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Examining Relations Between the US and Formerly Enslaved Nations Part II

Jun 30, 2022 09:00AM ● By Nana Ama Addo

( Freetown, Sierra Leone. Image by Chtrede via Wikimedia Commons )

US-Sierra Leone Relations Through the Centuries, The Legacy of Freed Black Repatriates in Sierra Leone, and Post-Civil War Liberian and Salone Immigrants in Philly Rebuild Resources

‘Examining Relations Between the US and Formerly Enslaved Nations’ is a 3-part series that explores economic, social and political relations between the US and formerly-enslaved societies, with a special focus on Liberia, Sierra Leone, Jamaica, Haiti and more. 

In Part II of ‘Examining Relations Between the US and Formerly Enslaved Nations’, we explore US-Sierra Leone relations, including Black Americans’ involvement in repatriation during its inception as a colony, the Amistad legal dispute, refugee migrations to the US during the Sierra Leonean civil war, and development resources for Liberian and Sierra Leonean refugees in Philadelphia. 

Read Part 1:

 Monrovia Liberia Image by EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid via Flickr httpswwwflickrcomphotoschathamhouse6011337236

Examining Relations Between the US and Formerly Enslaved Nations Part I: Liberia at 200 Years

In celebration of Liberia’s bicentennial, we are exploring economic, social and political relations between the US and formerly-enslaved societies, with a special focus on Liberia, Sierra... Read More » 


Freed American Blacks Charter Groups to Repatriate in Sierra Leone

( Sierra Leonean women spinning cloth (1934-1936). Image by Camacstone via Wikimedia Commons )

If the centuries-long legacy of repatriation among displaced Africans were to be mapped, it would reflect patchwork-like journeys, with criss-cross voyages complicated by historical realities, notable events and evolving socio-political movements. 

The West African, resource-rich country now known as Sierra Leone was founded by Britain in 1792. In 1787, the nation began bringing in freed Blacks arriving from London, Jamaica, Nova Scotia, Canada and more. These repatriates included exiled maroons from Caribbean countries like Jamaica and Barbados, former American slaves who fought for the British in the American revolution, illegally trafficked Africans and communities from neighboring countries. Today, the descendants of these repatriates in Sierra Leone are known as the Krio tribe. Other descendants of dispersed Sierra Leonean repatriates are known as the Saro tribe in Nigeria, the Ferdinando tribe in Equatorial Guinea and the Aku tribe in the Gambia.

Similar to Liberia, Sierra Leone was a nexus for repatriated Black formerly enslaved communities. While Liberian rule was mostly repatriate-led for over a century, political rule in the Sierra Leone colony was overseen by the British Government, and led by traditional Sierra Leonean rulers. Although the American Colonization Society initially sent returnees to Sierra Leone, the organization found Liberia more suitable. Ambitious freed Blacks in America, however, chartered some freed Blacks to Sierra Leone.

( A Sierra Leone Company 20 cent coin from 1791. Image by Geni via Wikimedia Commons )

Free Black Americans Resettling Other Freedmen in Sierra Leone

 ( African Americans doing a cakewalk dance. (1850-1910. Image by Pharos via Wikimedia Commons )

During the early years of Sierra Leone, freed and empowered Blacks in America helped to usher in a new era of identity and opportunity for displaced Africans. Notable Blacks that led these series of migrations include John Kizell and Paul Cuffe. 

John Kizell was a Sierra Leone-born man who was captured and sold into slavery in South Carolina. After being emancipated through joining the British Army during the American Revolution, Kizell settled in Nova Scotia, Canada, where he and his family faced race-based repression. Kizell and his family subsequently resettled to Sierra Leone, where he helped settle a group of freed Blacks. Because he was indigenous to the area, and could speak the local language, he was able to calm tensions between the black migrants and indigenes.

Paul Cuffee, a free-born merchant born in Massachusetts, was the son of an enslaved man from Ghana and a native American woman. In the 1810s, as one of the wealthiest Blacks in the United States of his time, Cuffee began assembling and migrating freed Blacks to Sierra Leone. All the repatriates of Sierra Leone merged their customs and culture into a creole identity, based in what is now the capital of the country, Freetown.

US organizations like churches played roles in developing the infrastructure of Sierra Leone through infrastructure building initiatives like creating schools. Vine Memorial Baptist Church, for example, created the Vine Memorial Baptist Training School. This institution, located in Freetown, Sierra Leone, is still in operation today.

The Amistad Case

 ( A gratitude letter to John Quincy Adams for his assistance with the Amistad case. Image by AmistadResearch via Wikimedia Commons )

La Amistad was a Spanish ship that illegally trafficked 53 Africans from Sierra Leone in 1839 and sailed to Cuba. A mutiny on the ship that resulted in the Africans liberating themselves found the captives sailing in the United States, where a US sea patrol detected the ship. During the time, the TransAtlantic Slave Trade was abolished in countries like the US and Spain. Sengbe Pieh, who led the revolt, and the other Africans on the ship were imprisoned and put on trial in Connecticut. Abolitionists, including Lewis Tapan and others, organized a legal defense, and after finding someone who spoke Mende and could translate, the captives were empowered to tell their stories. The liberated captives won the case, and in 1841, Pieh and the 34 other survivors were sent back to Sierra Leone.

