The Cotton Tree

The Cotton Tree is an historic symbol of Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone. According to legend, the "Cotton Tree" gained importance in 1792 when a group of former African American slaves, who had gained their freedom by fighting for the British during the American War of Independence, settled the site of modern Freetown. These Black Loyalist settlers, called "Nova Scotians" in Sierra Leone, founded Freetown on March 11 1792. According to tradition, they landed on the shoreline and walked up to a giant tree just above the bay and held a thanksgiving service there, gathering around the tree in a large group and praying and singing hymns to thank God for their deliverance to a free land. Today, a huge Cotton Tree stands in the oldest part of Freetown near the Supreme Court building and the National Museum. Sierra Leoneans believe that this very tree was where the "Nova Scotian settlers prayed more than two hundreds years ago, and they regard it as the symbol of their capital city. Sierra Leoneans still pray and make offerings to the ancestors for peace and prosperity beneath the great Cotton Tree. This was especially true during the Sierra Leone civil war (1991-2002).

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Freetown

In 1787 the British helped four hundred freed slaves from the United States, Nova Scotia, and Great Britain returned to Sierra Leone to settle in what they called the " Province of Freedom." The area was first settled by freed slaves sent from England around the Cotton Tree which was said to have previously been a slave market. Disease and hostility from the indigenous population nearly eliminated the first group of returnees.

This settlement was joined by other groups of freed slaves and soon became known as Freetown. In 1792, Freetown became one of Britain's first colonies in West Africa. It is the largest city and also capital of Sierra Leone lying on the peninsula near the Atlantic coast and hosts the third largest natural harbour in the world - Elizabeth II Quay.

Thousands of slaves were returned to or liberated in Freetown. Most chose to remain in Sierra Leone. These returned Africans or Creoles - as they came to be called - were from all areas of Africa. Some of the earliest settlements can be found in the mountain villages of York, Regent, Bathurst, Leicester and Gloucester. From Regent you can walk through creole villages to Charlotte falls and also climb Sugar Loaf Mountain which is one of the highest points on the peninsula. Some fascinating Creole architecture can be found in these areas as well as in downtown Freetown.

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