“If the King Had Really Been a Father to Us”

Failed food diplomacy in eighteenth-century Sierra Leone

Authored by: Rachel B. Herrmann

The Routledge History of Food

Print publication date:  October  2014
Online publication date:  October  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415628471
eBook ISBN: 9781315753454
Adobe ISBN: 9781317621133


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The British were floundering. It was October 1794, and the colony at Freetown, Sierra Leone, perched precariously on the brink of food insecurity. 1 French sailors, caught up in the fervor of the Napoleonic wars, had struck the coast of Freetown only a month prior. Although British Governor Zachary Macaulay felt dismayed to hear the attackers “usher in” and conclude each meal with a rendition of “the Marseilles Hymn”—no doubt doubly insulting because the Frenchmen were eating the colonists’ food—he likely worried more about the aggressors’ destruction of Freetown’s edible stores. 2 He witnessed “a parcel of Frenchmen emptying a case of Port Wine into their stomachs,” and the killing of livestock, including fourteen dozen of his own fowls and “not less than 12 hundred Hogs killed in the Town.” 3 Although the colony’s black Loyalists had survived relatively unscathed (Macaulay reported “no appearance of want among them”), they remained significantly discontented with the white Sierra Leone Council’s political rule, and thus disinclined to tend their crops. 4

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