Africanus Horton – The Sierra Leonean who has a crater on Mercury named after him, and the “Father of modern African political thought”

Many Sierra Leoneans and black people are unaware of the massive exploits of Africanus Horton. Therefore, in an observatory position of Black History Month, the African Dream is unearthing the valiant and applaudable accounts of our heroes and heroines across the globe.

James Beale Horton was a Krio African nationalist writer, a highly revered medical surgeon, scientist, soldier, and perceived by many to be the “father of modern African political thought”. He is the first black man to study in a Scottish university.

Horton grew up in the quiet village of Gloucester, situated outside Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital. Born in 1835, his father James Horton Sr was of Igbo ancestry and had located in Gloucester as a liberated slave. Horton began his studies at a local school in Gloucester. In 1845, Horton was recruited by Reverend James Beale to attend the CMS Grammar School. Dipped in admiration of the work of the clergy, he enrolled at Fourah Bay College to study divinity in a bid to become a clergyman.

However, in 1855, Horton received a British war office scholarship to study medicine in Great Britain. Thereafter, he became a student at King’s College London and Edinburgh University, gaining merited qualifications to become a certified medical doctor in 1859. By 1858, he was an associate of King’s College. The name “Africanus” was acquired by Horton to rubberstamp his African heritage and representation.

Following his studies, Africanus Horton was commissioned as an officer in the British Army, eventually assigned as a staff assistant surgeon. This appointment made him one of the earliest Africans who were notable in the rank and file of the British Army. He returned to Sierra Leone and was immediately posted to serve in Ghana at the West India Regiment. Africanus Horton, during his service to the army, was posted to different locations within the British colony.

Africanus Horton made significant research on medicine and botany which he publicized. But, he is best known for his political writings and literary arguments against the racial Eurocentric perspective during his time. His books The Political Economy Of British West Africa: With the Requirements of  Several Colonies and Settlements (1865) and West African Countries and Peoples (1868), were a bold response to the misleading claims of some European Anthropologists that Africans were inferior in thoughts and physical stature, and that there are no possibilities for their development. In contrast, Horton argued that all races have the capacity to acquire knowledge about anything, including complex civilizations. Record has it that Horton was the first modern African political thinker to publicly anticipate self-government for West African colonies. He also supported the ideology of “African Nationalism”.

As a medical professional, Horton was one of the earliest West Africans to demand the construction of a medical school within the region. Around 1861, he sent a letter to the War Office in London, stressing the need to have a tropical medical school in the region.

Having to retire from the military at the age of 40, Africanus Horton finally settled in Freetown, staying critical of national and political issues. He also focused his attention on commerce, setting up the Commercial Bank of West Africa. Furthermore, he became involved in business activities and investments in gold mining. Consequently, this was enough to make him one of the wealthiest people in Africa. He died in 1883.

In 1976, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) named a crater on Mercury in honour of Africanus Horton.

Author: Delvid Stanley-Coker

Delvid Stanley-Coker is a dedicated writer and editor for The African Dream. His passion and desire to publicize the appreciable department of Africa and voice out the prevalent ills of society have adequately contributed to the promulgation of stories of different sorts. Email: WhatsApp: +23276737886 Facebook: Delvid Stanley-Coker.