The Independent (Freetown)

19 May 2005

Sierra Leone: Black American Traces Roots in Sierra Leone

Alpha R. Jalloh — Mrs. Thomalind Martin Polite an African American woman from Charleston, South Carolina (USA) will visit Sierra Leone on May 26 in an effort to see where her ancestor originated.

Mrs. Thomalind Martin Polite, a 31- year- old speech therapist, is believed to be a direct descendant of a 10-year-old girl named "Priscilla" who was taken on a slave ship from Sierra Leone to South Carolina in 1756 during the slave trade. Among the thousands of black Americans who now live in the US and whose ancestors where packed like sardines on board ships to the Americas, few black Americans can name a specific ancestor from Africa and know where he or she came from. But Thomalind has been fortunate because research has revealed to her that her ancestor left Sierra Leone - April 9th, 1756, according to records that have been discovered.

Thomalind's visit is being called "Priscilla's Homecoming" in honour of her ancestor. Thomalind's visit is important for Sierra Leoneans. Many now see the link between they and black Americans, especially the creoles in the capital Freetown, who are also descendants of freed slaves from the Americas after the abolition of slave trade. Sierra Leoneans share her joy at finding her ancestral home in Africa, a long-lost relative come home from America after 249 years.

Through the efforts of an American Anthropologist Joseph Opala, Priscilla's link with Sierra Leone have been discovered. Records have revealed that Caleb Godfrey, captain of the slave ship "Hare," purchased Priscilla sometime in the early months of 1756. Like all slave dealers Captain Godfrey used the Sierra Leone River as his base of operations, but sailed his ship north to the Scarcies rivers and then along the coast of what is now Guinea, buying slaves at the mouths of the various rivers emptying into the sea.

After purchasing 84 slaves, including young Priscilla, Captain Godfrey set sail from Sierra Leone, and headed directly to South Carolina. Rice was South Carolina's staple crop in the 1700s, and Carolina planters were willing to pay high prices for Africans brought from the "Rice Coast," the traditional rice-growing region stretching from what is now Senegal and Gambia down to Sierra Leone and Liberia.

A South Carolina slave dealer placed this advertisement in the newspaper:

Just imported in the Hare, Capt. Caleb Godfrey, directly

From Sierra Leone-Leone, a Cargo of Likely and Healthy SLAVES,

To be sold upon easy Terms on Tuesday the 29th June.

Elias Ball, a wealthy rice planter, bought Priscilla and 4 other African children for 460 pounds, taking them to his Comingtee Plantation near Charleston and giving each child an English name. Priscilla would later marry a man called Jeffrey and bear ten children in slavery. She died in 1811, about 56 years old.

Her descendant Thomalind Polite will now visit Sierra Leone to reestablish a long lost link. The ministry of tourism and cultural affairs in Sierra Leone is making preparations for the visit. While in Sierra Leone, Mrs. Polite would be fortunate to see many historic sites including Bunce Island in the Southwest of the country where slaves were packed before transported to the US. She would also see the great Cotton Tree in the center of Freetown where the freed slaves form the Americas and those freed onboard ships after the abolition of slave trade first settled.

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