Posted - 21 Oct 2017 : 10:14:49
| A SLAVE HOUSE THAT NEVER WAS~~ HOW SO MANY MISSED A HISTORICAL TSUNAMI IN THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
By Dembo Fatty
QUESTION 141 IN THE YEAR 2017 OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY IS A VERY IMPORTANT QUESTION.
I have long since held the believe that the so called Slave House in Georgetown was a fake historical narrative exploited by many people both for prestige and source of revenue and what saddens me is that previous owners of the land played key roles in the preservation of our cultural heritage and I am baffles that they too would exploit this ignorance of the masses to their advantage. That still haunts my psyche. Jammeh was a big enabler who it appears may have some interest in keeping the story alive as is.
The island was bought in 1785, according to records in the sum of £1000 from the king of Lower Niani who was based at Kataba. This is indicated in the “Report of the King's servant to the British House of Commons committee respecting purchase for the crown of Leemain Island in the River Gambia”. Please see Colonial Office 267/21 Kew at the Public Records Office in London. According to Arnold Hughes and Harry A. Gailey (Historical Dictionary of the Gambia, Page 116), the name of the King of Lower Niani was Koli. This Koli king is well engrained in the memory of the people of Sami especially with his showdown with the people of Kunting precipitated by one Fabala Camara of the Jawla Clan of the village. That’s a different topic of its own. Let me not digress.
The sale of this land partly angered Kemintang Camara of Upper Niani and had attacked merchant ships on the river collecting royally. He was attached by the British at his fort at Ndoungousine but they lost heavily. Kemintang took one of their cannons and mounted it at his fort to the embarrassment of the British and I once read somewhere, that the British had sent a pastor to mediate between them and finally Kemintang gave them their guns.
This island had previously been called Lemaine Island as early as 1700 which appeared on the maps of Senegambia under the expedition of D'anville who named it Lemaine Island. Actually, Lemaine is a corrupted name of Abdul Lamin a Muslim scholar. Therefore both accounts confirmed the island as refuge by Muslims both by 1700 and 1785 when it was bought by the British. I am not sure if Lamin Koto settlement had anything to do with this Abdul Lamin.
McCarthy is a very recent name. At the time of purchase, some locals called it Janjang bureh meaning refuge although there are local accounts that Jangjang Bureh actually refers to two brother Jangjang and Bureh who were from Jamali. I don’t know which of the two Jamali’s or whether there was only one Jamali village. Today we have Jamali Booboo and Jamali Berreh all within spitting distance from each other. Jamali is probably the oldest if not among the oldest settlements in present day Sami. That too is possible but when you combine the names of the two brothers you get what looks like “running and seeking refuge” which is not far apart from the versions above where Muslim clerics sought refuge. When the British entered the island or better, when the British bought the island in 1785, there was a settlement on the island called Morro Kunda at the time which in Mandinka means “The House of the Religious Clerics”. The population was 200 Muslims seeking refuge from non-Muslim kings in the area.
Who are the Moro kunda people( a group of 200, religious people), remains a mystery. Where have they left for? There does not seem to be a Moro kunda on the island now. The imam, while I was there goes by a Janneh last name who in fact came over to the island and had roots around Sami District.
Could they have left the island because Christianity was introduced on the island? It’s believed that descendants of these liberated Africans embraced western education more than the other liberated slaves in the region who also flocked to the island in search of freedom. McCarthy Island was the Elis Island of the Gambia and not a slave trading post.
The name Georgetown was from the first fort built in 1823 called Fort George. It was a mud fort and therefore since disappeared. Fort George which later became Georgetown, was said to have been built in the middle of the island. If my memory serves me right, this place must be just behind Armitage High School because out there, one can find traces of settlements and gravesites with British names.
The second fort built was Fort Campbell. It’s indicated that this fort was built at a point on the island where the crossing was the shortest and two cannons placed there. Could this be sankulay kunda or Tumani Tenda on the other side leading to Fulladu Tabanani?
INTIAL REASON FOR PURCHASE OF THE ISLAND IN 1785
The initial reason for buying the island was to send convicted British felons there to serve their sentences because by 1776, with American independence, Britain lost a vast colony for sending felons. They had to look elsewhere and Gambia provided hope. Australia was founded in a similar way.
