Maryland Colony at Cape Palmas – 1842 

The 19th c. American newspapers in my archives contain a wealth of information on the history of both Liberia colony and sister colonies, created as from 1822, and the independent republic of Liberia, proclaimed on July 26, 1847.

Mitchell Map of Liberia colony 1839 No. 17. Source: No. 16. Map of Africa. Engraved to illustrate Mitchell’s School and Family Geography. Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1839, by S. Augustus Mitchell, in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of Connecticut.
Wikimedia Fred van der Kraaij Collection

One of the greatest treasures is an article on the colony of Maryland published in 1842, eight years after the first settlement of African-American colonists on Cape Palmas in 1834. Maryland Colony was situated south of the other American colonies such as Pennsylvania Colony, Mississippi Colony, Louisiana Colony, as shown by the Mitchell map of 1839 (above).

The article was originally published in Boston by the Christian Register and Boston Observer on May 21, 1842 and contains a long, detailed and extremely interesting account of a visit of this portion of the western coast of Africa by an unknown traveller. The contents of the article, the details and its diversity perfectly reflect its time and warrant sharing it with a larger public.

Christian Register and Boston Recorder, Boston, Saturday, May 21, 1842, Vol. XXI, No. 21. 
Christian Register and Boston Recorder, Boston, Saturday, May 21, 1842, Vol. XXI, No. 21, p. 4, columns 1-4 (heading ‘MISCELLANEOUS’) 

Maryland Colony (‘Maryland in Africa’) was a private colony of the Maryland State Colonization Society (an auxiliary of the American Colonization Society) from 1834 till 1854 when it became the independent Republic of Maryland before joining the independent and sovereign republic of Liberia in 1857.

An etching of Cape Palmas in 1853 – Source: Wikimedia
Detail of Maryland, Liberia in “Map of Liberia.” David C. McClellan, American Colonization Society, 1850. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.
Source: From Colony to Independence: Mid-19th Century Maps of Liberia
Maryland in Liberia. Source: Washington, D.C. : U.S. Senate, 1853 (Library of Congress)
Click here for a beautiful, very detailed enlarged version

NB The original text has been reproduced (below) unabridged and unedited – some words and expressions are nowadays considered inappropriate – and as published hence with typographical and linguistic errors.


The Settlement of the Maryland Colonization Society, at Cape Palmas, was the last which we visited on the western coast of Africa. This cape projects about three fourths of a mile into the sea, is 120 feet high, with an undulating surface on the top, not rocky, and apparently fertile. The edges on both sides, however, are covered with large rocks, and the inner part of the cape, which is occupied by the native village of Cape Town, is wholly of solid rock. This villages covers about two acres, and has 1,500 inhabitants. Back from the beach, towards the interior, there is a gradual rise of the ground, and the lofty forest trees have the same dark, rich, luxuriant foliage which is seen everywhere along the coast. The town, on the summit of the cape, in which there are the agency-house and other public buildings, is called Harper; while on a fine level spot of ground, half a mile or more from his point, is the town of Latrobe, extending to the sea on the southern side of the cape. These places bear the names of two distinguished citizens of Maryland, who were among the earliest, ablest, and most efficient friends of and advocates of African colonization. One of them has been called from the scenes of his earthly labors, leaving behind him a high reputation for benevolence and philanthropy; while the other, in the full vigor of manhood, is devoting the best energies of his gifted mind and his warm and generous heart to the advancement of that noble cause, which he so early espoused, and which owes so much of its success to his active and perservering  efforts for its promotion.   
The Maryland colony was founded with the avowed object of entirely freeing the State, from whence its emigrants come, from the evils of slavery; and, with this understanding, received a grant of $200,000 from the Legislature of Maryland. When we were there, it had been in operation three years, and contained 190 inhabitants. There were forty-seven farms, of five acres each, under cultivation; and besides having commenced a public model-farm of fifty acres, the colonists had made five miles of road in the interior, and prepared houses for the accommodation of 900 more emigrants. This colony was founded on the principle of the entire exclusion of ardent spirits; and all trade with the natives is in the hands of the colonial agent, and is carried on for the benefit of the colonial treasury. At Bassa Cove, besides the government store, a few individuals of standing and character are licensed to trade. The object of these restrictions is to check the rage for speculation, which, in the older settlements, has seriously retarded advancement in agriculture and the useful arts. It was also found, that some of the colonists who resided or traveled among the natives in the interior, for the purposes of trade, brought great discredit upon the colony, as well by the gross frauds which they practiced upon the ignorant natives, as by their too ready compliance with the corrupt and licentious habits of savage and barbarous life. Hence it had been thought advisable, in the more recent colonies, to confine the trade with the natives to the hands of a few honest and responsible men; while, at the same time, the colonists are able to obtain such articles as they wish, much cheaper than they could do, were the business of retailing in the hands of a large number of petty traders.
Another error, from which the older colonies have suffered, but against which that at Cape Palmas has been secured, was sending forth indiscriminately, as emigrants, all who were willing to go, without regard to age or sex, or ability by their own efforts to support themselves, and those dependent on them. It is a well-known fact, that on many plantations in the southern United States, not more than one third or one fourth of the slaves are, by their labor, a source of profits for their owners; the rest being either too old or too young to do much for their own support. Now it is obvious, at a single glance, that such a community, with a large proportion of women and children, would be but poorly fitted to act as pioneers in a new settlement, where, in addition to the trial of the constitution by sea-sickness and other exposures of the voyage, together with that of a change of climate, there is also much severe and trying labor demanding in clearing up the dense and lofty forest, in subduing and keeping in subjection the wild and rank luxuriance of the soil, and in erecting suitable dwellings , as well for themselves as for those who might come after them. It were, indeed, almost an act of cruelty, to subject either the aged and infirm, or weak and defenseless women, to such severe trials; while, on the other hand, it is a matter of policy, so far as preventing the increase of the colored race in our own country is concerned, to remove those who are of such an age as to add most rapidly to this class of our population. Children of such parents, too, if born in Africa, will be much better adapted to the peculiar climate of that country than those who even at an early age move thither. Hence it is, that at Monrovia, with a population of six or eight hundred inhabitants, there may now be seen a hundred healthy fine boys, children of the colonists, engaged in their evening gambols in the streets. 
In accordance with the views just stated, more than half of the adults in the colony at Cape Palmas when we were there, were strong able-bodied men. The result of this, together with the fact, that the colonists have devoted themselves entirely to agriculture and public improvements, to the neglect of trade, has been a thorough cultivation of the soil, and a degree of advancement and of solid prosperity, such as the most sanguine friends of the colony could, at its commencement, have hardly anticipated. And here the remark is obvious, that the more efficient, intelligent, and virtuous the founders of the first colony are, the sooner will it be prepared safely to receive all, of every class, who may wish to connect themselves with it. Nor can we too highly commend those planters at the South, who, in opposition alike to the weak and misguided zeal of one portion of their fellow-citizens, and the sensitive jealousy and headlong, overbearing rashness of another, are engaged in active and efficient efforts to educate their slaves, with a view to their becoming, in the end, useful, intelligent, and virtuous citizens of Africa. 
The fact, that a large and continually increasing proportion of those sent to Liberia, have been slaves, who were emancipated for this very purpose, has awakened extensively, at the South, a spirit of reflection and inquiry as to the whole subject of slavery; and at the same time, has opened a safe, kind, and efficient way of acting on the minds of slaveholders themselves. Thus, both directly and indirectly, have benevolent efforts in this cause done much to shed the lights of hope on the future prospect of the sons of bondage in our midst.

