In recent years scholars have shown considerable interest in the early use of photography by non-Western peoples. Research on nineteenth-century Indian, Japanese and Chinese photography has revealed a rich synthesis of European and Asian imagery. These early photographs show how non-Western peoples created new forms of artistic expression by adapting European technology and visual idioms for their own purposes. Because of the long history of contact between Sierra Leoneans and Europeans, Freetown seemed a logical starting point for similar photographic research in West Africa. The information presented here is based on ten years of searching for nineteenth-century photographs made by Sierra Leonean photographers. To locate these pictures, I have visited Freetonians and viewed their family portraits and photograph albums, interviewed contemporary photographers throughout Sierra Leone, and researched in the various colonial archives in England to locate photographs preserved from the period of colonial rule. I have discovered that a community of African photographers has worked in the city of Freetown since the very invention of photography. The article reviews the first phase of this unique photographic tradition, 1850–1918, and focuses on several of the African photographers who worked in Freetown during this period.