 we abolished slavery and in 1808 we established a naval base in Freetown for anti-slaving operations. When the Royal Navy captured slaving vessels and freed the slaves, often they would take them to Sierra Leone to settle.
The locals did not always view the expansion of British control with enthusiasm. In 1898, opposition to a Hut Tax led, you guessed it, to the brief but violent Hut Tax War. In 1961 Sierra Leone became independent.
In 2000, in Operation Palliser, British forces intervened in what had become a terrible civil war in Sierra Leone. Originally, the mission was aimed at safeguarding foreign nationals, but it expanded into an operation that helped defeat the rebels and end the civil war.