Many have given up all their slaves, to the value of thousands of dollars, and furnished them with the means of a comfortable settlement on the shores of Liberia; while at the same time it is, and long has been true, that greater numbers of emancipated slaves have been offered as emigrants than there have been means for transportation. The number of intelligent free people of color who have emigrated from the Southern States, has also been increasing for a few years past; and some of these, before removing there, have gone and examined for themselves the condition and prospects of the colony, and have then returned and taken out their family with them. Much pains has been taken to prejudice the minds of free people of color in our land against the plan of emigrating to Africa; and, in doing this, not only have frightful stories of death by starvation and disease been fabricated and widely circulated, but many more have been induced to believe that there is no place such as Liberia, and that those who are carried from this country are taken to some foreign land and sold as slaves. The groundless prejudices, however, are rapidly fleeing away before the light of truth; so that, in a recent expedition from Maryland to Cape Palmas, 150 free people of color offered themselves as emigrants; of whom, but 80 could then be furnished with the means of transportation. As colored persons at the South often holds stations of trust in stores and on plantations, and are thus trained to regular business habits, it is not strange that many of the most intelligent, wealthy, and useful of the colonists of Liberia, have come from the slaveholding South. 

The Maryland Society, at first, purchased at Cape Palmas, a territory of about twenty square miles, containing a native population of 3,000 or 4,000 souls. Two years afterwards, however, they held deeds from the natives of a tract of country, of from 600 to 800 square miles in extent, including the dominions of nine kings, who were bound to the colony by a league of offensive and defensive. This territory extends along both sides of the Cavalry river, from the ocean to the town of Netea, thirty miles from its mouth. This region of the country is said to be of inexhaustible fertility, beautiful in the extreme in appearance, and thickly peopled by a population on good terms with the colonists, and anxious to enter into treaties with them, for the purpose of having schools established among them, and enjoying the benefits of trade with the colony.  
Directly on the coast, in the vicinity of Cape Palmas, and within an extent of twenty miles, there is a native population of 25,000, all of one tribe and speaking the same language, while the arc of a circle extending fifty miles inland from the Cape, would embrace 60,000 or 70,000 natives, all of whom are desirous of the advantages of colonial trade, and the benefits of civilization and Christianity. The treaties made with the natives, secure to them free trade with the colony; protection from the incursions of surrounding tribes, freedom of the evils of the slave-trade , with the obligation on their part to furnish no supplies of rice or other provisions for slave-ships,; and to deliver up for punishment those of their own number, who may in any way be engaged in the slave-trade; and the establishment of schools among them, as soon as practicable. 
Efforts were made at an early period, by the colonial government, for the suppression of theft, and other vices which were prevalent among the natives. At first, the tribe to which the thieves belonged, were compelled to make restitution for stolen articles, but as difficulties arose for this course, King Freeman, the native chief in the immediate vicinity of the colony,  sent one of his headman to the United States, to see if all that what was told them with regard to America were true , and if so, to bring back with him a code of laws from the Maryland Society, for the government of his tribe. This messenger, with whom we met after his return, was a very shrewd and intelligent person. He was much pleased with his visit to our country, and as, on one occasion, he stood on the lofty monument which overlooks the city of Baltimore, gazing with astonishment on the dense and massive structures below, – on the ships and steamboats, which were speeding their way over the ocean, – the long train of cars, which, as if moved by some unseen spirit, were flying with wings of fire along their iron tracks,  and the thousand other mysterious results of human power, as aided by science and arts; – as all these mighty wonders broke in upon the darkness of his savage mind, he exclaimed, in the broken English which he used, ‘Man no make him; God make him.’ 

The code of law which he wished, was drawn up and explained to him, and though at first he objected to the law forbidding polygamy, on the ground that he had four wives, and that if he turned off part of them they must suffer from want of food, still, he at length approved of it, as a good law for those who were yet unmarried. On his return, these laws were approved by the king; and, as enforced by justices of the peace and constables, chosen both from the natives and the colonists, they have almost entirely suppressed, among his subjects, theft and other troublesome vices, to which they were formerly addicted. 

