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The African American Odyssey of John Kizell

A South Carolina Slave Returns to Fight the Slave Trade in His African Homeland

Kevin G. Lowther

Publication Year: 2012

The inspirational story of John Kizell celebrates the life of a West African enslaved as a boy and brought to South Carolina on the eve of the American Revolution. Fleeing his owner, Kizell served with the British military in the Revolutionary War, began a family in the Nova Scotian wilderness, then returned to his African homeland to help found a settlement for freed slaves in Sierra Leone. He spent decades battling European and African slave traders along the coast and urging his people to stop selling their own into foreign bondage. This in-depth biography—based in part on Kizell's own writings—illuminates the links between South Carolina and West Africa during the Atlantic slave trade's peak decades. Seized in an attack on his uncle's village, Kizell was thrown into the brutal world of chattel slavery at age thirteen and transported to Charleston, South Carolina. When Charleston fell to the British in 1780, Kizell joined them and was with the Loyalist force defeated in the pivotal battle of Kings Mountain. At the war's end, he was evacuated with other American Loyalists to Nova Scotia. In 1792 he joined a pilgrimage of nearly twelve hundred former slaves to the new British settlement for free blacks in Sierra Leone. Among the most prominent Africans in the antislavery movement of his time, Kizell believed that all people of African descent in America would, if given a way, return to Africa as he had. Back in his native land, he bravely confronted the forces that had led to his enslavement. Late in life he played a controversial role—freshly interpreted in this book—in the settlement of American blacks in what became Liberia. Kizell's remarkable story provides insight to the cultural and spiritual milieu from which West Africans were wrenched before being forced into slavery. Lowther sheds light on African complicity in the slave trade and examines how it may have contributed to Sierra Leone's latter-day struggles as an independent state. A foreword by Joseph Opala, a noted researcher on the "Gullah Connection" between Sierra Leone and coastal South Carolina and Georgia, highlights Kizell's continuing legacy on both sides of the Atlantic.

Published by: University of South Carolina Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4

Copyright Page

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p. 5-5

Dedication Page

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pp. 6-7

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. viii-9

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pp. ix-xii

John Kizell’s life was filled with danger and determination. Born in the Sierra Leone region of West Africa about 1760, he was torn from his family as a boy and taken on the Middle Passage to slavery in South Carolina. When the American Revolutionary War erupted, he took his chance, like many other slaves, and served in the British army, ...

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pp. xiii-xvi

When we met at his London home in 2007, Christopher Fyfe—the late doyen of Sierra Leone historiography—urged me to write about the life and times of John Kizell. He had already gone to the trouble of preparing nine pages of handwritten notes on all the references to Kizell he had found during twelve years of research for A History of Sierra Leone, published in 1962. ...

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pp. xvii-xviii

John Kizell’s life was linked—like any life—to people he knew and many whom he did not. Similarly the exploration and telling of his life’s story has connected me with dozens of people, most of them complete strangers, who made this book possible. Their willingness to respond and share at key moments was beyond all expectation. ...


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pp. xix-xx

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1. Chained Together

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pp. 1-24

The year was 1773. Laurens—once the leading slave merchant in Charleston— worried that South Carolina’s planters risked being “overstocked” with slaves and burdened with debt made all the riskier in the province’s “present relaxed State of Government.” ...

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2. The Uprooting

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pp. 25-48

John Kizell was born into a watery world. His people may have been Sherbro or Bom. More likely they were Kim, whose language was mutually intelligible and who inhabited the same waterlogged West African coast. Theirs was a domain of mangroves and alluvial mud, innumerable creeks and languid rivers, which merged in brackish union with the nearby Atlantic. ...

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3. The Overturning

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pp. 49-88

In Westminster Henry Laurens continued reading the political tea leaves with deepening concern. By early 1774 he had concluded that there would be “trouble and Confusion in America” and that “Carolina will partake of the Evil.” Where a year earlier he had warned against importing slaves into an overheated market, now he feared that volatile relations with England made the slave trade even riskier. ...

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4. Exodus

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pp. 89-125

The next link in Clinton’s chain of evils—forged on January 17, 1781, at Cowpens— effectively ended British hopes of detaching South Carolina from the rebellion. Kings Mountain had been a humiliation; Cowpens was a debacle. Pursued by a roughly equal force under Tarleton, the Americans turned to face their opponents north of present-day Spartanburg. ...

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5. Ransomed Sinners

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pp. 126-154

Clarkson had been the first to catch sight of Cape Sierra Leone, well to the southeast, in the early morning brilliance. He could hear the people giving three cheers aboard the other ships and firing volleys from their muskets. Weakened by illness that should have killed him during the gale-lashed voyage, Clarkson was at a loss “to describe my sensations at this moment.” ...

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6. Abolition and Illusion

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pp. 155-183

The Sierra Leone Company and South Carolina both dropped pretenses in 1803. In London the company’s directors concluded that the colony would never profit investors and began lobbying government to assume control. In Charleston legislators conceded that extensive smuggling of Africans into the state could not be arrested and repealed the unenforceable ban imposed sixteen years earlier.1 ...

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7. “The land of black men”

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pp. 184-225

On the morning of March 1, 1811, a single-decked, two-masted brig flying the American flag dropped anchor in Freetown’s harbor.1 The arrival of any ship was a notable event in the colony’s languid day-to-day existence. The arrival of the Traveller was something more, for she was captained by a black man. ...

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8. “What a creature man is!”

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pp. 226-238

The African American colonists, banded together in Freetown, had been taking part in raucous Christmas festivities and enjoying the advent of the Harmattan. Wiltberger and a fresh cadre of colonization society agents had been preparing them for the final journey to Mesurado, where they were to establish their haven. ...


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pp. 239-278


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pp. 279-292


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pp. 293-302

E-ISBN-13: 9781611171334
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611171419

Page Count: 328
Publication Year: 2012