Homeland, Diasporas and Labour Networks: The Case of Kru Workers, 1792-1900
Gunn, Jeffrey David
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By the late eighteenth century, the ever-increasing British need for local labour in West Africa based on malarial, climatic, and manpower concerns led to a willingness of the British and Kru to experiment with free wage labour contracts. The Krus familiarity with European trade on the Kru Coast (modern Liberia) from at least the sixteenth century played a fundamental role in their decision to expand their wage earning opportunities under contract with the British. The establishment of Freetown in 1792 enabled the Kru to engage in systematized work for British merchants, ship captains, and British naval officers. Kru workers increased their migration to Freetown establishing what appears to be their first permanent labouring community beyond their homeland on the Kru Coast. Their community in Freetown known as Kroo Town (later Krutown) ensured their regular employment on board British commercial ships and Royal Navy vessels circumnavigating the Atlantic and beyond. In the process, the Kru established a network of Krutowns and community settlements in many Atlantic ports including Fernando Po, Ascension Island, and the Cape of Good Hope, and in the British Caribbean in British Guiana and Trinidad. This dissertation structures the fragmented history of Kru workers into a coherent framework. In this study, I argue that the migration of Kru workers in the Atlantic, and even to the Indian and Pacific Oceans, represents a movement of free wage labour that transformed the Kru Coast into a homeland that nurtured diasporas and staffed a vast network of workplaces. As the Kru formed permanent and transient working communities, they underwent several phases of social, political, and economic innovation, which ultimately overcame a decline in employment in their homeland on the Kru Coast by the end of the nineteenth century by increasing employment in their diaspora. At a time when slavery was widespread and the slave trade was subjected to the abolition campaign of the British Navy, Kru workers were free with an expertise in manning seaborne craft. The Kru thereby stand out as an anomaly in the history of Atlantic trade when compared with the much larger diasporas of enslaved Africans.