A brother of King Freeman, who came off with his majesty to visit our ship, was pointed out to me as a man of superior talents; and his high massive forehead, and large well-formed head, presented no unworthy model for the demonstrations of a phrenologist. At a single sitting, he learned the English alphabet, and in three weeks had read, and was familiar with, the code of laws referred to above, and thenceforth was constantly consulted by his tribe on all legal questions which arose among them.  Mr. Wilson, speaking of the condition of the mission schools under his care at the time we were in Africa, says, ‘We have now about 100 children under instruction. Their progress is most satisfactory. We should have a large adult class, if we were able to teach it, and although I have declined it for the present, I have been constrained, by the importunity of two men, to take them into my study. One of these, is the brother of King Freeman, and a very influential man with his people, and decidedly the most talented native I have ever known. The other is the man who recently visited Baltimore.  Of the former, I have high hopes of usefulness. His progress in learning, so far, is unequalled by any thing I have ever known, either in America or in Africa.’ The fact, that this man has since become an enlightened and consistent member of the Christian church, is one of much interest to the benevolent mind. 
King Freeman came off to visit our ship in a large war canoe, with the colonial flag flying, and attended by a number of his head men. He was much astonished, on beholding the big guns, and the drilling of the marines, though at the time, like other great men, he strove to conceal his emotions for fear of lowering his dignity, or of being thought ignorant of the wonders of the world. The colonial agent stated that afterward, when describing what he saw, the cold sweat stood on his brow, and as our ship was much larger than any he had seen before, it gave him greatly enlarged ideas of our national power and greatness. The effect of such an exhibition is to lead the native tribes to be anxious to enter into treaties of alliance with the colonists, as a means of protection, and for purposes of trade, and also, through fear of the consequences, to restrain them from violating such treaties as already exist. 
King Freeman is apparently about sixty years of age, of a tall, athletic form, and a sedate, but intelligent expression of countenance. He wore a hat, and, like other natives, had a strip of cloth about the loins. His otherwise naked body, was wrapped in a royal bode, which truly made him the admired of all the admirers. This was nothing else than a large and gorgeous calico bedquilt, in which bright scarlet was the prevailing color, and, considering the source from whence it came, he might well be proud of it; for the fair ladies of Baltimore, (and none are fairer,) had sent out this highly wrought and beautiful specimen of their handiwork, as a token of their esteem for his sable majesty, in having so kindly furnished an asylum and a resting-place, for the sons of bondage, who had gone forth from their midst. Still, as he gathered up it ample folds around him, and as it dropped from his shoulders, released now this hand and then the other to replace it, or was aided by his followers in supporting and adjusting it, it cannot be denied that his appearance was somewhat ludicrous. As his bare black legs were seen beneath this gaudy covering, his resemblance to a peacock was such as might readily suggest itself to the mind; nor were it strange, if the sailors, with their ready wit, and their love of fun, should suggest, that his Highness must have been either greatly in a hurry, or half seas over, when he rose in the morning, thus to mistake his bedclothes for his breeches. In the train of the king, was a specimen of female royalty, some sixteen years of age, and who, when wine was offered her, refused to taste of it, through fear of being poisoned, as this mode of disposing of obnoxious individuals is said to be quite common among the natives. 
Another visitor who honored us with his presence, was King War, who is at the head of a powerful tribe about forty miles in the interior. He wore over his shoulders a calico shawl, with broad alternate stripes of red and black. The motion of the ship made him sea-sick, and there may, too, have been some whisky in the case, and so, to refresh himself, he laid down on a blanket beside one of the guns, and took a nap. Alas for royalty !

John Brown Russworm, first black governor of Maryland in Africa
(illustration added, not included in the 1842 newspaper article)

The agent or Governor of the Maryland Colony, Mr. J.B. Russwurm, is a man of color, having, to judge from his complexion, bout equal proportions of white and black blood in his veins. He was educated at one of our northern colleges; and as at that time the efforts of the pretended friends of the colored race, rashly to force public opinion into the channel which they had marked out for it, had not, by their natural reaction, caused their rights and feelings to be less respected than before, he was treated with peculiar kindness and consideration, as well for his superior talents and acquirements, as well peculiarly modest, amiable, and gentlemanly manners and department. After completing his education, he was for a time editor of an abolition paper in the city of New York, until, perceiving the evil tendency of the doctrines he had taught, he openly abjured and denounced them in his paper, because a strong and decided friend of colonization, emigrated to Africa, married there, and for ten years had been the senior member of the first commercial house at Monrovia, when he was appointed to the office which he now holds. 

As both the natives and the colonists have been accustomed to regard white men with far more deference and respect than those of their own complexion, the policy of placing a colored man at the head of the colony was by some regarded as questionable; still, as it is expected that the colonists will in the end take care of themselves,  it has been thought that the sooner they are trained in habits of self-governance, the better.  A case of serious collision between the colonists and the natives had arisen, caused by the arrest and the imprisonment of one of the more aged natives, on the charge of theft. In this instance, however, the great personal influence of our missionary, Mr. Wilson, and the high veneration which the natives have for him, enabled him to restrain them from going to extremes. The colonists were thus taught a useful lesson, as to tempering energy with due discretion, in their efforts to subject to the restrains of law those untamed children of nature. 
Of the beneficial influence of the kind and judicious application of legal restraints to the natives and suppressing vice and crime among them, I have already spoken. They have also been excited to greatly increased exertion in the cultivation of the soil, from witnessing the success of the colonists, as also from the fact, that so convenient a market is opened as well for their cattle and other live stock, as for rice and other fruits of the earth. Their natural desire to obtain such articles of comfort or of luxury as they see in the possession of the colonists, also acts as a powerful stimulus to excite them to increased effort, that thus they may have the means of enjoying in some degree the blessings of civilized life. 

