Nemgbana, John Frederick

Alternative Spellings: naimbana
1768-1793
Anglican Communion
Sierra Leone

John Frederick Nemgbana, or Naimbana (circa 1768-June 1793), the son of Nemgbana, regent of the Koya Temne, had an untimely death. Educated in England, where he was known as Prince Naimbana, he expected to become a missionary in his own country, but died on his return.

His elder brother Pedro, also known as Bartholomew, having already been educated in France, his father agreed to send John Frederick to England to be educated at the expense of the Sierra Leone Company. He sailed for England in the care of Alexander Falconbridge, an agent of the company, in the summer 1791. During the voyage Falconbridge’s wife, Anna Maria, later to become the author of *Narrative of Two Voyages to the River Sierra Leone *(1794), taught him to read and write, and found him an intelligent pupil.

In England, Nemgbana became known as the “Black Prince.” The philanthropist Granville Sharp (1753-1813), a Member of Parliament, a leading abolitionist, and founder of the Province of Freedom colony for freed slaves, took an interest in him. He placed Nemgbana’s education in the hands of a Church of England clergyman, living in the country, who was certified by two bishops as an appropriate tutor. The hope was expressed that Nemgbana would become “as useful to Africa as Alfred and the first Peter were to their respective countries,” and his virtues were enumerated in a tract called The African Prince, the cover of which showed him turning away disdainfully from an unsuitable book.

His father, the regent, died in February of 1793, and John Frederick returned to Sierra Leone in the same year, with the intention of preaching the gospel and making converts. Upon his arrival in Freetown, however, he was taken ashore dying, having fallen fatally ill in the course of his return voyage from England. His brother Pedro circulated the rumor that John Frederick had been poisoned lest he reveal the white men’s secrets to his countrymen. A long dispute ensued between the ship’s captain and the family which increased ill-feelings without shedding further light on the cause of Nemgbana’s death.

Writing about Nemgbana in September 1791, Mrs. Falconbridge gave the following description of his appearance and character:

His person is rather below the ordinary, inclining to grossness, his skin nearly jet-black, eyes keenly intelligent, nose flat, teeth unconnected and filed sharp after the custom of his country, his legs a little bandied, and his deportment easy, manly and confident withal. In his disposition he is surly, but has cunning enough to smother it, where he thinks his interest is concerned; he is pettish and implacable, but I think grateful and attached to those he considers his friends; nature has been bountiful in giving him a sound intellect, very capable of improvement, and he also possesses a great thirst for knowledge.

While with me, although it was seldom in my power, now and then I amused myself with teaching him the alphabet which he quickly learned and before we parted, could read any common print surprisingly well.

He is not wanting in discernment and has already discovered the weak side of his patrons which he strives to turn to good account and I dare say, by his natural subtlety, will in time advantage himself considerably by it.

Cyril P. Foray


Bibliography

The African Prince, pamphlet, London, circa 1792; Anna Maria Falconbridge, Narrative of Two Voyages to the River Sierra Leone, during the Years 1791-2-3, London, 1794; Christopher Fyfe, A History of Sierra Leone, London, 1962; A. H. Rose, “Prince Naimbana in England,” Sierra Leone Studies, June, 1957.


This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (In 20 Volumes). Volume Two: Sierra Leone-Zaire, Ed. L. H. Ofosu-Appiah. New York: Reference Publications Inc., 1979. All rights reserved.