The written history of Sierra Leone began in 1462, when the Portuguese explorer Pedro da Cintra landed and named the country. Europeans used the land as a source for slaves, but in 1787 Freetown was established as a haven for former slaves who had been living in London.
In 1808, Sierra Leone became a British Crown Colony, which it remained until halfway through the 20th century, when the process of de-colonization was commenced. This culminated in independence on April 27, 1961. Sir Milton Margai (1895-1964) was the first prime minister.
Sierra Leone became a one-party state in the early 1970s. The country suffered a civil war beginning in 1991, with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), led by Foday Sankoh, attacking government soldiers and civilians indiscriminately (Sierra Leone Civil War). This resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and the displacement of more than 2 million people (well over one-third of the population) many of whom became refugees in neighboring countries. A military coup on May 25, 1997 briefly replaced then President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah with Major Johnny Paul Koromah. Kabbah was reinstated in March 1998 after the junta was ousted by the Nigerian-led ECOMOG forces.
The Lomé Peace Accord, signed on July 7, 1999 in Lomé, Togo offered hope that the country would be able to terminate the period of civil chaos that had engulfed it, and rebuild its devastated economy and infrastructure. As of late 1999, up to 6,000 UNAMSIL peacekeepers were in the process of deploying to bolster the peace accord.
In May 2000, the situation in the country deteriorated to such an extent that British troops were deployed in Operation Palliser to evacuate foreign nationals and establish order. They stabilized the situation, and were the catalyst for a ceasefire and ending of the civil war. United Nations peacekeeping forces withdrew at the end of 2005.