When we were at Cape Palmas, there were missionaries of the United States of four different religious denominations, stationed there. To each of these the Maryland Society has given several acres of land, and buildings had been erected for dwelling-houses and schools, at the expense of the respective societies by which the missionaries were sent out. Those of the American Board, occupied by Mr. Wilson, consisting of a large school-house and dormitory for the scholars, are near the sea, a short distance from the cape, and were in full view from our ship. Mr. and Mrs. Wilson were both from the southern states, and, from their knowledge of the habits and character of the colored race, were well fitted for their field of labor. They had at time about 100 children under their care, and six little native girls came on board our ship with them. In 1841, there was preaching at 6 stations: there were 23 church-members ; 125 in the schools, and 18 missionaries and assistants, including a physician and printer. Though their pupils were taken wild from the woods, yet Mrs. W. observed to me, that, by treating them with marked kindness and attention, she never failed strongly to attach them to her, and to bring them under her influence in the course of a single week. The whole expense of feeding and clothing these children, is about fifteen dollars a year each. They have a kind of police among themselves; so that, when one of them does wrong, he is speedily arrested by the proper officer, and brought to justice. To see a lady like Mrs. W., born to affluence, accustomed to move in the highest circles in one of our large cities, possessed of a handsome fortune,  and yet among savages in a sickly clinic, and far removed from all refined social intercourse of her early days, devoting her energies to the self-denying task of elevating the poor degraded African from the deep degradation of paganism, – to see such an one thus employed, presents in the strongest light the power of a Christian faith, in triumphing over the selfish tendencies of our nature, giving to woman’s loveliness an angel’s zeal, and sending her forth, as a ministering spirit,  on an errand of mercy to the lost and the perishing. – Rockwell’s Foreign Travel and Life at Sea.          

Source: Maryland Colony at Cape Palmas, in: Christian Register and Boston Recorder, Boston, Saturday, May 21, 1842, Vol. XXI, No. 21, p. 4, columns 1-4 (under the heading ‘MISCELLANEOUS’) 

Flag of the Republic of Maryland 1854-1857

Recommended reading:

From Colony to Independence: Mid-19th century maps of Liberia;
August 9, 2017; posted by Tim St. Onge (Library of Congress).

American Colonization Society (Wikipedia)

Maryland State Colonization Society (Wikipedia)

Republic of Maryland (Wikipedia)

Maryland in Liberia: Liberia History (Access Genealogy – A Free Genealogy Website)

Tracing the Travels of Maryland’s African-Americans (Maryland Center for History and Culture)

Liberia: Past and Present of Africa’s Oldest Republic

Posted in 1822, 1834, 1842, 1847, 1850, 1853, 1854, 1857, agriculture, American Colonization Society, Baltimore, Bassa Cove, Cape Palmas, Cavalry river, christianity, colonization, Harper, history, J.B. Russwurm, King Freeman, King War, Liberia Colony, Library of Congress, Louisiana Colony, Maryland Colony, Maryland in Africa, Maryland in Liberia, Maryland State Colonization Society, missionaries, Mississippi Colony, Mitchel map 1839, Pennsylvania Colony, Republic of Maryland, slaveholders, slavery, slaves, trade, United States, Wikimedia, Wikipedia | Leave a comment

The Colony of Liberia and the suppression of the slave trade

Whereas the colonization activities of the American Colonization Society (ACS) have been criticized at various places and various times, it is nonetheless fair to draw here attention to an important and at times successful activity: the suppression of the slave trade in and around the American colonies.

The founders and agents of the ACS had various motives to engage in activities related to the transfer of colored and black people, freed slaves and free-born black people, ‘back to to Africa’, which constituted the prime objective of the ACS. They had political, religious, altruistic, humanitarian, not to forget racial motives, notably the removal of non-white people from the United States. The growth of the non-white population exceeded in some states the growth of the white population creating the fear that the former may one day outnumber the latter. Notwithstanding the foregoing, even though it was not a stated objective of the ACS or the auxiliary colonization societies which were created in many states, the activities of the ACS to end the heinous slave trade were and still are very commendable.

The following articles relate to the fact that still around 1840 slave traders were still active in and around the colony of Liberia and other American colonies on Africa’s west coast. The first article is from a US newspaper, the Newark Daily Advertiser, dated April 28, 1840. It describes the suppression of the slave trade by the colonial authorities. In particular, it reports the seizure of various vessels engaged in slave trading activities, one with five hundred slaves on board (!), and the failed attempt to seize a large, open boat full of slaves between Marshall and Monrovia.

Source: Newark Daily Advertiser, April 28, 1840.
Source: Newark Daily Advertiser, April 28, 1840.

The second article is from another US newspaper, The National Gazette and Literary Register, published in Philadelphia and dated July 31, of the same year 1840. It also deals with the suppression of the slave trade in the colonies, this time not by chasing slave traders but by signing a treaty with local chiefs, some of whom were known to collaborate with slave traders.

The article contains the text a of a Treaty concluded between Governor Thomas Buchanan, of the Colony of Liberia, and several native Kings on April 6, 1840. The Kings Bromly, Brister, Peter, Willey and Mama Kenjie, as well as Governor Buchanan who signed the Treaty agreed that (a) there shall be perpetual peace between the Colony and the chiefs mentioned, and that (b) there shall be no slave trading within the jurisdiction of said chiefs, nor shall they have intercourse with those engaged in the Slave Trade.

The Treaty includes a few other agreements as well, as the following photo shows.

