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JOHN EZZIDIO
(ca. 1810-1872)
FROM RECAPTIVE SLAVE TO MAYOR

John Ezzidio was a recaptive slave from Nupe, in Nigeria, who rose to become a wealthy merchant, the Mayor of Freetown, John Ezzidio and the first African elected to Sierra Leone's Legislative Council.

Ezzidio was kidnapped as a small child and taken south to the Yoruba country. In 1827, while in his teens, he was sold to white slave traders who put him on a ship bound for Brazil. But the British navy's Africa squadron captured the ship and released the "recaptives", including young Ezzidio, at the city of Freetown. The young man now began a new life as the apprentice to Jean Billaud, a French shopkeeper. Billaud called the former slave "Isadore", which gradually became pronounced as "Ezzidio".

John Ezzidio, bright, resourceful, and ambitious, took easily to the world of commerce. He worked for Billaud for several years and, after the Frenchman died, found employment with other local merchants. Within ten years, Ezzidio had saved enough money to begin his own business. By 1841, he had purchased land and built a house. In 1844, he became an alderman on the city council; and in 1845, the mayor of Freetown.

Ezzidio was active in the Wesleyan Mission as a class leader and local preacher. In the 1850s, Rev. Thomas Dove, the mission superintendent, took Ezzidio to England where he made contacts with large wholesale firms from which he began to import goods directly, without going through middlemen. By the 1850s, Ezzidio had built up one of the largest and most prosperous businesses in the colony. In 1863, after a constitutional change established the Legislative Council, Ezzidio was elected an unofficial member of the colony's mercantile community, defeating a European candidate. He was the first African to serve on the council and, because the British soon abolished the elective principle, he was the only African to be elected until that principle was reintroduced in 1924. Ezzidio served on the council from 1863 until the eve of his death in 1872, holding the title of "Honourable".

The last years of Ezzidio's life were marked by a bitter feud with Rev. Benjamin Tregaskis, the new superintendent of the Wesleyan mission. Tregaskis, a man of dictatorial personality, opposed Ezzidio's influence in the mission and his approach to church policy. The feud seems to have damaged both Ezzidio's health and his financial position. But John Ezzidio remains one of the outstanding success stories of early Freetown. He arrived on a slave ship—naked, penniless, and friendless—but rose ultimately to the heights of Sierra Leone society. His success came through faith, intelligence, determination and hard work.

 

EDWARD WILMOT BLYDEN
(1832-1912)
THE FATHER OF PAN-AFRICANISM

Edward Wilmot Blyden was the foremost African intellectual of the 19th century. His brilliant career, in both Liberia and Sierra Edward Wilmot Blyden Leone, spanned the fields of religion, education, journalism, politics, and philosophy. He is best remembered as an African patriot whose writings contributed significantly to the rise of Pan-Africanism.

Edward Blyden was born in the Virgin Islands in the West Indies, a descendant of Ibo slaves from Nigeria. He was a gifted student, and at the age of eighteen, attempted to enroll at a theological college in the United States. But the college would not accept him because he was black, and he experienced many frightful scenes in the U.S. at a time when slavery was still lawful. In 1851, young Blyden emigrated to Liberia with the intention of building a new life in Africa. He would remain there for more than thirty years, rising gradually to the highest levels of Liberian society. During his Liberian career, Blyden was a Presbyterian minister, a newspaper editor, a professor of classics, President of Liberia College, Ambassador to Great Britain, Minister of the Interior, and Secretary of State. In 1885, he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Presidency.

But Edward Blyden was also well known in Sierra Leone, where had spent two years (1871-73) as Government Agent to the Interior, leading two official expeditions—one to Falaba and other other to Futa Jallon. In 1885, after his unsuccessful bid for the presidency of Liberia, Blyden based permanently in Freetown. In fact, Blyden was in many ways a greater intellectual force in Sierra Leone than in Liberia. He stirred controversy and lively debate in the Krio community by opposing the indiscriminate emulation of European culture. He told the Krios that they were "de-Africanised," scolded them for holding themselves aloof from the upcountry peoples, and advised them to remember always that "you are Africans." After the 1887 publication of his masterpiece, Christianity, Islam, and the Negro Race, some Krios under Blyden's influence began to adopt African  names and even to emulate traditional African dress.

