George W. Williams.

History of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Vol 1 Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens online

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Online LibraryGeorge W. WilliamsHistory of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Vol 1 Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens → online text (page 12 of 57)
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praise him, and the remainder thereof he will restrain." Through these
numerous languages, poor benighted Africa will yet hear the gospel.

Some years ago Dr. Ferguson, who was once governor of the Sierra Leone
colony, and himself a colored man, wrote and an extended account of
the situation there, which was widely circulated in England and
America at the time. It is so manifestly just and temperate in tone,
so graphic and minute in description, that we reproduce it _in
extenso_: -

"1. Those most recently arrived are to be found occupying
mud houses and small patches of ground in the neighborhood
of one or other of the villages (the villages are about
twenty in number, placed in different parts of the colony,
grouped in three classes or districts; names, mountain,
river, and sea districts.) The majority remain in their
locations as agriculturists; but several go to reside in the
neighborhood of Freetown, looking out for work as laborers,
farm-servants, servant to carry wood and water, grooms,
house-servants, etc.; others cultivate vegetables, rear
poultry and pigs, and supply eggs, for the Sierra Leone
market. Great numbers are found offering for sale in the
public market and elsewhere a vast quantity of cooked edible
substances - rice, corn and cassava cakes; heterogeneous
compounds of rice and corn-flower, yams, cassava, palm-oil,
pepper, pieces of beef, mucilaginous vegetables, etc.,
etc., under names quite unintelligible to a stranger, such
as _aagedee_, _aballa_, _akalaray_, _cabona_, etc., etc.,
cries which are shouted along the streets of Freetown from
morn till night. These, the lowest grade of liberated
Africans, are a harmless and well-disposed people; there is
no poverty among them, nor begging; their habits are frugal
and industrious; their anxiety to possess money is
remarkable: but their energies are allowed to run riot and
be wasted from the want of knowledge requisite to direct
them in proper channels.

"2. Persons of grade higher than those last described are to
be found occupying frame houses: they drive a petty trade in
the market, where they expose for sale nails, fish-hooks,
door-hinges, tape, thread, ribbons, needles, pins, etc. Many
of this grade also look out for the arrival of canoes from
the country laden with oranges, _kolas_, sheep, bullocks,
fowls, rice, etc., purchase the whole cargo at once at the
water-side, and derive considerable profit from selling such
articles by retail in the market and over the town. Many of
this grade are also occupied in curing and drying fish, an
article which always sells well in the market, and is in
great request by people at a distance from the water-side,
and in the interior of the country. A vast number of this
grade are tailors, straw-hat makers, shoemakers, cobblers,
blacksmiths, carpenters, masons, etc. Respectable men of
this grade meet with ready mercantile credits amounting from
twenty pounds to sixty pounds; and the class is very

"3. Persons of grade higher than that last mentioned are
found occupying frame houses reared on a stone foundation of
from six to ten feet in height. These houses are very
comfortable; they are painted outside and in; have piazzas
in front and rear, and many of them all round; a
considerable sprinkling of mahogany furniture of European
workmanship is to be found in them; several books are to be
seen lying about, chiefly of a religious character; and a
general air of domestic comfort pervades the whole, which,
perhaps more than any thing else, bears evidence of the
advanced state of intelligence at which they have arrived.
This grade is nearly altogether occupied in shopkeeping,
hawking, and other mercantile pursuits. At sales of prize
goods, public auctions, and every other place affording a
probability of cheap bargains, they are to be seen in great
numbers, where they club together in numbers of from three
to six, seven, or more, to purchase large lots or unbroken
bales. And the scrupulous honesty with which the subdivision
of the goods is afterwards made cannot be evidenced more
thoroughly than this: that, common as such transactions are,
they have never yet been known to become the subject of
controversy or litigation. The principal streets of
Freetown, as well as the approaches to the town, are lined
on each side by an almost continuous range of booths and
stalls, among which almost every article of merchandise is
offered for sale, and very commonly at a cheaper rate than
similar articles are sold in the shops of the merchants.

