Freetown, Sierra Leone, 1803
Image Ownership: Public Domain

Recaptives, or Liberated Africans, were
slaves freed by the British Royal Navy, which intercepted illegal slaving ships
leaving Africa after the 1808 Act of Parliament ended the British slave trade.
Although the slave trade had officially ended, the enterprise was so profitable
that many individuals and companies carried it on illegally. Moreover the trade
continued legally in North America, South Republics of America, and in the
French, Spanish and Portuguese colonies. This meant that British traders could
still find plenty of markets for their human cargo. Britain also felt compelled
to intercept the slave ships of other nations, due to a fear the economic
competition they would bring.

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.

Once these slaving ships were intercepted,
the British Navy sent the slaves on to various settlements along the West
African coast, the foremost being Freetown, Sierra Leone. Freetown had a long
history of housing ex-slaves, having been settled in the 1700s partially by
ex-slaves from London, Jamaica, and Nova Scotia in Canada

From 1808 to roughly 1850, 50,000
‘recaptives’ were brought to Freetown, Sierra Leone, and settled in the
surrounding area. These recaptives shared little identification with one
another, with no common language or culture. However, the Anglican missionaries
from Britain worked with the population and thus provided them with the basis
of a shared culture in a common language (English) and in Christianity. Bishop
Samuel Crowther
and James Africanus Beale Horton were two of the most prominent
19th Century Recaptives.

By 1910, Recaptives and their decedents
constituted the majority of the educated class in Sierra Leone; and when it
gained independence from Britain in 1961, many of the senior ranks of civil
servants were occupied by the descendants of Recaptives, despite their
constituting only around five percent of the population.  In 1993 the ‘Aku’, the ethnic group largely
made up of descendants of Recaptives, continued to enjoy much higher rates of
education than other ethnic groups in Sierra Leone. 


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).