Edward Blyden was one of the most original thinkers of his time, and although some of his ideas seem archaic today, he was a major force for the defence of Africans and of black civilisation. Blyden looked forward to the rise of an independent West African nation, and he encouraged British colonial efforts as a means of uniting this vast area. At the same time, Blyden regarded Africans as having a unique "personality" and a distinctive culture equal to, but different from, that of Europeans. He urged the British to allow Africans more autonomy in political and church matters, and argued against the imposition of European culture. As early as 1872, Blyden called for an independent West African University to be run solely by Africans, teaching African languages, cultures, and values. Blyden, though a Christian himself, viewed Muslims as more authentically African, and he repeatedly urged the British authorities to involve Muslim Africans in various ways in their colonial enterprise. Blyden taught himself to speak Arabic, and maintained close relations for many years with the Muslim community in Freetown. In his later years,, he was Director of Mohammedan Education in Sierra Leone.

When Edward Wilmot Blyden died in 1912, his funeral was attended by many hundreds of people from throughout the Freetown community, including both Muslims, who bore the coffin, and his fellow Christians. Later generations of black intellectuals, in both Africa and America, have looked to Edward Blyden for inspiration in the areas of Pan-Africanism and cultural nationalism.

 

AFRICANUS HORTON
(1835-1883)
SCIENTIST AND AFRICAN PATRIOT

Africanus Horton was a surgeon, scientist, soldier, and a political thinker who worked toward African independence a centuryAfricanus Horton before it occurred.

Born James Beale Horton, he grew up on Gloucester Village, the son of an Ibo recaptive who worked as a carpenter. Horton was educated at the CMS Grammar School and at the Fourah Bay Institution (later Fourah Bay College), and in 1853 received a War Office scholarship to study medicine in Great Britain. He studied at King's College, London and Edinburgh University, qualifying as a medical doctor in 1859. While a student, he took the name "Africanus" as an emblem of pride in his African homeland.

Africanus Horton joined the British Army Medical Service the year he completed his medical studies, and was appointed assistant staff surgeon. He was one of the first Africans to qualify as a medical doctor, and one of the first to serve as an officer in the British Army. He continued in the army for the next twenty-one years, attaining the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He spent most of that time in the Gold Coast (Ghana), where he took an active interest in scientific research. He published several studies involving tropical diseases, climate and meteorology, and geology. But despite his dedicated and professionally competent service, the British authorities were not anxious to see an African advance too far. They shifted Horton constantly from one post to another, and rejected his application in 1872 for the position of governor of the Gold Coast.

But, despite his disappointments, Horton continued to believe that Africans could advance under the banner of British colonialism. In 1865 a Select Committee of the British House of Commons had suggested that Africans be given increasing responsibility for administering their own affairs. The same year, Horton published Political Economy of British Western Africa, a book calling for the establishment of a West African University along British lines. Three years later, he published his popular West African Countries and Peoples, calling for nothing less than the establishing of independent West African nations in the Gambia, Sierra Leone, etc. He argued for British assistance in moving these African countries toward self-rule, and presented plans for education, economic development, and medical improvements. But the Select Committee's recommendations were not popular with British authorities, who looked toward increasing their control, not decreasing it—and Horton began to be seen as an enemy of British policy.

Africanus Horton retired from the Army in 1880, and returned to Freetown. Ever the optimist and believer in progress, he set up a commercial bank to assist struggling African entrepreneurs. But only three years later, at the age of forty-eight, he died suddenly of blood poisoning. Horton had left funds for the setting up of a secondary school of high standard, but his endowment proved insufficient. Much of his estate went for the funding of scientific education at the Sierra Leone Training School. Africanus Horton's countrymen would have to wait for almost a century before his dreams of political independence would be realised.

