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Land distribution is considered to be one of the main contributors to inequality in pre‐industrial societies. This article contributes to the debate on the origins of economic inequality in pre‐industrial African societies by studying land inequality at a particularly early stage of African economic history. The research examines land distribution and inequality in land ownership among settlers in the Colony of Sierra Leone for three benchmark years over the first 40 years of its existence. The findings show that land inequality was low at the founding of the Colony but increased substantially over time. We suggest that this increase was enabled by a shift in the type of egalitarianism pursued by the colonial authorities, which was reflected in a change in the redistributive policy applied, which allowed later settlers to appropriate land more freely than had been previously possible.