"Two rates of profit are recognized in the mercantile
transactions of the European merchants; namely, a wholesale
and retail profit, the former varying from thirty to fifty
per cent, the latter from fifty to one hundred per cent. The
working of the retail trade in the hands of Europeans
requires a considerable outlay in the shape of shop-rent,
shopkeepers' and clerks' wages, etc. The liberated Africans
were not slow in observing nor in seizing on the advantages
which their peculiar position held out for the successful
prosecution of the retail trade.

"Clubbing together, as before observed, and holding ready
money in their hands the merchants are naturally anxious to
execute for them considerable orders on such unexceptionable
terms of payment while, on the other hand, the liberated
Africans, seeing clearly their advantage, insist most
pertinaciously on the lowest possible percentage of
wholesale profit.

"Having thus become possessed of the goods at the lowest
possible ready-money rate, then subsequent transactions are
not closed with the expense of shop-rents, shopkeepers' and
clerks' wages and subsistence, etc., etc., expenses
unavoidable to Europeans. They are therefore enabled at once
to undersell the European retail merchants, and to secure a
handsome profit to themselves; a consummation the more
easily attained, aided as it is by the extreme simplicity
and abstemiousness of their mode of living, which contrast
so favorably for them with the expensive and almost
necessary luxuries of European life. Many of this grade
possess huge canoes, with which they trade in the upper part
of the river, along shore, and in the neighbouring rivers,
bringing down rice, palm-oil, cam-wood, ivory, hides, etc.,
etc., in exchange for British manufactures. They are all in
easy circumstances, readily obtaining mercantile credits
from sixty pounds to two hundred pounds. Persons of this and
the grade next to be mentioned evince great anxiety to
become possessed of houses and lots in old Freetown. These
lots are desirable because of their proximity to the
market-place and the great thoroughfares, and also for the
superior advantages which they allow for the establishment
of their darling object, - 'a retail store.' Property of this
description has of late years become much enhanced in value,
and its value is still increasing solely from the annually
increasing numbers and prosperity of this and the next
grade. The town-lots originally granted to the Nova-Scotian
settlers and the Maroons are, year after year, being offered
for sale by public auction, and in every case liberated
Africans are the purchasers. A striking instance of their
desire to possess property of this description, and of its
increasing value, came under my immediate notice a few
months ago.

"The gentlemen of the Church Missionary Society having been
for some time looking about in quest of a lot on which to
erect a new chapel, a lot suitable for the purpose was at
length offered for sale by public auction, and at a meeting
of the society's local committee, it was resolved, in order
to secure the purchase of the property in question, to offer
as high as sixty pounds. The clergyman delegated for this
purpose, at my recommendation, resolved, on his own
responsibility, to offer, if necessary, as high as seventy
pounds; but to the surprise and mortification of us all, the
lot was knocked down at upward of ninety pounds, and a
liberated African was the purchaser. He stated very kindly
that if he had known the society were desirous of purchasing
the lot he would not have opposed them; he nevertheless
manifested no desire of transferring to them the purchase,
and even refused an advance of ten pounds on his bargain.

"4. Persons of the highest grade of liberated Africans
occupy comfortable two story stone houses, enclosed all
round with spacious piazzas. These houses are their own
property and are built from the proceeds of their own
industry. In several of them are to be seen mahogany chairs,
tables, sofas, and four-post bedsteads, pier-glasses,
floor-cloths, and other articles indicative of domestic
comfort and accumulating wealth.

"Persons of this grade, like those last described, are
almost wholly engaged in mercantile pursuits. Their
transactions, however, are of greater magnitude and value,
and their business is carried on with an external appearance
of respectability commensurate with then superior pecuniary
means: thus, instead of exposing their wares for sale in
booths or stalls by the wayside, they are to be found in
neatly fitted-up shops on the ground-floors of their stone
dwelling houses.