 

SIR SAMUEL LEWIS
(1843-1903)
LEGAL LUMINARY AND MAYOR OF FREETOWN

Sir Samuel Lewis, the third Sierra Leonean to qualify as a barrister, was the most famous of the early Krio lawyers.Sir Samuel Lewis

To many young men of the  day, it became obvious that a sound education and training in one of the respected professions—law, medicine and the clergy—was indispensable for leadership positions among their people, or for a career in the Colonial Government.

On the completion of his education however, Lewis, a man of firm conviction and one who valued his independence, declined to serve in government office so his hands would not be tied. He worked incessantly for his clients and devoted most of his energies to their defence. He was a very successful lawyer, winning most of his cases, but he still found time to criticise the Colonial Government over policies with which he disagreed. One such disagreement erupted into a violent dispute with Governor Cardew soon after the latter became Governor.

In spite of his reluctance to serve in the Colonial Government, the yearning to serve his people led him to accept membership in the Legislative Council in 1882. Sir Samuel Lewis served his people well and honourably, and when Freetown because a municipality in 1865, he was the obvious choice for Mayor. In 1896, he was made a knight, the first West African to achieve such an honour.

Like most pioneers, Sir Samuel's ideas were far in advance of his times. At a time when most settlers saw people of the hinterland as heathen strangers, he called for the annexation of the interior so that peace could be maintained in those areas, and the Krio of the Colony could benefit through commerce and the development of the natural resources of the interior. He blamed much of the misunderstanding between the people of the Colony and those of the then interior on the lack of communication and contact between the two. He therefore advocated for improved communications between the Colony and the hinterland so that there could be better understanding of the interior and greater opportunity to explore the many possibilities it offered.

In perceiving the possibility of harmonious, purposeful and beneficial relations between people of different cultures and regions, Sir Samuel Lewis left his mark as one of the first men to envision a united Sierra Leone.

 

JOHN HENRY MALAMAH THOMAS
(1844-1922)
OUTSTANDING ENTREPRENEUR AND MAYOR

John Henry Malamah Thomas is an outstanding example of a self-made magnate. He promoted trade between Colony andJohn Henry Malamah Thomas "up-country", served as Mayor of Freetown eight times, and became an unofficial member of the Legislative Council in 1907.

Born at Hastings of Aku recaptive parents, his father died when he was three years old. Malamah Thomas started school in 1845, but the family's straitened circumstances made it necessary for him to spend the better part of his time helping his mother in her bid to make ends meet. At the age of fourteen, John left school and entered upon a business career. Starting as a clerk/trainee with a number of business concerns, he later set out on his own.

He started his business with a loan of £100 secured from a friend, Dr. Robert Smith. He built a factory on the Rokel River at a place called Malamah—that was how he came by the nickname "Malamah". Some years later, he closed his business on the Rokel and moved to the Scarcies where he worked as an agent of the Compagnie du Senegal (later Compagnie Francaise de L'Afrique Occidental, popularly known as CFAO). But before taking up his post on the Scarcies in 1882 he opened a small shop in Freetown under the management of his wife.

Six years later, Malamah Thomas resigned the CFAO agency and returned to Freetown to operate his business. Bringing his twenty-three years of commercial experience to bear upon the running of the business, it quickly expanded and prospered, and Thomas became one of the leading merchants in the city. He traded chiefly in cloth fabrics, and patented in England his own brand of cotton known as "Malamah baft". The beautiful "Malamah House" he built at East Street stands today as an eloquent monument of his commercial prowess and success.

Thomas also served both church and state. He was for thirteen years warden of Holy Trinity Church of which he later became Treasurer. In 1891, he was appointed Charity Commissioner, and became Commissioner of the Peace in 1894. In the Freetown municipal elections of 1903, he entered the City Council for the East Ward. In 1904, he was elected Mayor of Freetown, and held that position eight years.

When in 1907, he was appointed an unofficial member of the Legislative Council, members of the Hastings Re-Union Committee presented him with a Silver Cup in recognition of his "present position as a native merchant of sterling repute, a Justice of the Peace, thrice a City Magistrate, and now a member of the Legislative Council".