Source: The National Gazette and Literary Register, July 31, 1840

Whereas the main objective of the ACS, i.e. the transfer of African-Americans to the African continent, was not undisputed, and whereas the suppression of the slave trade was not a stated objective of the colonization society, it is nonetheless fair to draw attention to an important and at times successful activity: the fight against slave trading in and around the American colonies. It may be useful to remind the reader that between 1820 and 1840 various American colonies were created on what was then called the Pepper Coast or Grain Coast, as illustrated by the following map.

Mitchell Map of Liberia colony 1839, No. 17. 
Posted in 1839, 1840, colonization, Colony of Liberia, Governor Thomas Buchanan, history, slave trade, Treaty with tribal chiefs | Leave a comment

Another example showing the emigration of former slaves to Liberia in the 19th c. was not voluntary

In the 19th century, the American Colonization Society (ACS), a white-dominated private organization, financed and organized the transportation of nearly 13,000 African-Americans to the West Coast of Africa and their settlement on a coastal strip of land, with diplomatic, military, financial and logistical support of the US Government. In 1847, the American colonies thus created declared themselves independent. The Republic of Liberia was a reality.

On multiple occasions I have explained that, in many cases, the emigration of African-Americans, mostly former slaves, to Africa was far from voluntary. I supported this with historical documents. See e.g. my posts dated November 12, 2020, ‘Conditional manumission and emigration to Liberia‘, and December 13, 2020, ‘A letter from Edina (Liberia), dated May 2, 1838‘.

Unfortunately, there exists no historical overview and analysis of how many colonists were forced to leave the country where they were born and where they had grown up.

Below I offer another proof of the historic reality of forced emigration. The 19th c. African-American colonists to Africa have often been presented as courageous people who took their destiny into their own hands. In many cases they indeed were brave people, who courageously faced an uncertain future in an unknown land with no infrastructure, a harsh and humid tropical climate, deadly diseases and a hostile indigenous population. However, many of them had not opted voluntary for the new environment where they would spend the rest of their lives. It is significant that emigration of African-Americans from the United States to Liberia came to a virtual standstill after US President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 declaring that as from January 1, 1863 all persons held as slaves in the southern, rebellious states were free.

The 1844 newspaper ‘Public Leger’, published in Philadelphia, Penns., carries a short article in its May 7 edition on the voyage of 18 manumitted slaves to Africa.

They were manumitted by the last will of a Missouri slaveholder, Thomas Lindsay of St. Charles county, on condition of their emigrating to Liberia.

In the words of Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding Fathers of the United States, third president of the US, and a staunch supporter of the American Colonization Society: There is no place for two races in this country.’

Source: Public Ledger, Philadelphia, Tuesday, May 7, 1844, frontpage.
Posted in 1847, Abraham Lincoln, American Colonization Society, colonization, Emancipation Proclamation, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, The colonists, Thomas Jefferson, United States | Leave a comment

School in Paynesville, Greater Monrovia, expels Kindergarten pupil for alleged witchcraft

The following is a heartbreaking story. One of Liberia’s leading newspapers, the Daily Observer, on March 18, 2021 published an article, entitled ‘School Expels K-1 Pupil for Alleged Witchcraft’. To read the article click here.

The Paynesville school of the TYNECEPLOH Education Foundation
(source: Daily Observer, Liberia)

I was baffled. The administration of the TYNECEPLOH Education Foundation, which runs a school in Paynesville, in Greater Monrovia,  asked the parents of a six-year-old kindergarten pupil to stop sending her to the school. The reason? The child’s alleged involvement in witchcraft activities. My initial reaction was, and to a certain extent still is one of disbelief. Knowing Liberia, I am aware that among members of certain communities the belief in witchcraft still exists, even today, in 2021, in the 21st century. Many Liberians use a mobile telephone. Also, the use of internet is widespread in Liberia. Yet the belief in magical powers, superstition, witchcraft hasn’t disappeared. Superstition can only be eliminated from society through education and awareness, yet in this case those who are engaged in educational institutions show that they too believe in witchcraft.

I was struck and outraged for three reasons. First, parents entrust their children to teachers in schools and kindergartens because they expect that their children are thus protected by people who are well educated and trained, and qualified for their job. And yet these teachers and administrators disappoint us by believing in witchcraft, humiliating an innocent six-year old child by expelling her from school and making her an outcast in society!

Secondly, in any well functioning society there exists a system of checks and balances, institutions that watch and check on the respect of rules which we have agreed on as a society. In Liberia, the Ministry of Education is responsible for overseeing the activities of schools. Moreover, there is a Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection with a clear mandate. I woud have expected an immediate reaction of these two governmental institutions. Besides, the school is located near the residence of President Weah. Where are the authorities in Liberia when a six-year old child and her parents need them??

Last but not least, it is mind-boggling that responsible, adult people decide to insult, hurt, – I even call it torture – an innocent, small child that needs love, protection and guidance, and who should not be rejected, stigmatized, expelled from school, rejected by her friends and the society. Those who are responsible for this reprehensible, repulsive behavior should be brought before justice since what they have done is nothing less than a crime. I mention here the school’s principal and notably the proprietor of TYNECEPLOH Education Foundation, Napoleon Chattah.

On a national level, President Weah and/or the Legislature should immediately summon the Minister of Education, Prof Ansu D. Sonii, and the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, William-Etta Piso Saydee-Tarr, question them how this can happen, ask them whether this is an unique act and situation or if it happens more frequently in the country,  and instruct them to take all measures needed to avoid a repeat of this situation. 

Posted in Liberia | Leave a comment

‘Death of a Pioneer’ – 1857

I continue browsing through nineteenth century American newspapers with articles of varying length on the colonization of a strip of land on the shore of Western Africa and the subsequent creation of an independent state, Liberia. See my previous postings.