"Many individual members of this grade have realized very
considerable sums of money, - sums which, to a person not
cognizant of the fact, would appear to be incredible. From
the studied manner in which individuals conceal their
pecuniary circumstances from the world, it is difficult to
obtain a correct knowledge of the wealth of the class
generally. The devices to which they have recourse in
conducting a bargain are often exceedingly ingenious; and to
be reputed rich might materially interfere with their
success on such occasions. There is nothing more common than
to hear a plea of poverty set up and most pertinaciously
urged, in extenuation of the terms of a purchase, by persons
whose outward condition, comfortable well-furnished houses,
and large mercantile credits, indicate any thing but

"There are circumstances, however, the knowledge of which
they cannot conceal, and which go far to exhibit pretty
clearly the actual state of matters: such as, _First_, the
facility with which they raise large sums of cash prompt' at
public auctions. _Second_, the winding up of the estates of
deceased persons. (Peter Newland, a liberated African, died
a short time before I left the colony: and his estate
realized, in houses, merchandise, and cash, upward of
fifteen hundred pounds.) _Third_, the extent of their
mercantile credits. I am well acquainted with an individual
of this grade who is much courted and caressed by every
European merchant in the colony, who has transactions in
trade with all of them, and whose name, shortly before my
departure from the colony, stood on the debtor side of the
books of one of the principal merchants to the amount of
nineteen hundred pounds, to which sum it had been reduced
from three thousand pounds during the preceding two months.
A highly respectable female has now, and has had for several
years, the government contract for the supplying of fresh
beef to the troops and the naval squadron; and I have not
heard that on a single occasion there has been cause of
complaint for negligence or non-fulfilment of the terms of
the contract. _Fourth_, many of them at the present moment
have their children being educated in England at their own
expense. There is at Sierra Leone a very fine regiment of
colonial militia, more than eight-tenths of which are
liberated Africans. The amount of property which they have
acquired is ample guaranty for their loyalty, should that
ever be called in question. They turn out with great
alacrity and cheerfulness on all occasions for periodical
drill. But perhaps the most interesting point of view in
which the liberated Africans are to be seen, and that which
will render their moral condition most intelligible to those
at a distance, is where they sit at the Quarter Sessions as
petty, grand, and special jurors. They constitute a
considerable part of the jury at every session, and I have
repeatedly heard the highest legal authority in the colony
express his satisfaction with their decisions."

But this account was written at the early sunrise of civilization in
Sierra Leone. Now civilization is at its noonday tide, and the hopes
of the most sanguine friends of the liberated Negro have been more
than realized. How grateful this renewed spot on the edge of the Dark
Continent would be to the weary and battle-dimmed vision of
Wilberforce, Sharp, and other friends of the colony! And if they still
lived, beholding the wonderful results, would they not gladly say,
"Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy
word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared
before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and
the glory of thy people Israel"?


[101] Savage Africa, p. 25.

[102] Précis sur l'Établissement des Colonies de Sierra Léona et de
Boulama, etc. Par C.B. Wadström, pp. 3-28.

[103] Wadström Essay on Colonization, p. 220.

[104] This led to the sending of 119 whites, along with a governor, as
counsellors, physicians, soldiers, clerks, overseers, artificers,
settlers, and servants. Of this company 57 died within the year, 22
returned, and 40 remained. See Wadström, pp. 121, _sq._

[105] See Livingstone's Zambesi, pp. 633, 634.




