Meet Chief Sam: Gold Coast merchant who brought freed American slaves to Akyem

Meet Chief Sam: Gold Coast merchant who brought freed American slaves to Akyem

The historic figure and tale of Chief Alfred Sam is being celebrated, over 100 years after the merchant took to the United States a ship in order to entice African-Americans to return to Africa.

Chief Sam embarked on his ambitious project in 1913 having travelled to the United States and familiarised himself with the lot of the newly-freed men and women of the land and their descendants. reports that the merchant had a rather peculiar plan: He enticed prospects by stating that there were “diamonds lying on the ground after a rain, trees that produced bread, and sugar cane as large as stovepipes.”

His aim was to convince African-Americans to not only invest in his company but to also reject the colonisers and “live a life of freedom.”

So although he was a businessman looking to create a class of investors, he hoped he could do some good along the way.

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Chief Alfred Sam. Photo credit:
Source: Twitter

The merchant was born Alfred Charles Sam in the Gold Coast, modern-day Ghana, in 1880. Presently, the place Chief Sam would have called his hometown would be Appasu in the West Akim (Akyem) district in the Eastern region.

He claimed to acquire the title of Chief from his uncle, to honour the fact that he travelled to either the U.S. or the U.K. These days, the title is given in some parts of Africa to men of wealth.

Before becoming instrumental in the Back-to-Africa movement, Chief Sam rubber and other goods.

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In 1913, Sam began corresponding with Herbert Macaulay, a man described as the “Father of Nigerian Nationalism”. Sam then visited the U.S. and began organizing meetings in Oklahoma and throughout America in an attempt to convince African-Americans to purchase $25 worth of stock in his company, Akim Trading Company.

Seemingly a ploy to gain money, Sam was seen as a fraudster and later cleared by the U.S. government of trying to scheme others.

Rather, he proposed his intention was to boost trading between Africa and America by trading cocoa, coffee and mahogany.

In August 1914, the first round of travellers, 60 trained men and women, voyaged with Sam from Oklahoma. The group brought along agricultural tools, cement, flour, lime, lumber and household goods in hopes of establishing a settlement.

They arrived in Bathurst now Banjul, Gambia and Freetown, Sierra Leone in December 1914. They eventually reached their destination, Saltpond in January 1915.

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The settlers were filled with hope and received a gracious welcome at first. Ultimately, the local leaders in Akim stopped them from owning land.

Other difficulties such as official restrictions, shortage of materials and malaria dampened their spirit. Some experienced financial and physical problems and others felt misled by Sam’s promises and were disheartened.

In the end, some emigrated to Liberia and surrounding areas and others returned to Oklahoma.

In September 1915, Sam attempted to send a second group to Ghana. Nonetheless, his company collapsed with many of the future settlers losing their valuable possessions and savings.

Sources are divided on how and where Sam spent his last days. There are accounts of him either moving to the U.S. or Liberia.

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