Skip to main content
Harvard University Press - home
Abolitionists Abroad

Abolitionists Abroad

American Blacks and the Making of Modern West Africa

Lamin Sanneh

ISBN 9780674043077

Publication date: 07/01/2009

In 1792, nearly 1,200 freed American slaves crossed the Atlantic and established themselves in Freetown, West Africa, a community dedicated to anti-slavery and opposed to the African chieftain hierarchy that was tied to slavery. Thus began an unprecedented movement with critical long-term effects on the evolution of social, religious, and political institutions in modern Africa.

Lamin Sanneh's engrossing book narrates the story of freed slaves who led efforts to abolish the slave trade by attacking its base operation: the capture and sale of people by African chiefs. Sanneh's protagonists set out to establish in West Africa colonies founded on equal rights and opportunity for personal enterprise, communities that would be havens for ex-slaves and an example to the rest of Africa. Among the most striking of these leaders is the Nigerian Samuel Ajayi Crowther, a recaptured slave who joined a colony in Sierra Leone and subsequently established satellite communities in Nigeria. The ex-slave repatriates brought with them an evangelical Christianity that encouraged individual spirituality--a revolutionary vision in a land where European missionaries had long assumed they could Christianize the whole society by converting chiefs and rulers.

Tracking this potent African American anti-slavery and democratizing movement through the nineteenth century, Lamin Sanneh draws a clear picture of the religious grounding of its conflict with the traditional chieftain authorities. His study recounts a crucial development in the history of West Africa.

Praise

  • In his most recent work, Lamin Sanneh offers a novel perspective on nineteenth-century antislavery movements. Instead of the usual narratives of William Wilberforce in England or William Lloyd Garrison in America, Sanneh tells of the vital role Africans--albeit often Americanized or Anglicized Africans--played in the abolition of slavery both on their own continent and around the globe...Sanneh's narrative poses some of the broadest and most important questions in the history of global colonization and modernization. Should we agree with him that the imposition of Western liberal cultural values and social organization in Africa--when these values were promoted by Africans themselves--was unambiguously a good thing? Should the entire world therefore be made over in the image of the United States with its notion of individual rights?

    —Stewart Davenport and Wiebe Boer, Books & Culture

Author

  • Lamin Sanneh was Professor of History and D. Willis James Professor of World Christianity, Yale University.

Book Details

  • Harvard University Press

Recommendations