June 9, 2023

The Sierra Leone government has reacted to the destruction of a historic and iconic tree that stands in the middle of the capital, Freetown.

President Julius Maada Bio confirmed through tweet, claims in local media, that the cotton tree was felled on May 24 due to heavy rain in Freetown.

“Due to the heavy downpour of rain in our capital this evening, the iconic Cotton Tree has fallen.” A huge loss for the country. Early settlers saw it as a symbol of independence and freedom.

“We’ll have something there that bears witness to the great Cotton Tree’s place in our history.” For this, all voices will be brought together,” the tweet continued.

Sierra Leoneans have been posting images of the fallen tree, which goes back to the 1700s, on social media, as a reminder of the country’s colonial past, history, and tenacity.

Credit Atlas Acura for the Cotton Tree

THE HISTORIC SYMBOL OF FREETOWN, SIERRA LEONE’S CAPITAL, IS A LARGE CAPOK TREE KNOWN AS THE “COTTON TREE.” Legend has it that the tree gained significance in 1792, when a group of previously enslaved people established on the site of what is now Freetown.

Following the American Revolution, the British liberated the enslaved people who had fought under the Crown during the war. Some “Black Loyalists” were given land and supplies to settle in British-controlled Nova Scotia, while others fled to London and the Caribbean.

In 1787, some 4,000 previously enslaved persons were resettled in Sierra Leone—regardless about where they or their ancestors had come from. Another group went from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone five years later.

When the first boat arrived, they walked up to a great tree directly above the water and performed a Thanksgiving ceremony there, praying and singing hymns, according to the narrative.

That tree is still standing (as of May 24), and it was located between the courtroom and the National Museum. Though its exact age is uncertain, it is known to have existed in 1787 and is thought to be the country’s oldest cotton tree. The Cotton Tree is a well-known landmark in the city and is shown on the 10,000 Leones banknotes.

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