This morning I stumbled upon a short article which, at first sight, without a shadow of a doubt, would fall into the category ‘meaningless trivia’. However, after some reflection I decided to share it with you because of the afterthoughts that came with it.

In the Salem Gazette, a newspaper published in the city of the same name in Massachusetts, United States, dated August 4, 1857, I read that Joseph Blake had died.

Joseph Blake was one of the eighty-eight African-American emigrants who in 1820 sailed on the Elizabeth from New York to West Africa, heading for Sherbro country. The expedition had been organized by the American Colonization Society, with financial and military support of the US government (the Elizabeth was a public vessel of the United States). The colonization attempt was a disaster and within a period of three months, three of the four accompanying whites and 15 of the 88 colonists died. The settlement was abandoned and the surviving African-American settlers (‘pioneers’) sought refuge in the neighboring English colony of Sierra Leone before joining another group of African-American emigrants who successfully installed themselves at Cape Mesurado in 1822.

Joseph Blake had been a successful craftsman in Liberia which even enabled him, financially, to return to the United States when he became seriously ill. It was here that he met his untimely death.

Here follows the text of the article:

Quote:  Death of a Pioneer. One of the emigrants and perhaps the last surviving member of the first company of eighty-eight colored persons who sailed from New York, January 1, 1820, in the ship Elizabeth, to found a settlement on the shores of Western Africa,  died in this city yesterday. His name was Joseph Blake. He was, we believe, a native of Philadelphia, having, for several years prior to his embarkation, worked in one of the shipyards of Kensington, as a journeyman – shipcarpenter.
The same calling was followed by him in his adopted country – many of the trading craft of Liberia having been constructed by him or under his direction.  Being afflicted latterly with rheumatism, he made a visit to the United States, and arrived in this city in May,  where he sought and obtained relief to such an extent,  that he proposed returning home next fall, in company with a fellow Liberian. Strange to say, his death was mainly caused by exposure to the sun here, while there he had been exposed to its rays unharmed for over a third of a century.” 

The story of his life warrants three observations. First, just like in any group of emigrants, the group of eighty-eight African-Americans who left the country where they were born to settle in unknown territory (‘pioneers’) included energetic and enterprising men and women. Joseph Blake is just an example. Secondly, though maybe not very common, it was apparently not an exception for colonists to pay for a passage back to the United States, a country where they originated from but where they were considered (less than) second-class citizens (with no civil rights!). Thirdly, health conditions being precarious in the colony, later the republic of Liberia, if people could afford medical treatment abroad, they would travel to a place with better health facilities than existing in their own country.

Joseph Blake’s decision to seek medical treatment in the United States is basically not different from today’s politicians, businessmen, and other people who have the means to escape from Liberia’s poor health infrastructure and travel to overseas health clinics for medical treatment. That was one of the afterthoughts that came to my mind after reading the short article in the Salem Gazette, ‘Death of a Pioneer’.

To conclude, and to be honest with you, I don’t blame those who travel abroad for medical treatment. Those who are to be blamed are the politicians and managers who fail to create and sustain a well functioning, effective, inclusive and accessible-to-all health system while in a position to do so.

Source: Salem Gazette, August 4, 1857, Number 62, Death of a Pioneer, frontpage, column 7.

Posted in 1820, 1822, 1857, American Colonization Society, Cape Mesurado, Pioneers, Salem Gazette, Sherbro country, Sierra Leone, The Elizabeth, United States | Leave a comment

Liberia in 1901

I continue browsing through old American newspapers (see my previous posts). Today I found a remarkable article in a New York paper, the Watertown Reformer and Semi-Weekly Times of Wednesday, August 7, 1901.

The article is entitled Liberia’s Future and it deals with Liberia’s foreign relations, its economic prospects, its financial situation, and the state of the art with respect to immigration. The article starts as follows:

“London, August 3, (1901).
A number of officials of Liberia have arrived in England for the purpose of endeavoring to procure from Great Britain the right to navigate the Manna river, which separates Liberia from Sierra Leone. The delegation consists of Secretary of the Treasury Barclay, Chief Justice Roberts and senator King.”

Source: The Watertown Reformer and Semi-Weekly Times, Watertown, N.Y., Wednesday, August 7, 1901, Vol. 52, No. 2; Semi-Weekly Vol. 8, No.36, page 7.

I was struck, not only by the contents of the article, but most of all by the heading “The West African colony making good progress”. What?! The West African colony? Which colony? Whose colony? In 1901?! We’re talking about a newspaper article of 1901, more than 50 years after the founders of the first African republic declared Liberia an independent and sovereign state, in 1847. It was published by a New York newspaper, hence the qualification ‘West African colony’ can only refer to an American point of view.

Then, secondly, the article mentions in a succinct summary that the “European aggression is warded of” and “Keeping out of Germany’s Grasp”.

It is interesting to note what a Liberian delegation member, Barclay, said to reporters of the Associated Press: “Thanks to the firm stand of the United States and Great Britain we are not troubled by the European aggression, though, to tell the truth, we are rather afraid of Germany as she is so patiently on the lookout for colonies. However, I do not think she will get a chance to appropriate our country.”

The last quarter of the 19th century the existence of Liberia as an independent nation was more than once endangered. In the 1880s Great Britain successfully exerted pressure on Liberia to cede the Galinhas territory, between the Sherbro and Mano rivers. From then on the Mano river formed the boundary between Liberia and Sierra Leone. In 1879 France attempted to establish a protectorate over Liberia. In 1885, Spain attempted the same. Also in 1885, France made a second attempt to annex Liberia, followed in 1886 by Germany. In 1892, France annexed the territory east of Cape Palmas (formerly part of the independent republic of ‘Maryland in Africa’). Desperate, the Liberian government in 1893 asked the United States to establish a protectorate over the country. In vain, the US government declined the offer but undertook diplomatic action to protect its West African stepchild.

