In the old part of Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone, at the center of a roundabout surrounded by a concrete fence stands an enormous Cotton Tree (Ceiba pentandra). The tree is Freetown’s historic symbol and the city’s most famous landmark. Nobody is sure how old the tree is, but it is known to have existed in 1787 when the first settlers arrived. According to some sources, the Cotton Tree is 500 years old. It is believed that when a group of former African American slaves, who had gained their freedom by fighting for the British during the American War of Independence, landed in Freetown, they apparently rested and prayed underneath the shade of the tree.
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The first group of settlers from Britain, made up of mostly former slaves, arrived in 1787 and established themselves on the peninsula. These Black Loyalist settlers, called "Nova Scotians" or "Navitians", founded Freetown on March 11th 1792. According to tradition, they landed on the shoreline and walked up to a giant tree just above the bay and held a thanksgiving service there, gathering around the tree in a large group and praying and singing hymns to thank God for their deliverance to a free land. Sierra Leonians believe that this very tree was where the Nova Scotian settlers prayed more than two hundreds years ago.
Today, the Cotton Tree is seen as historical symbol of not only Freetown, but Sierra Leone as a whole. Sierra Leonians still pray and make offerings to the ancestors for peace and prosperity beneath the great ancestry Cotton Tree.
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