Fort Thornton, Freetown

Fort Thornton, Freetown

The structure that used to be Fort Thornton now houses the State House. Originally the residence of the British Governor of the Colony, it was transformed into the offices and residence of the Prime Minister of independent Sierra Leone and later the offices of the President of Sierra Leone.

Fort Thornton was actually in construction since the early 1790s and was not apparently completed until the 1800s. It was located on a hill overlooking the early colony for reasons of defense and was named after Henry Thornton, Banker and philanthropist, who was at the time the Chairman of the Sierra Leone Company that ruled the colony before 1808, when it was taken over by the British Government.

There was conflict in the early existence of the colony with the Thaimne local rulers of the part of the peninsula where the colony was located. This was primarily a matter of claims and counter claims of sovereignty of the area between the British who ruled the colony, claiming they had bought the area, and the Thaimne rulers who were sure they had not sold the land.

But conflict also developed between the British proprietors and the first settlers who felt cheated as land promised to them never seemed to materialize.

Both factors urged the building of a defensive fortress on a nearby hill overlooking the Colony. Construction started in 1793 and continued intermittently for another decade, while on another side of the hill, called Tower Hill, barracks were being constructed for the Royal African Corps as well. Fort Thornton then expanded into a house for the Governor of the Colony, built as a wooden structure within the stone walled fort. It became diversified into the seat of the colony’s administration, including the Secretariat and the Post Office.

Various additions and amendments were made over the years to expand the Government offices so that by the 1920s, the stone structure on the west side of the fort were completely covered and incorporated into the building.

The old Government House, as it came to be referred to in Freetown, was demolished in 1949, preserving most of the stone base of the old Fort Thornton. Today, the Government House that had become State House still stands on the Fort Thornton base and is sometimes referred to by the old names, “Fort Thornton”, or “Government House”.


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