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HANNAH KILHAM: FRIEND OF THE FREE By Elwood Cronk* Not much is known of the early life of Hannah Kilham. She was the daughter of Peter and Hannah Spurr, and was born in Sheffield, England on September 12, 1774. At the age of fourteen she was sent to Chesterfield to a boarding school. Here she made such progress, particularly in grammar, that it displeased her master , who thought she was overstepping the "bounds of the female province."1 At the age of nineteen or twenty she became a member of the Methodist Church and, four years later, married Alexander Kilham who died within a year. He was the leader of a group which had broken away from the main Methodist body. Some time during 1803 she became concerned over slavery, and from that time on would neither eat nor wear anything that had been produced by slave labor. About 1805 or 1806 she joined the Society of Friends, and started a day boarding school, which kept her busy for the next fifteen years. In her spare time she formed a Society for Bettering the Condition of the Poor in Sheffield , was attive in a group which visited and helped aged females, helped to organize the Sheffield Bible Association, felt a concern to help young women realize a fuller business and domestic life, and prepared an elementary grammar to be used by children who had had little education. She was keenly interested in missionary work and in 1817 chanced upon an item in a magazine which changed the course of her life. It was a letter to the editor, asking for suggestions as to the best method of preparing a written language for those who had none. She had a particular interest in Sierra Leone — a colony which had been established as a home for former slaves who had been given their freedom under English law. A few weeks after reading this query Hannah Kilham decided that some day she *Member of Scarsdale (N. Y.) Meeting and frequent contributor to Friends' periodicals. 1 Memoir of the Late Hannah Kilham, ed. Sarah Biller (London, 1837) , p. 2. 88 Hannah Kilham: Friend of the Free89 would go to Sierra Leone and teach the illiterate former slaves to read. The grammar she had been working on would be just the thing for work of this sort. It was not until July 1819 that the way opened for her to go to Africa, in the company of two returning missionaries. Her concern for service in Africa was brought before the Monthly Meeting and met with the approval of Friends. The date for sailing was delayed, however, and as it left too little time to get the work done before the rains came, she did not go. Instead she went to London to talk with the missionaries before they sailed. Upon learning of her concern to develop written languages for those who had none, they suggested she search for Africans in England and experiment with their native language. Early in 1820 a ship arrived from the coast of Gambia. Two of the sailors, whose native language was Wolof, agreed to help her. While learning English, they repeated in their native tongue the names of objects which could be seen—either in real life, or in pictures. It was her hope to create a vocabulary of at least two hundred words. Her system was entirely phonetic. "Vowels were sounded short in the beginning or middle of the word, or syllable, and long at the end: or when required to be sounded long in the beginning or middle of a syllable, to place a dash over the vowel to show the long sound. The letters c, q, w, x, y, and?were eliminated from use."2 The letter g in Wolof is always hard. With this exception the consonants used have the same sound as in English. The use of iu is for the long sound of the English u, as in duty. The marked vowel i (with a dash over it) supplies the English y and u serves for the w Letters h and k (each with a dash over it) are added to express the strong...


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