Cotton Tree (Sierra Leone)
The Cotton Tree is a Ceiba pentandra, a historic symbol of Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone. According to legend, the "Cotton Tree" gained importance in 1792 when a group of former African American slaves, who had gained their freedom by fighting for the British during the American War of Independence, settled the site of modern Freetown. These Black Loyalist settlers, called "Nova Scotians" because they came from Nova Scotia after leaving the United States and before they decided to go back to Africa or, "Navatians" in Sierra Leone, 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. Its exact age is unknown, but it is known to have existed in 1787.
Today, a huge Cotton Tree stands in the oldest part of Freetown near the Supreme Court building, music club building and the National Museum. Sierra Leoneans believe that this is the tree where the Nova Scotian settlers prayed upon landing, and they regard it as the symbol of their capital city. Sierra Leoneans still pray and make offerings to the ancestors for peace and prosperity beneath the Cotton Tree.
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