This case illustrated an evolving change of consciousness in the US political system, shaped by a complex international climate and the rise of the abolitionist movement, as people in positions of power like John Quincy Adams utilized their privilege to campaign against slavery. 

The Gullah People

( A Gullah restaurant in South Carolina. Image by Ken Ratcliff via Flickr )

The Gullah people, descendents of enslaved communities that live in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Florida, were taken as slaves from the ‘Windward Coast’, an area in Ivory Coast and Liberia, and the ‘Rice Coast’, a rice-growing region in present day Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Due to their isolated location, the Gullah Geechee were able to maintain their customs, and today, they speak a language similar to Sierra Leonean creole, and maintain art forms that reflect their countries of origin. In recent times, Gullah communities struggle with displacement due to modern settlements in the area.

 Read “Sierra Leone Offers Citizenship to African Diasporans with Sierra Leonean Ancestry”: 

pEnslaved Gullah people at Boone Hall Plantation in South Carolina a href

Sierra Leone Offers Citizenship to African Diasporans with Sierra Leonean Ancestry

Through a partnership with African Ancestry and African American businessman Diallo Sumbry, who also played a monumental role in creating Ghana’s ‘Year of Return’ campaign, the country’s ... Read More » 


Mass Exodus: The Sierra Leone Civil War, the Liberian Civil Wars, and Migration to the US

 ( Sierra Leonean youth. Image by Land Rover Our Planet via Flickr )

Liberia and Sierra Leone, West African countries that were established due to the need of a place to settle freed Black slaves, have entertwined histories. These neighboring countries have similar histories of imbalance and corruption that led to civil wars in both countries. 

The battle for control over Sierra Leone’s diamonds, prolonged economic distress, and chaos from neighboring Liberia’s civil war led to Sierra Leone’s civil war. During the 11-year civil war (1991-2002), where 50,000 people were killed and two million displaced, a mass exodus occurred, with populations fleeing to varying countries, including other West African countries like Ghana, and the United States.

Read “Sierra Leone: The Curse of Abundance, Resistance and a History of Diaspora Repatriation”: 

Sierra Leone: The Curse of Abundance, Resistance, and a History of Diasporan Repatriation

Today, in 1961, the West African country of Sierra Leone achieved independence from the British. Let’s celebrate the country’s independence by exploring the role of abundant natural resou... Read More » 


In 2001, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania reported that Liberia and Sierra Leone populations were in part the most populous African refugees in Philadelphia. In 2004, RefWorld reported that approximately 3,000 Sierra Leonean refugees were in developed countries, including the United States, and in 2010, Liberians made up the highest population of African immigrants in Philadelphia.

From Refugee to Resilient: Sierra Leone and Liberian Communities in Philadelphia 

According to Pew Charitable Trusts, the Black population in Philadelphia’s Black immigrant population, which consists of mostly African and Caribbean immigrants, has increased over 156% between 2000 and 2019. 

Some refugees continue to struggle with pathways to citizenship in the US. The US government initiative, the Liberian Refugee Immigrant Fairness (LRIF) program, was launched in 2019 to provide Liberians who have been in the US since 2014 and are not citizens the opportunity to obtain permanent resident status, or a green card. 

African communities in Philadelphia are also contributing to provide other African immigrants in need with resources. SouthWest Philadelphia is known for its African immigrant population, and the cultural, social, economic and political resources being built among community members for West African immigrants, including Sierra Leoneans and Liberians, to thrive, are integral pillars in the community. 

Read “Civic Engagement Through Language and Transportation Access for Elderly Immigrants”: 

Civic  Engagement Through Language and Transportation Access For Elderly Immigrants

Civic Engagement Through Language and Transportation Access For Elderly Immigrants

Aging related loneliness is an unfortunate and national epidemic that can contribute to factors such as declining health, lif... Read More » 


African Family Health Services AFAHO, launched by Tiguida Kaba, offers African and Caribbean immigrants a series of resources like the African Youth Empowerment Program (AYEP), Adult Education programs, health services, the AFAHO wellness clinic, the language translation & interpretation program, and the AFAHO - Africa program. 

The African Cultural Alliance of North America (ACANA), founded by Liberian Voffee Jabateh, is a non-profit organization that provides African and Caribbean immigrants with resources to resettle, including legal/immigration resources, health services, a corridor development program and arts and culture events.

Read “ACANA Launches Project Baobab”: 

Stay tuned for part III of ‘Examining Relations Between the US and Formerly Enslaved Nations’, where we explore Haiti-US and Jamaica-US relations in history and migration: US occupation of Haiti, Louisiana’s Haitian population and Marcus Garvey’s Back to Africa movement.

Works Cited

 Nana Ama Addo is a writer, multimedia strategist, film director, and storytelling artist. She graduated with a BA in Africana Studies from the College of Wooster, and has studied at the University of Ghana and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. Nana Ama tells stories of entrepreneurship and Ghana repatriation at her brand, Asiedua’s Imprint ( ).

Read more from Nana Ama Addo:
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