President J.J. Roberts
(1848-55; 1872-74)

Joseph Jenkins Roberts (1809-1876) was born in Virginia, U.S.A. His parents were poor. He came to Liberia in 1829. Roberts soon became a prosperous trader and also engaged in politics. After the creation of the Commonwealth of Liberia, in 1838, he became Vice-Governor. In 1841 Governor Thomas Buchanan, a cousin of the President of the USA, James Buchanan, died and was succeeded by J.J. Roberts. It was the first time that the colony was not governed by a white agent of the American Colonization Society - its legal owner  - but by a colonist. Although Roberts was a colonist, "he was not really black; he was an octoroon and could have easily passed for a white man", as Aboyomi Karnga, one of Liberia’s best-known historians reported. 

When in 1847 the Independent Republic of Liberia was created, J.J. Roberts became its First President. He served several terms from 1848 till 1855. After the deposition of the country’s first ‘black’ president,
E.J.Roye (in 1871) he was again elected and served another term. It is very likely that the ‘colour conflict’ which separated the leading mulattoes from the large majority of colonists of darker complexion had much to do with the animosity between Roberts and Roye.


Sources used :

  • Banks, A. Doris - Henries, ‘Presidents of the First African Republic’ (London, 1963); 
  • Karnga, Abaoymi, ‘History of Liberia’ (Liverpool, 1926); 
  • Kraaij, van der, Fred P.M., ‘The Open Door Policy of Liberia – An Economic History of Modern Liberia’ (Bremen, 1983).