It’s important to note that no British citizen ever made it to the island as felons because under the law then, convicted British nationals who had served their terms have right to return home and the journey was too costly. Therefore, relocating felons on the Island meant that these people will never make it home to England which was in contravention of the law at the time.
Initially 200 British citizens of both sexes, the worst of the worst were lined up for the island. However, conditions on the island were considered too harsh and sending prisoners there amounted to a death sentence and therefore illegal. (See House of Commons Report in 1785). Consequently the 200 British nationals ended up on the island of Das Voltas which lies between Angola and Cape of Good Hope.
Some explorers described McCarthy island then as " the butt end of the habitable world, a swamp" whilst another called it "the most insalubrious spot in the most pestilential climate in the world, and situated almost on the confines of the limit of the known world"
Such reports to the House of Commons committee in 1785, made them change their mind to send British nationals there as felons.
Two legal reasons stopped the felons from coming to the island.
1. The right to return was guaranteed under the law after serving a term in prison which could not be guaranteed by the Crown.
2. The prisoners were sentenced to a term in jail and not sentenced to death. The prisoners’’ lawyers argued that by sending their clients to the island, they were in effect sentencing them to death which was over and beyond the scope of their sentence since their clients were most likely going to die of diseases and or inhospitable conditions on the island.
Therefore, no prisoners came in 1785 and there was no use for the land just purchased.
A lesson for our prison system that prisoners have rights and they must not be subjected to conditions of detention or circumstances of detention beyond the scope of their sentence. There is already a legal precedence in 1785 and as part of the commonwealth, certain rulings can apply to us.
SECOND USE FOR THE ISLAND WITH HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES
Slavery was abolished in 1807 and the British had mounted ships in the Atlantic to intercept ships loaded with the illegal cargo and were resettling the “Liberated Africans” mainly in Sierra Leone. According to the Asylum Law then, the Crown was responsible for their up keep for six months(food, clothing and housing). However with over 100,000 liberated slaves captured from ships in the high seas, the cost became unmanageable and the period of help was lessened from six months and many of the liberated Africans were forced to join apprenticeship programs to be independent. However, the conditions of the program in Sierra Leone were according to some reports "... most abominable; it is nothing more than Slavery of the worst description....) (Lieutenant Governor Campbell Bathurst 1836). This is how the numbers had to be reduced in Freetown to other parts of West Africa and Moro Kunda (Georgetown), which never used since its purchase in 1785, now appeared suitable.
The Liberated Africans captured in the high seas were not returned to their states of origin for two reasons and Sierra Leone was the dumpsite for slave ships captured in Atlantic for two reasons:
1. Most liberated slaves could not make journeys to where they came from or their settlements were not easily accessible for a return.
2. The British also believed that trying to resettle them in their homes would lead to enslavement again hence, the saying once a slave always a slave.
Many of the liberated Africans brought to McCarthy Island were Ghanaians and Nigerians but many died. So next time you see a Ghanaian or a Nigerian, he may be your long lost cousin especially if you have roots on the island. A Colonial Office report in 1837 said "... that nearly one-half of the whole number brought here must have perished..".
The name McCarthy came about when it was renamed after the Governor of Sierra Leone- Sir Charles McCarthy who in fact supported Captain Grant in his decision to purchase the island of Bathurst instead of rebuilding the fort at James Island. Gambia became part of British West Africa in 1821, and Sir Charles McCarthy was also responsible for Gambia as well from his headquarters in Freetown.
He was later moved to Ghana where he was killed in 1824 at Bonaso but not before in 1823, the first Wesleyan mission arrived in Georgetown, and it was reported that his head was cut off and taken as trophy by the Ashanti.
WHY THE FREEDOM TREE WAS A HOAX NOT SUPPORTED BY HISTORY
The island was founded as a penal colony later to be used as refuge for freed slaves by the British and also a home for Liberated Africans from Sierra Leone. It was not founded on slavery since by 1785, no western settlement was on the island or some organized commerce of some form visible then.