His political activities went beyond Sierra Leone. He became President of the local branch of the National Congress of British West Africa, a body formed in 1920, advocating united political agitation for self-government among the African peoples of British West Africa. He supported the Congress with both his money and time.

John Henry Malamah Thomas died in Freetown on January 18, 1922. He was deeply mourned, and the glowing tribute in the local "Sierra Leone Weekly News" was testimony to the contribution he made to the development of Sierra Leone.

 

JOHN AUGUSTUS ABAYOMI-COLE
(1848-1943)
DISTINGUISHED MEDICAL DOCTOR AND HERBALIST

John Augustus Abayomi-Cole was a man of many skills. He was an eminent medical doctor and herbalist, a teacher, a preacher, John Augustus Abayomi-Cole a farmer, a manufacturer, and a politician.

Dr. Abayomi-Cole was born in 1848 of Sierra Leonean parents in Abeokuta, Nigeria. At an early age, he lived with his uncle, Archdeacon Robbin, who was a Sierra Leonean missionary in Nigeria. When Archdeacon Robbin returned to Freetown, he brought young Abayomi-Cole with him. In Freetown he was put under the tutelage of the great A.B.C. Sibthorpe at Hastings, and was later sent to the C.M.S. Grammar School where he completed his secondary education.

On leaving school, he taught at the Evangelical United Brethren Church School at Shenge in Sherbro country, and in his mid-twenties he left for the United States of America where he was ordained a Minister in the American Wesleyan Methodist church. He later qualified as a medical doctor and became a Fellow of the Society of Apothecaries (F.S.A.) of the United States. Shortly thereafter, he became an affiliate of the National Association of Medical Herbalists in Great Britain.

Combining his scientific training with a wealth of knowledge on the healing properties of traditional herbs, roots and leaves, Dr. Abayomi-Cole's fame soon spread to all parts of Sierra Leone, and even to neighbouring Liberia. His cures were a mixture of the orthodox and the traditional. He cured rheumatic pains, skin diseases such as "alay", nervous and eye diseases, etc. During the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic, he invented a preparation of "tea-bush", "camphor", lime and spirit which saved many lives at a time when the influenza death toll was so high that people were buried in trenches in Freetown and other world capitals. One of his well-known preparations as an antidote for poison, "ekpa", is still used in Krio villages homes in the Western Area. It is also used as a remedy for various stomach disorders.

Dr. Abayomi-Cole's herbal practice became more popular and lucrative than those of medical practitioners who had studied orthodox medicine in Britain, and he became a scientific and medical adviser to Governor Sir Leslie Probyn.

At the turn of the century, malaria was the greatest scourge of West Africa, and was taking a deadly toll particularly of Europeans. Dr. Abayomi-Cole was called upon by the Colonial Government to help combat the disease. He made an effective preparation of herbs, containing as its main ingredients "broomstone" leaves and "agiri".  But he found that his cured patients returned within a few weeks with the same symptoms. Through intensive medical research, he was able to establish that poor environmental sanitation was the root cause of the relapse—mosquitoes were breeding in stagnant pools of water around houses. He organised groups of voluntary workers known as "mosquito missionaries" who went from compound to compound advising people on the necessity of keeping their living areas clean. The scheme worked so well that the Colonial Government later paid the volunteers monthly.

Although he is known mainly as a medical doctor and herbalist, Dr. Abayomi-Cole also turned his attention to other pursuits. He was engaged in agriculture and, among other things, he produced and cured tobacco. He also produced brandy, sugar and soap, all of very high quality. In politics, he joined, formed or inspired the formation of pressure groups with the aim of defending and upholding the rights, dignity, and respect of his black brothers and sisters in the face of the racial arrogance and authoritarian tendencies of colonial officials.

Dr. Abayomi-Cole lived to the great age of ninety-two years, and his active and productive life in so many fields of endeavour stands as a glowing example of enterprise, imagination and versatility worthy of recognition and emulation.