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James Horton was born of Egboe (Igbo) parents on 1 June, 1835 at Gloucester, a small hill-side village in Sierra Leone, situated some six kilometers from Freetown. His father was rescued from slavery when his slaveship was captured by the British during its “middle passage” across the Atlantic to the plantations in the New World. He was settled in Sierra Leone in Gloucester, where he learnt carpentry and became converted to Christianity. He adopted the name Horton, after a British Christian Missionary (probably John Horton, the first English missionary to come to Sierra Leone in 1816), in consonance with the practice that was then current among new converts to Christianity. The name Horton was unknown as an African surname before this time.

James Horton attended the village school in Gloucester where he impressed his headmaster, the English missionary Rev. James Beale, with his brilliance and scholarship. Rev. James Beale later helped Horton to secure a place at the GMS Grammar School in Freetown where he spent four years acquiring the rudiments of many subjects in preparation for the erudition, profundity and scholarship which were to characterize his prolific writing in later life.

In 1853, Horton entered Fourah Bay Institution and was listed first in a class of seven students. William Davies had entered the Institution in 1850, and James Johnson, alias “Holy Johnson”, in 1854. Horton like Davies and Johnson, had entered the Institution to prepare himself for the ministry; but after two years there, he was chosen by the GMS to go abroad to study medicine.

He was registered to study medicine at King’s College, London in 1855. He was a hardworking student and was known to have been occupied with studies as much as fourteen hours a day. He was a distinguished student and won prizes in physiology, surgery and comparative anatomy. He obtained the diploma of M.R.C.S. of England and the L.M. in 1858 and was elected to the Associateship of the College. In later years, he became a corresponding member of the medical society of King’s College.

Horton served for 20 years as a surgeon-major in the Army during that time he encountered a discriminatory attitude against which he fought with all the subtlety and strength of his writings. In 1861, he wrote his classic letter to the war office, London, in which he set down his proposals for the establishment of a medical school in Sierra Leone to serve the whole West Africa.

He made a will for his residence, Horton Hall to form the nucleus of Horton’s College, Sierra Leone where 5 students (one at least must be Igbo) would be “educated or kept continually in the school gratuitously”. Unfortunately, this could not be realized; the trustees later sold Horton Hall and converted the proceeds of the sale into Horton Fund for the maintenance and support of the Diocesan Technical School of Freetown.

Although he lived for only 48 years, his lofty and many-sided achievements as an Army Surgeon, a prolific and erudite writer on political subjects and medicine, an enterprising banker in his retirement years and his crowded life made his span of life look like 84 years. He believed in himself, in his fellow Africans and in the indivisibility of Africa.

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