Evidence is there in the Colonial Office and House of Commons minutes confirming this. So those shackles may not be for tying up slaves. Slavery on a commercial scale started around mid-1600 and the British would have found this "so called " slave house on the island. Why would they build a mud house in 1785 called Fort George if such a building already existed? They would have used it instead but they found no structures on the island. That building could not have been there when the island was bought.
It must have been built after 1823 when freed slaves settled there. It’s believed to be a grain barn for food rather than for selling slaves. It does not make sense to build a mud house when such a structure was already there. There are no accounts of the British fighting over the island with any one even with the French.
In fact people from Senegal made it to the island because once on the island you had your freedom. A lot also came from Fulladu running away from Musa Moloh. Please check a report titled “Alleged Slavery of Women by Musa Moloh. Confidential Minute Paper No. 421 part 1 3/41 at the National Archives. The anti-slavery body on the island did conduct intelligence on Musa Moloh some of which accounts are in this confidential report. Slave activity by locals partly led to the exile of Alfa Molloh to Sierra Leone by 1919.
The British took over the island fully in April 1823 by one British Officer who was a sergeant and 12 men of the Second West India Regiment. They were joined by two Wesleyan missionaries. (See History of the Gambia by J.M. Gray published in 1940).
The slave house could not have been a slave house after all. In fact a naval lieutenant described the island as having ".. many ponds left by the rain...which stagnating, produced vermin of all sorts which filled the air and produced at length putrid fevers". Such a place could not have supported some formal large scale slave trading post.
The travels by Mungo Park who lived few miles away in Pisania (locally called Pisa Nyarr) never mentioned slavery there and never mentioned a settlement on the island. His accounts were mainly about Pisania and Niani Marro as slave trading posts in the area. He never mentioned a freedom tree or pole in any of the two locations.
Tell me who the slave traders on the island were. Certainly not the British or the French nor the Portuguese. It certainly cannot be aliens from outer space. Locals were dealing in slaves then but they did not build this so called slave house.
By 1833, there was a drought in the area and a wild fire burnt most of the houses of the Liberated Africans on the island. The local bishop Thomas Dove indicated that the liberated people were so hungry that they are surviving on rats, monkeys, dogs, cats and snakes (See Correspondence respecting the Liberated Africans from Sierra Leone 1832-36 No. 87/16). Methodist and Wesleyan missions were also established for the Liberated Africans and trading and farming started. The rice fields around Sankulay kunda are believed to have belonged to these Liberated Africans not necessarily the Department of Agriculture. The Department of Agriculture was created in 1924 by Captain Sir Cecil Hamilton Armitage as Governor of the Gambia a difference of almost 99 years after those fields were worked on by the Liberated Africans.
It is estimated that nearly 1200 freed slaves were resettled there on the island. Initially the freed slaves were processed in Banjul in the present grounds of the Albert market which was our Elis Island. From this point, some went over to the Barra Point whilst others went to Georgetown.
There is evidence that 100 Liberated Africans were sent to the island in the late 1820s as punishment for insubordination most likely from Banjul or Barra where there was another settlement (latter) part of the King’s Boys. Check the report: REPORT OF COMMISSIONS OF INQUIRY INTO THE SATE OF THE COLONY OF SIERRALEONE VOLUME 11 267/93. This is the only group sent there as punishment rather than gain freedom. This was well after the end of slavery.
The following year in 1834, a local king attacked the island and killed many liberated Africans and re enslaves many of them. Drought continued and 125 people died of hunger. I don’t know who this king might be. Possibly from Fulladu. There was another king in the area called Kemintang Camara of Upper Niani but I would think he would since the island was part of Lower Niani with its own king at kataba.
Of course you can only have the freedom tree after the end of slavery and not during slavery. The Flag pole raised at Fort George was the freedom charter if you like. When you reached there, you were free.
There is freedom tree because it was a land of freedom for liberated Africans and also local Gambian slaves who made it to the island to be free. It’s recorded that people came as far as Senegal to seek freedom.
The slave house was not a slave house after all. We need to look at our history again. Because we never had a university until recently, there was no academic stimulating environment for research. We were too lazy to dig into our past and set records right.
