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Bunce Island Slave Castle

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About This Place

Bunce Island Slave Castle
Bunce Island was the largest British slave castle on the Rice Coast of West Africa. It exported tens of thousands of African captives to North America and the West Indies until it was closed in 1808.

On the Lokashakti Network since:
Friday, 10 February 2012

Alternately / formerly known as:
Bunce Island, Slave Fort

Bunce Island, Northern Province
Sierra Leone

Type of network resource:
  • Museum
  • Historical Marker

Issues addressed:
  • Indigenous Rights
  • Human Rights


Bunce Island Slave Castle
Although other slave castles -- especially Gorée in Senegal and Elmina in Ghana -- are more popular attractions for black Americans, those castles are more connected historically to slave descendants of the West Indies than North America. Bunce Island, however, has been called "the most important historic site in Africa for the United States."

For the first part of the 1700s Bunce Island served more as a symbol of the strength and enormous influence of the British Empire and was not as commercially successful as its peers.

Then, during the 1750s Richard Oswald, Bunce Island’s principal owner, forged a strong business and personal relationship with Henry Laurens, one of the richest rice planters and slave dealers in the Colony of South Carolina. Rice planters in coastal South Carolina and Georgia were willing to pay high prices for people brought from the Rice Coast of West Africa, where farmers had been growing rice for hundreds of years and were experts at its cultivation.

African rice-growing know-how was essential to the prosperity of the American rice industry. Henry Laurens acted as Bunce Island’s business agent in Charleston, receiving the castle’s human cargoes from Sierra Leone and advertising and selling the African captives at auction.

The treatment of African captives was, as it was everywhere else at the time, cruel, deplorable and inhumane. Captives who died on the island were often thrown into the sea rather than buried and those who lived were doomed to never roam their homeland again.

In 1948 Bunce Island became Sierra Leone's first officially protected historic site. M.C.F. Easmon, a Sierra Leonean medical doctor and amateur historian, led an expedition that year that cleared the vegetation, and mapped and photographed the ruins for the first time.

In 1989 a group of Gullahs (members of an African-American community in coastal South Carolina and Georgia) made an historic homecoming visit to Sierra Leone and toured the ruins of Bunce Island. Shortly after that, the U.S. National Park Service announced a preservation program for the castle. Plans were put off by the confusion of the Sierra Leone civil war.
“Gullah Homecomings” in 1997 and 2005 resulted in visits by African Americans to Bunce Island, which were documented as public history projects .

Bunce Island is under the protection of Sierra Leone's Monuments and Relics Commission, a branch of the country's Ministry of Tourism and Culture. The government is working to preserve the castle as a reminder of the past and to attract tourists, especially African Americans.

The World Monuments Fund had placed Bunce Island (and other historic sites in Sierra Leone) on its 2008 watch list of the world’s “100 Most Endangered Sites.” Several organizations in Sierra Leone, the United States, and Great Britain are now promoting popular awareness of Bunce Island and its history, and working toward the preservation of the castle.

In October, 2010, the Bunce Island Coalition (US) and its partner organization, the Bunce Island Coalition (SL), announced the start of the Bunce Island preservation project, a five-year, $5 million effort to preserve the ruins of the castle and to build a museum in Freeetown, Sierra Leone's capital city, devoted to the history of Bunce Island and the impact of the Atlantic slave trade in Sierra Leone.

Bunce Island Slave Castle – Map View

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