• patricia tonui


Updated: Jun 28

Slaves freed by the British Royal Navy, which seized illicit slaving ships leaving Africa after the 1808 Act of Parliament abolished the British slave trade, became known as Recaptives or Liberated Africans. Despite the fact that the slave trade had been declared illegal, many individuals and businesses continued to benefit from it. Furthermore, the trade was legal in North America, the South American republics, and the French, Spanish, and Portuguese colonies. This meant that British merchants could still sell their human cargo in a variety of markets. Because of the economic rivalry that other nations' slave ships would bring, Britain felt compelled to intercept them.

Beginning in 1808, Britain dispatched a squadron of cruisers to patrol the African coast, which grew until the 1840s when it made up one-sixth of the British navy. With Britain’s naval superiority and other trading nations reluctant to enforce their anti-slave trading laws even when they were passed, the Royal Navy remained the primary force stopping slave ships from reaching their destinations throughout the first half of the nineteenth century.

Freetown, Sierra Leone, 1803

Image Ownership: Public Domain

The British Navy captured these slaving ships and transported the slaves to various settlements along the West African coast, the most important of which was Freetown, Sierra Leone. Freetown had a long tradition of housing ex-slaves, having been settled in the 1700s partly by ex-slaves from London, Jamaica, and Nova Scotia in Canada.

50,000 ‘recaptives' were brought to Freetown, Sierra Leone, and settled in the surrounding region between 1808 and 1850. With no popular language or history, these recaptives had nothing in common with one another. However, Anglican missionaries from the United Kingdom interacted with the people, providing them with the foundation for a shared community centered on a common language (English) and Christianity. Bishop Samuel Crowther and James Africanus Beale Horton were two of the most popular Recaptives of the nineteenth century.

By 1910, Recaptives and their descendants made up the bulk of Sierra Leone's educated class, and when the country gained independence from Britain in 1961, many of the top civil service positions were filled by Recaptive descendants, despite the fact that they only made up about 5% of the population. In 1993, the ‘Aku,' an ethnic group mainly composed of descendants of Recaptives, continued to have significantly higher rates of education than other Sierra Leone ethnic groups.


Sir Reginald Coupland, The British Anti-Slavery Movement, (Frank Cass & Co. Ltd., London, 1933); Adam Jones, From Slaves to Palm Kernals: A history of the Galinhas Country (West Africa) 1730-1890, (Frank Steiner Verlag GMBH, Wiesbaden, 1983); Frank J. Klingberg, The Anti-Slavery Movement in England: A study on English Humanitarianism, (Yale University Press, 1926).

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