At the time of Freetown’s establishment, a small village near the junction of modern Campbell Street was under the leadership of Pa Demba. This village, probably the closest Temne settlement to the burgeoning Freetown community, would go down in history when it’s tranquil shores faced an unexpected upheaval in September 1794.
A fleet of five French warships had made their presence felt in the harbour by launching a fierce assault on the colony. Reverberations of their cannons echoed through the air as they relentlessly targeted the delicate structures, compelling British officers and settlers from Nova Scotia to seek refuge in the surrounding hinterlands. Following the bombardment, the French forces disembarked, pillaging homes and storage spaces before reducing the entire settlement to ashes. The church nor the governor’s residence were spared.
During this time of turmoil, when the settlers found themselves encircled by adversaries, Pa Demba emerged as a beacon of compassion and solidarity. He extended an earnest hand by opening the doors of his modest village to provide sanctuary for the Nova Scotian schoolmistress and her entire brood of colony children. Remarkably, he went beyond this gesture of benevolence, accommodating as many of the displaced individuals as his resources allowed. His remarkable act of selflessness unfolded even amidst the scarcity and season of want that plagued his very own community. In the face of opposition from fellow Temne leaders, who harboured resentments towards the Freetown colony, Pa Demba’s altruism prevailed. He cast aside political discord, guided solely by his sense of humanity.
Pa Demba’s legacy resonates profoundly as a symbol of unity across ethnic divides. His actions illuminate the essence of reconciliation, underlining that even during arduous times, the people of Sierra Leone stand united, transcending differences to embody a singular nation. His profound example speaks to the enduring spirit of togetherness that thrives even in the face of adversity.
Today, Freetown Central Prison, commonly known as Pademba Road Prison, is a prison on Pademba Road in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The maximum security prison was built for 300 inmates but was known to house over 2,000 inmates.
Below is a song by The Prison Singers Group, featuring a very dear friend who simply tries his best to keep the fire burning.