Seen against this background, the Watertown Reformer heading which calls Liberia ‘the West African colony’ sounds differently.

Loss of territory to France and Britain (copyright: Fred van der Kraaij)

After 1900:
In 1903 an Anglo-Liberian Boundary Treaty was signed, which precisely described the boundaries between Liberia and Sierra Leone. Still in 1904 England again tried to establish a protectorate over Liberia. And in 1907 the Liberian Government officially acknowledged the loss of about 2,000 square miles to France and accepted the Cavalla river as the official boundary between Liberia and the French colony of Ivory Coast. Ironically, as Liberian government officials who negotiated the Liberian-French boundary treaty ignored the fact that the official description of the flow of a river starts at its source downward to its mouth, they thought making a good deal while accepting the clause that the right bank of the Cavalla river formed the boundary between Liberia and the French colony of Ivory Coast. Hence, France gained authority over the entire river.

Posted in 1847, 1879, 1880s, 1885, 1886, 1892, 1893, 1901, 1903, 1904, 1907, Barclay, Cape Palmas, Cavalla River, economy, England, foreign relations, France, Galinhas territory, Germany, Great Britain, immigration, Ivory Coast, King, Manna river, Mano river, Maryland in Africa, protectorate, public finance, Roberts, Sherbro river, Sierra Leone, Spain, United States, West African Colony | Leave a comment

A letter from Edina (Liberia), dated May 2, 1838

The Christian Mirror (Portland, Maine), July 26, 1838

Emigration of former slaves and colored people to the west coast of Africa wasn’t always voluntary, as we have seen in preceding posts. This, however, doesn’t mean that African Americans who left the United States to settle on the other side of the Atlantic were unhappy or embittered. Far from that, in most cases. Few colonists returned to the United States. Most emigrants stayed in one of the American colonies where they had started a new life with better perspectives than what they had ‘back home’, in the United States where they were discriminated and/or held in bondage.

From letters which the settlers sent to their relatives who had stayed behind in the United States, or sometimes to their former ‘owners’, we learn that the new environment included many challenges. Two noteworthy books with letters from emigrants which I can recommend in this respect are Bell I. Wiley’s ‘Slaves No More. Letters from Liberia 1833-1869‘ (University Press of Kentucky, 1980) and ‘ “Dear Master”, Letters of a slave family‘ (Cornell University Press, Ithaca/London, 1978).

American 19th century newspapers contain many articles lauding the American Colonization Society which organized and financed the emigration of former slaves to one of the American colonies, with military, financial and diplomatic support of the US government. Some of these articles are in fact hardly disguised propaganda for a – also – much criticized effort to get rid of a group of undesired people.

However, I also find in some American newspapers letters from colonists who describe their improved status, and express their feelings of gratitude, as well as their happiness with their present situation. One of such letters I have reproduced here.

Map showing American colonies on the West Coast of Africa, Mitchell, 1839.

The letter was written by an African American colonist, James Moore, who had settled in Edina, in one of the American colonies created. From it we learn that he was an emigrant with considerable education; he may have been a former slave. The newspaper which contains his letter is ‘The Christian Mirror’ (published in Portland, Maine, one of the so-called ‘free states’ where slavery was not permitted), dated July 26, 1838, and cites from another newspaper, ‘The Washington Statesman’, hence south of the Mason-Dixon line.

The Christian Mirror presents James Moore’s letter, dated May 2, 1838, under the heading “News from Liberia”. It is not known to whom his letter was addressed. Presumably someone he knows well and holds in high esteem (maybe a former employer or slave-owner?).

It reads as follows (the text is reproduced as it appears in the newspaper):

“You may wish to know my situation, and how I like this part of the world, and if I wanted anything.
I answer the first – I am doing well: I am in the Medical Department ; my salary was five hundred dollars a year heretofore, and now is five hundred; I have two good houses and three lots; also, forty acres of land, ten of which are in culture – coffee, cotton, cassada, plantains, banaanas, beans, rice, yams, papaws, and melons, that you can tend or raise in the States; they grow all the year here. One acre of land is worth two in the United States. In a word, Sir, no man can starve here, that will work one-third of his time. It is a beautiful country indeed. I would not return to the States again to live , on any condition whatsoever, even if slavery was removed. But, sir, we are freemen here, and enjoy the rights of men.
What shall I say about want – why sometimes we want sugar and tea, also butter and meat. But time will remove all this. I have plenty of milk, and make butter; but there are a great many that have not cows and goats in abundance. Cloth and tobacco are acceptable here, and earthenware or crockery. I would be glad to get as much blue cloth as would make me a close bodies coat, as the article is scarce here. I will try to do what you requested me.
You would do well to send out some brandy to preserve such things as snakes, scorpions and many other things, as spirits are prohibited here, and hardly used among us, and cannot be bought for money. You need not be afraid to send it, by thinking it would bring trouble on me, for it is with and by the consent of Dr. Johnson that I am employed, and he will assist in choosing the plants for you – he is a smart man. I showed him your letter, and he offered his views on the subject. I would send you many things now, but your letter came to hand too late, and the ship arrived to-day and will sail to-morrow. I will write you by every ship that goes to America, for the time to come.
I have the satisfaction to inform you that this is a flourishing settlement indeed. The people thrive. All my children are well, and my wife has good health; the children are good English scholars. James is studying medicine with Dr. Johnson.
Yours, James Moore

Source: The Christian Mirror – July 26, 1838.
Posted in 1838, 1839, American Colonization Society, colonization, Edina, emigration, Maine, Mason-Dixon Line, Mitchell, The Christian Mirror, The Washington Statesman, United States | Leave a comment

The USA in the 19th century: a far from homogeneous country

It’s the year 1839. In the southern states of the United States of America (the ‘slave states’) hundreds of thousands of black people are kept in bondage. On slave markets in these southern states human beings are sold as slaves, individually or in a group, a family.

