The Nova Scotian Settlers or Sierra Leone Settlers, (also known as the Nova Scotians or more commonly as The ‘Settlers) were African Americans who migrated from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone and founded the settlement of Freetown and the second colony of Sierra Leone on March 11, 1792. The majority of these black immigrants were among 3000 former slaves and free blacks known as Black Loyalists who sought refuge with the British during the American Revolutionary War. The Nova Scotian settlers were jointly led by former soldier Thomas Peters and John Clarkson, an English abolitionist and first governor of Freetown, who became a respected friend and patron of the Nova Scotian settlers.
Although the Maroons and other transatlantic immigrants contributed toward the development of Freetown, the Nova Scotian Settlers were the single greatest Western black influence on the making of Freetown, Sierra Leone and their legacy remains there till this day. For most of the 19th century the Settlers resided in Settler Town; today their descendants are found among the Sierra Leone Creole people. The Nova Scotian settlers have been the subject of many social science books which have examined how the Nova Scotians brought ‘America’ to Africa as the founders of the first permanent ex-slave colony in West Africa which proved quite influential throughout the region.
From 1792 to the late 19th century the Settlers remained a distinct ethnic group within Sierra Leone. Some loan words in the Krio language and the “bod oses” of their modern day descendants, the Creoles, are considered to be one of the cultural imprints still present in Creole culture that the Settlers brought from America.
Upon arrival in Nova Scotia, the Black Loyalist settlers faced many difficulties. They received less land, fewer provisions and were paid lower wages than White Loyalists. Some fell into debt and had to sign terms of indentured servitude which resembled their former enslavement in America. In 1792, approximately 1,192 Black Nova Scotian settlers left Halifax, Nova Scotia and immigrated to Sierra Leone. However the majority of free blacks did remain in Nova Scotia where their descendants today comprise the Black Nova Scotians, one of the oldest communities of Black Canadians.The Nova Scotian settlers to Sierra Leone spoke Gullah and early forms of African American Vernacular English. The Nova Scotians were the only mass group of black Americans to immigrate to Sierra Leone under the auspices of the Sierra Leone Company; it was de factopolicy that because of the democratic and ‘American’ ideals of the Nova Scotians no other American blacks would be allowed to immigrate in large groups to Sierra Leone.
Fifteen ships, the first fleet to return of Free blacks to Africa, left Halifax Harbour on January 15, 1792 and arrived in Sierra Leone between February 28-March 9, 1792.
Upon reaching Sierra Leone in 1792, the Nova Scotians founded and established Free Town based upon the grid of a North American colonial town plan, which caused tensions when the Nova Scotians found the best waterfront land was reserved for the Sierra Leone Company.After the Maroonsimmigrated, the Settler part of Freetown was known as Settler Town.
The town was in close proximity to Cline Townor then, Granville Town. Eighty percent of Nova Scotians lived on five streets: Rawdon, Wilberforce, Howe, East, and Charlotte street. Seventy percent of Maroons lived on five streets: Glouchester, George, Trelawney, Walpole, and Westmoreland street. The main Nova Scotian churches were in Settler Town; Rawdon Street Methodist Church was one of the main churches Methodist churches. The modern day Ebenezer Methodist Church is an offshoot of Rawdon Methodist; it was founded by wealthy Nova Scotians. Many Settler families were forced to sell their land because of debt; families such as the Balls, the Burdens, the Chambers, the Dixons, the Georges (descendants of David George), the Keelings, the Leighs, the Moores, the Peters (descendants of Thomas Peters or Stephen Peters), the Prestons, the Snowballs, the Staffords, the Turners, the Willoughsby, the Zizers, the Williams, and the Goodings. Some descendants of James Wise and other settlers were able to keep their land in Settler Town.
During the French war with Britain which had been declared in 1793, the French attacked and burned Freetown. The Settlers offered the only resistance to the French during this time period. The settlers assured the French they were “Americans from North America” and were friends of the French. Despite showing they were Americans, the French still carried off two Nova Scotian boys as slaves.
Because of friction between the independent Nova Scotia settlers and British authorities, no further resettlement of Freed American slaves followed. When the Elizabeth from New York arrived with 82 black Americans, the British did not permit them to land or settle in Freetown. These black Americans, led by Daniel Coker, were offered land to settle in Sherbro by John Kizell an African-born Nova Scotian settler. After the terrible conditions for the settlers at Sherbro, they were moved to land in the Grain Coast; the black Americans who moved there in 1820 were the first settlers of what would be Liberia. In the War of 1812, the British considered Sierra Leone as a home for the Black Refugees, another generations of Africans who escaped American slavery, but chose to settle them in Nova Scotia and the West Indies instead. The Nova Scotians in the 1830s and 40s would be faced with large-scale settlement of Africans freed from slave ships by the British Royal Navy‘s anti-slave trade campaign.