Refugees on levee, April 17, 1897, photo by Carroll's Art Gallery

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Liberia

Joseph Jenkins Roberts (1809-1876), a wealthy Monrovia merchant who had emigrated in 1829 from Petersburg, Virginia, became the first black ACS governor of Liberia in 1841. In 1848, he was elected the first president of an independent Liberia. He achieved international recognition for the new country before leaving the presidency in 1856. After many years as president of Liberia College, Roberts again served as Liberian president from 1872-1876. Jane Waring Roberts, (b. 1818), the daughter of a Baptist minister who came to Liberia in 1824, became Roberts's second wife in 1836.

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  • Jane Roberts, ca. 1855 Rufus Anson Daguerreotype Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (10b)

  • Joseph Jenkins Roberts, ca. 1855 Rufus Anson Daguerreotype Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (10a)

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Beginnings of the American Colonization Society

President Roberts Seeks American Support

In this 1849 letter, President Joseph Jenkins Roberts of Liberia appeals to the government and people of the United States for aid in purchasing the territory of Gallinas, enabling Liberia to control the West-African coast from Sierra Leone to Cape Palmas. As incentive, Roberts boasts of the eradication of the slave trade in territories recently acquired by Liberia and points out that adding Gallinas would enable the republic to keep the whole coast "free from the demoralizing and wilting influence of the Slave trade."

[Letter from President Joseph Jenkins Roberts of Liberia], May 19, 1849 Holograph American Colonization Society Papers Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (11)

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American Architectural Influence in Liberia

In many respects, emigrants to Liberia re-created an American society there. The colonists spoke English and retained American manners, dress, and housing styles. Affluent citizens constructed two-story houses composed of a stone basement and a wood-framed body with a portico on both the front and rear, a style copied from buildings in the southern American states from which most of the emigrants came. Liberia's president lived in a handsome stone mansion that resembled a southern plantation house.

"President Roberts's House, Monrovia" Philadelphia: Wagner & McGuigan's, ca. 1850 Lithograph Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (12)

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Liberian Currency

Like the United States, Liberia used dollars and cents as its units of currency. Reflecting the many inhabitants engaged in agriculture, early Liberian currency pictured farmers and farm animals. Later currency included a ship and palm trees like those on the national seal. During the 1830s, the Maryland Colonization Society, which had broken away from the ACS, ran its own colony call "Maryland in Liberia" and issued its own currency. The colony joined the Republic of Liberia in 1857.

[Liberian currency from the 1830s to the 1880s] Currency American Colonization Society Papers Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (13)

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Mission at Cape Palmas

Cape Palmas, founded in 1834, was the original settlement of the Maryland Colonization Society, which purchased the peninsula with muskets, powder, cloth, pots, beads, and other items of trade. The peninsula became the site of three missions, established to Christianize and civilize the native Africans. Known as "Mount Vaughan," the Episcopal mission educated many members of Liberia's indigenous tribes.

'Protestant Episcopal Mission, Cape Palmas, West Africa,' ca. 1850s Woodcut Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (14)

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Grand Bass[u]a Settlements

Fishtown was a settlement in the Grand Bass[u]a area of Liberia, south of Monrovia, near the St. John's River. In June 1835, one of the bloodiest episodes in early Liberian history occurred at the nearby Grand Bass[u]a settlement, where unarmed African-American settlers were massacred by native Africans upset by disruption of the local slave trade. A month later, militiamen from Monrovia attacked the area's African villages. A treaty in November 1835 bound African King Joe Harris to submit future disputes to the colonial authorities at Monrovia and to pay for property destroyed in the massacre.

'Fish Town at Bassua, Liberia' Watercolor Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (15)

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Settlement of Recaptured Slaves in Liberia

Congress made the importation of slaves into the United States illegal in 1808. In 1819, Congress passed an "Act in addition to the acts prohibiting the Slave Trade." This act authorized the president to send a naval squadron to African waters to apprehend illegal slave traders and appropriated $100,000 to resettle recaptured slaves in Africa. At various times, the ACS entered into agreements with the U.S. government to settle these rescued victims of the slave trade in Liberia. By 1867, more than 5,700 people had come to Liberia under this program.

[Agreement to take recaptured slaves to Liberia], 1860 American Colonization Society Papers Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (16)

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