From: Daily National Intelligencer, Washington D.C., October 7, 1839.

Simultaneously, however, and increasingly, slaves run away from their ‘owners’, to the northern states, to the ‘free states’, where slavery had been outlawed.

On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, a couple of hundred freed slaves and free-born blacks who had left the United States in search for freedom, create the Commonwealth of Liberia, grouping three American colonies: Liberia, Bassa Cove and Mississippi in Africa (1839). 

In 1822, a first group of freed slaves and free-born blacks had been successful in creating a settlement on the west coast of Africa. Between 1822 and 1839 about a thousand colonists – desperate, optimistic, courageous – left the United States to start a new life in West Africa, hoping to realize a brighter future than what they could expect in the United States of America.

The African American colonists had gone to Africa under the umbrella of the American Colonization Society (ACS), created in 1816 by a group of wealthy and politically powerful white Americans who had various reasons to promote their emigration.   

The ACS members, supporters and sympathizers included abolitionists and slave-owners who wanted to remove freed slaves and free-born African Americans from a predominantly white Anglo-Saxon protestant (WASP) society where, according to the most radical among them, there was ‘no place for two races’. A more moderate group consisted of supporters of the Anti-Slavery Society.They wanted to send black and colored people ‘back to Africa’, where they would be free and have a better future. However, they underestimated the consequences of the fact that most ex-slaves who went to Liberia (‘repatriates’) had never seen Africa before. Another group of ACS members had religious motives to support the cause of colonization: to Christianize a continent (‘a dark continent’) inhabited by people considered to be savages and heathens. 

As stated above, the Unites States were far from united. In the ‘free states’ slavery was outlawed, in the ‘slave states’ slavery existed. In 1807 the US government had enacted a law prohibiting the importation of slaves but this had not ended slavery in the country nor had it outlawed the sale of slaves within the United States. Moreover, illegal slave traders continued the importation of slaves into the US. 

So, on the one hand a private organization (the ACS), financially and military supported by the US government, organized and funded the removal (emigration) of black people, whereas on the other hand slave-owners continued to hold slaves and slave traders continued importing new slaves. Runaway slaves from below the Mason-Dixon line, Mseparating the free states from the slave states, would try to escape to one of the northern states where they would be free.

In southern states, newspaper advertisements announcing a reward for capturing and bringing back runaway slaves were very common, with rewards varying from twenty to fifty sometimes one hundred dollars or more as the illustrations below illustrate. Eventually, the conflicting views and opposing interests between the southern and northern states turned out to be a crucial factor in the start of the American civil war (1861-1865).  

From: Daily National Intelligencer, Washington D.C., October 7, 1839.
From: Daily National Intelligencer, Washington D.C., October 7, 1839.

After the end of the civil war, which also brought to an end the inhuman system of slavery in the United States, emigration of African Americans to Liberia virtually came to a standstill. However, the freeing of hundreds of thousands slaves revealed another huge problem in American society: the racial discrimination of one group by another.

But that’s another story.

Posted in 1807, 1822, 1839, 1861, 1865, abolitionist, ACS, Africa, African-Americans, American Colonization Society, Anti-Slavery Society, Bassa Cove, colonization, Commonwealth of Liberia, discrimination, emigration, free-born, freed slaves, Liberia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mason-Dixon Line, Mississippi, Mississippi in Africa, Pennsylvania, repatriates, reward, runaway, slaves, United States, United States of America, Washington DC, WASP, West Africa | Leave a comment

Conditional manumission and emigration to Liberia

Both on my website ‘Liberia: Past and Present of Africa’s Oldest Republic‘ and on this blog I have paid attention to the (in)voluntary character of the emigration of African-Americans to the colony of Liberia in the 19th century. See the articles ‘How voluntary was the ‘return’ to Africa of people of color and freed slaves‘ and ‘A trip back in history: The United States, 1851, The arrest of a fugitive slave‘ (posted on February 28, 2019).

The other day, when browsing through a pile of old, 19th century American newspapers containing news about the recently created colony of Liberia, I came across another article that I like sharing with you.

A slave owner in the State of Virginia, Johnson Cleaveland, decided that after his death his slaves would be set free on condition that they emigrate to Liberia. I have always questioned the altruism of slave owners who wished to show their humanity by liberating their slaves after passing away – hence after enjoying a luxurious life based on the involuntary, free labour of human beings bought from people as unscrupulous as they were, and who had been responsible for the kidnapping, shipping and enslaving of innocent people, men, women and children.

As you can read in this newspaper clipping from the New York Transcript, dated September 13, 1834, Johnson Cleaveland’s slaves were given two years to decide. Should they decline the ‘offer’ the inevitable alternative meant that they would continue their enslaved existence since their ‘owner’ had stipulated in his will that they then had to make a choice of their new ‘owners’ amongst any of his relatives. After all, in 1834 slavery was common and legal notably in the southern states.

Source: New York Transcript, September 13, 1834, p.3

History does not tell us what eventually happened with the slaves, whether they emigrated to Liberia or stayed in the United States – and under which conditions. However, the article clearly shows that the emigration of African-Americans to Liberia was not always voluntary. The seal of the independent republic of Liberia which the colonists created in 1847 expressed their feelings and what brought them to Africa’s shores: the love of liberty.

Posted in 1834, African-Americans, colonization, emigration, manumission, repatriates, United States, Virginia | Leave a comment

Liberia at 172 – Happy July 26 to you all!



Posted in 'July 26', Liberia | Leave a comment