Libreville: Why the Name?

Libreville today
Libreville today, 2012

Two capitals in Africa share the same name: Freetown in Sierra Leone, and Libreville in Gabon; one in English, the other in French.  I always knew that Freetown was named the way it was because it was a city founded in 1792 by freed African American Slaves also called Nova Scotian who had fought on the side of the British during the American Revolutionary war.  The land was named Freetown as a land for freed slaves.

Libreville in 1846
Libreville in 1846

But why on earth is Libreville named free town?  Since, there were apparently no freed slaves returning from the colonies, or running away from slavery?  I recently found out that the story of Libreville is very similar to that of Freetown, as it does involve slaves!  Yes… that’s right!  In the old days, i.e. prior to French occupation (the French acquired land there in 1839), the area that is today Libreville was inhabited by the Mpongwé people since the 11th century.  In 1846, l’Elizia, a slave ship en route for Brazil, carrying slaves for sale was captured by the French navy near Loango, offshore from the Mbongwé’s kingdom.  260 negroes were thus freed and taken to the Island of Gorée in Senegal in 1846.  After an intervention from Paris, 30 – 50 of these slaves will return to Gabon, where the French governor Bouët-Willaumez will take advantage of this, and found Libreville (French for ‘free town’ or ‘free city’) in 1849, in close proximity to Fort d’Aumale, where the French navy was installed to “fight” against slavery.  The small town, Libreville, was then organized as a “French christian village” around 5 places: the Mpongwé’s place, the freedom place, the Bakélé place, the Pahué place, and the Bulu place, after the main tribes in the area at the time.

6 thoughts on “Libreville: Why the Name?

  1. That is so interesting how there are two “free towns” as capital cities in Africa. Libreville also sounds like a town in Illinois called Libertyville which is a wealthy suburb North of Chicago.


    1. Oh wow… yes Libertyville is a similar name ‘free town’. Where does the name of the town come from? did it have something to do with the Underground Railroad? Was it a stop toward freedom?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know, right? It’s crazy how similar the names are. I didn’t know where it came from until I looked it up online. Apparently, the town was founded on the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, so the founders wanted a name to reflect that feeling. The original name was Independence Grove which eventually became a name of one of the parks there. It has nothing to do with the Underground Railroad or anything involving emancipation. The fact that it is totally not a diverse town at all kind of shows that. When I lived there briefly during my teen years due to my dad’s job, I was one of the few melanated people in the whole town unlike where I lived before.


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