If we agree that the building was not there by 1785, then it’s not a slave house but a barn for food for liberated Africans caught in the Atlantic. Many were Ghanaians and Nigerians from the KRU Tribe.
In 1813, Maurel & Prom, founded by two famous families in Bordeaux, was set up to ship goods by boat from Bordeaux to the French colonies in West Africa. The shipping company of the same name was founded in 1830. Over the years, the company acquired several trading posts and became one of the main shipping companies servicing Senegal, Côte d'Ivoire, Cameroon, Gabon and Congo.
At the end of the XIXth century, Joseph Prom founded the Maurel & Prom oil factory, which was fed with groundnut imported from Senegal.
So, Maurel & Prom came here after the British already bought the place
The only record of people sent there for punishment were not slaves but liberated Africans from Sierra Leone and as such, it is unthinkable that they would be tied to shackles which very much defeat the purpose of the founding of the island.
Those who argued that the building may have been used as a slave house before the island was bought in 1785, my question then is how come this structure never got mentioned by the expeditionary force sent to survey the island before it was bought nor in the House of Commons minutes. Why would they build a mud building as Fort George in 1785 instead of using a more modern building like the so called slave house?
If it was a slave house, then the British would not have bought the island from a local chief but from a western owner who would have been there. Besides conditions on the island then (1785) could not have been an ideal place to sustain a large slave trading center. Only 200 people were on the island. Islam came to the Senegambia mainly through Fulani and Sarahule people or those who had connections with them.
In fact, my theory is that the slave house is actually located in an area where Fort Campbell may have located. The description says it was located on a point with a short crossing.
Certainly Lamin Koto is a short crossing point. There was a study conducted between 1982 and 1988, a period of six years regarding the island and they came to the conclusion that it was not a slave house. I believe even rock samples were taken and analyzed.
When Mungo Park was doing his travels in 1795, this island was already bought. In fact he stayed a few miles away from this island in a place called Pisania which is a corruption of PISA NIARR. As a young man, I herded goats and sheep in the area. So the island was bought during the time of slave trade and no business activity was there.
THE REAL FLAG POLE/FREEDOM TREE WHICH WAS TWISTED
Contrary to what we might think, British presence on the Island helped against slavery. When it was settled in 1823, the British flag was raised and '' whereever the British flag flew, liberty was guaranteed to all''. Enslaved people soon knew about this and it became a Mecca for freedom. Perhaps this is the confusion for the flag pole .!!!
The pole or flag was symbolic in nature that Liberated Africans on arrival passed by the pole. Those Africans in the area who ran from their captors also passed the pole/tree as guarantee of their freedom. It was more like the Underground Rail Road.
Over time, people confused the story and began saying that once you touch the tree or pole you had freedom by escaping from the supposed Slave House. No. They get freedom by escaping from the neighboring settlements onto the island to seek freedom. The two are very different.
I am very happy that officially the story of Slave House is dead and buried. I just hope a press release is sent out to the Ministry of Education to correct the books and the West African Examination Council to update the syllabus.
As a history enthusiast, this is the best gift of the new Government so far. I have been in this struggle for some years now and I am happy, the records are now straightened. I have written about it many times before and shared my concerns with history enthusiasts but conditions were not right during the last 22 years.
We owe an apology to our students for teaching them a wrong history that some people knew all along to be false. They sat to exams getting points for wrong answers. This issue should not just die quietly like that. It should be followed by a Press Release and a quick amendment to our history syllabus. I will be surprised if some of our teachers are aware of this correction of history to pass on to their students. I will not be surprised if all of them do or even the Ministry of Education is aware of the change. How about our Tourism Brochures?
In fact, for History Detectives, willing to undertake more work, there is an inscription with the date 1889 on the adjacent jetty indicating the year it was built. I will not tell you which side of the building. Get to work and have fun with history. Clearly 1889, was well into colonialism.
The building was simply a warehouse belonging to CFAO in the later years.
One down and more to go. Time to rewrite our history
Watch on Youtube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPoKiTcsZb0
A clear conscience fears no accusation - proverb from Sierra Leone