It has its origins in the Fourah Bay College, which was established as an Anglican missionary school by the Church Missionary Society with support from Charles MacCarthy, the governor of Sierra Leone. Samuel Ajayi Crowther was the first student to enroll at Fouray Bay. Fourah Bay College soon became a magnet for Krio and other Africans seeking higher education in British West Africa. These included Nigerians, Ghanaians, Ivorians and many more, especially in the fields of theology and education. It was the first western-style university in West Africa. Under colonialism, Freetown was known as "the Athens of West Africa" as an homage to the college.
- "Best universities in Africa". Times Higher Education (THE). 2020-10-01. Retrieved 2020-12-14.
- Kopytoff, Jean Herskovits. A Preface to Modern Nigeria: The "Sierra Leonians" in Yoruba, 1830–1890. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 35.
- Paracka Jr., Daniel J. The Athens of West Africa: A History of International Education at Fourah Bay College, Freetown, Sierra Leone. p. Introduction. ISBN 9781135935993.