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The Fry Norman Incident of 1840

24 November 2020 at 01:20 | 1049 views

The Fry Norman Incident of 1840: The proximate cause and demise of the Gallinas Kingdom in Southern Sierra Leone and Liberia.

By Kortor Kamara, PV Special Correspondent, USA

On the occasion of the 180th anniversary signing of the November 21, 1840 gunboat-imposed Gallinas Treaty - between the British government and the Gallinas Kingdom - signed by Captain Joseph Denman on behalf of the British Crown and King Siaka, Prince Mannah and the Rogers Chiefs on behalf of the Gallinas kingdom, at Dumbocorro, outlawing slave trading in the Gallinas, it is worth noting that this treaty became the catalyst for the demise of the once powerful Gallinas kingdom.

This article seeks to discuss and highlight some of the factors and proximate cause, that British gun-boat diplomacy and treaty making in the 19th century, ostensibly in the suppression of slave trading in the protectorate of Sierra Leone, resulted in the loss of sovereignty by traditional polities, such as the Gallinas Kingdom.

The Gallinas kingdom
The Gallinas kingdom under King Siaka ( 1785 - 1843 ) had long existed as a sovereign on the southeast coast of Sierra Leone, spanning the Rivers Moa and Mano, into parts of Cape Mount in present day Liberia.

For centuries, since the transatlantic slave trade established the Gallinas coastal region as a major trading entrepôt, a sovereign kingdom had evolved straddling southern Sierra Leone and the Cape Mount region of Liberia, which at its pinnacle was governed by King Siaka ( Siacca ).

Since the early 19th century, the Mendes and Vais had become the leading actors in the slave trade of the Gallinas and Cape Mount regions. It is worth noting that the Gallinas region had since the 15th century attracted European slavers whose factories were a source of slaves for the transatlantic slave trade.

Despite the outlawing of slavery and the slave trade in the eighteenth century, European traders, especially Spanish, English and Portuguese slavers continued trading in slaves from the Gallinas Kingdom areas to Cuba, West Indies, the United States and Brazil.

The most successful and notorious, stationed in the Gallinas kingdom were the Spaniards Pedro Blanco in the 1820s and 1830s and John Thomas Buron, whose factories and barracoons were destroyed by Captain Denman in the aftermath of the 1840 Treaty.

This demand for slaves resulted in a near constant state of warfare between the coastal Gallinas, seeking slaves from the interior tribes to be sold and exported and retaliatory raids by interior chiefs.

These internicient wars, such as the Kpova wars, the Gallinas wars, the Jarbati wars, the Makaia wars all had very debilitating impacts, which the British colonial administration in Freetown was determined to stop for legitimate trade to prosper between the colony and the hinterland.

The 1840 Fry Norman Incident
What I have elected to dub the “Fry Norman Affair”, could aptly be identified as the proximate cause for not only the suppression of slave trading but a direct intervention into the sovereign affairs of the Gallinas Kingdom by the colonial administration, as evidenced by the 1840 treaty.

Mrs. Fry Norman was a black British subject ( Creole ), resident of Freetown, who while staying and working in Bonthe in 1840, had traveled to the Gallinas Kingdom and was captured together with her young child, and detained by Prince Mannah, the eldest son and heir to King Siaka. Prince Mannah detained Mrs Norman citing allegations that her Mistress, Mrs Gray residing in Freetown owed him 150 Spanish dollars, which she had refused to pay back.

Through correspondences with her husband and relatives in Freetown, Governor Richard Doherty became aware of her plight and imprisonment and accordingly ordered Captain Denman with the slave suppression ship, Wanderer to rescue Fry Norman and her child.

Captain Denman and his warship sailed into the waters of the Gallinas kingdom in November, 1840 to secure their release and ended up signing a treaty with King Siaka, that formed the basis of occupation and subsequent demise of the Kingdom.

The November 21, 1840 Treaty
Following several correspondences between Captain Denman and Prince Mannah and threats from the gunboats, Prince Mannah was compelled to release Fry Norman and her child. Upon Securing their release, Captain Denman proceeded to unilaterally draft and have signed a treaty abolishing slavery in the Gallinas with King Siaka and the Gallinas chiefs and embarking on destruction of slave factories and baracoons Belonging to European slave traders.

The November 21, 1840 Treaty, signed by Prince Mannah, on behalf of the ageing and bedridden King Siaka, Chiefs Licomi Rogers and John Siliphi Rogers on behalf of the Gallinas and Captain Joseph Denman provided for the following:
1) Release of Fry Norman and her child.
2) Abolishing of slave trade in the entire Gallinas territory.
3) Liberation of slaves.
4) Destruction of the baracoons and slave factories.
5) Expulsion of all slave traders in the Gallinas kingdom.

The Case of Buron vs Denman in the British Court of Exchequer, 1845
The destruction of several factories and baracoons of the Spanish slave traders and the resultant release of over 4000 slaves and seizure of goods subsequently resulted in the filing of a case of trespass against Captain Denman by a Spaniard, John Thomas Buron. The case, Buron vs. Denman was decided in 1848 at the Court of the Exchequer in London, in favor of Captain Denman.

King Siaka Massaquoi died in 1843 and his son Prince Mannah assumed the kingship of the Gallinas kingdom. Also, by 1848 the once lucrative trading enterprise of Pedro Blanco, spanning three continents, had collapsed following the Captain Denman operations of 1840.

The Gallinas kingdom, headquartered in Gendema, in the Pujehun District of Sierra Leone was clearly one of Sierra Leone’s major coastal kingdoms, it’s boundaries straddling both Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The Fry Norman detention by Prince Mannah and the resultant intervention by Captain Denman, coupled with the November 21, 1840 Gallinas Treaty represents a monumental historical event that Sierra Leoneans, and certainly Gallinas people must memorialize on both sides of the international border.