Negro House at Sierra Leone, from an 18th Century engraving
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Historical Lessons

Priscilla's Homecoming will have a lasting impact in both Sierra Leone and the US. The earlier homecomings resulted in documentary films called "Family Across the Sea" and "The Language You Cry In" which were broadcast on television in both countries. A new documentary, called "Priscilla's Homecoming," will be produced by filmmaker Jacque Metz from Charleston and anthropologist Joseph Opala. The film will chronicle Thomalind's journey from South Carolina to Sierra Leone and her visit to Rhode Island after her return to the US, showing the scholarly detective work that made these remarkable events possible. The New York Historical Society, which owns the Hare's records, is also planning a traveling exhibit on Priscilla and the voyage of the Hare.

Priscilla's Homecoming will show what millions of Africans endured on the Middle Passage, but it will provide other valuable lessons as well. Sierra Leoneans will learn that their country — which they already know has close links to South Carolina and Georgia — is also connected to America's Northern colonies, particularly Rhode Island. Americans, for their part, will learn that the moral burden of slavery does not fall on the South alone, but also the North. Newport was not just another seaport where slave ships departed, it was the principal slave trading port in North America, sending hundreds of voyages to Africa, voyages that contributed to the fortunes of many Northern merchants.

Treaty of Paris
American Negotiators, Treaty of Paris (1783)

Credit: The Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library

Priscilla's story also shows slavery's powerful influence on American history. The merchants, North and South, who sold Priscilla into slavery not only became rich, they also became politically powerful. William Vernon, one of the Rhode Islanders who owned the Hare, would later attain a high position in government. Vernon is credited with building the Continental Navy during the Revolutionary War. Henry Laurens, the South Carolina slave trader who sold Priscilla, went even farther in politics. Laurens became President of the Continental Congress and was later appointed one of the four American Peace Commissioners who negotiated US Independence under the Treaty of Paris. The other three were John Adams, John Jay, and Benjamin Franklin.

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