That section of country on the West Coast of Africa known as Liberia,
extending from Cape Palmas to Cape Mount, is about three hundred miles
coastwise. Along this line there are six colonies of Colored people,
the majority of the original settlers being from the United States.
The settlements are Cape Palmas, Cape Mesurado, Cape Mount, River
Junk, Basa, and Sinon. The distance between them varies from
thirty-five to one hundred miles, and the only means of communication
is the coast-vessels. Cape Palmas, though we include it under the
general title of Liberia, was founded by a company of intelligent
Colored people from Maryland. This movement was started by the
indefatigable J.H.B. Latrobe and Mr. Harper of the Maryland
Colonization Society. This society purchased at Cape Palmas a
territory of about twenty square miles, in which there was at that
time - more than a half-century ago - a population of about four
thousand souls. Within two years from the time of the first purchase,
this enterprising society held deeds from friendly proprietors for
eight hundred square miles, embracing the dominions of nine kings, who
bound themselves to the colonists in friendly alliance. This territory
spread over both banks of the Cavally River, and from the ocean to the
town of Netea, which is thirty miles from the mouth of the river. In
the immediate vicinity of Cape Palmas, - say within an area of twenty
miles, - there was a native population of twenty-five thousand. Were we
to go toward the interior from the Cape about forty-five or fifty
miles, we should find a population of at least seventy thousand
natives, the majority of whom we are sure are anxious to enjoy the
blessings of education, trade, civilization, and Christianity. The
country about Cape Palmas is very beautiful and fertile. The cape
extends out into the sea nearly a mile, the highest place being about
one hundred and twenty-five feet. Looking from the beach, the ground
rises gradually until its distant heights are crowned with heavy,
luxuriant foliage and dense forest timber. And to plant this colony
the Maryland Legislature appropriated the sum of two hundred thousand
dollars! And the colony has done worthily, has grown rapidly, and at
present enjoys all the blessings of a Christian community. Not many
years ago it declared its independence.

But Liberia, in the proper use of the term, is applied to all the
settlements along the West Coast of Africa that were founded by
Colored people from the United States. It is the most beautiful spot
on the entire coast. The view is charming in approaching this country,
Rev. Charles Rockwell says, -

"One is struck with the dark green hue which the rank and
luxuriant growth of forest and of field everywhere presents.
In this it respect it strongly resembles in appearance the
dark forests of evergreens which line a portion of the coast
of Eastern Virginia ... At different points there are capes
or promontories rising from thirty to forty to one or two
hundred feet above the level of the sea; while at other
places the land, though somewhatuneven, has not, near the
sea, any considerable hills. In some places near the mouths
of the rivers are thickly wooded marshes; but on entering
the interior of the country the ground gradually rises, the
streams become rapid, and at the distance of twenty miles or
more from the sea, hills, and beyond them mountains, are
often met with."

The physical, social, and political bondage of the Colored people in
America before the war was most discouraging. They were mobbed in the
North, and sold in the South. It was not enough that they were
isolated and neglected in the Northern States: they were proscribed by
the organic law of legislatures, and afflicted by the most burning
personal indignities. They had a few friends; but even their
benevolent acts were often hampered by law, and strangled by
caste-prejudice. Following the plans of Granville Sharp and William
Wilberforce, Liberia was founded as a refuge to all Colored men who
would avail themselves of its blessings.

Colonization societies sprang into being in many States, and large
sums of money were contributed to carry out the objects of these
organizations. Quite a controversy arose inside of anti-slavery
societies, and much feeling was evinced; but the men who believed
colonization to be the solution of the slavery question went forward
without wavering or doubting. In March, 1820, the first emigrants
sailed for Africa, being eighty-six in number; and in January, 1822,
founded the town of Monrovia, named for President Monroe. Rev. Samuel
J. Mills, while in college in 1806, was moved by the Holy Spirit to
turn his face toward Africa as a missionary. His zeal for missionary
labor touched the hearts of Judson, Newell, Nott, Hall, and Rice, who
went to mission-fields in the East as early as 1812.[106] The American
Colonization Society secured the services of the Rev. Samuel J. Mills
and Rev. Ebenezer Burgess to locate the colony at Monrovia. Mr. Mills
found an early, watery grave; but the report of Mr. Burgess gave the
society great hope, and the work was carried forward.

The first ten years witnessed the struggles of a noble band of Colored
people, who were seeking a new home on the edge of a continent given
over to the idolatry of the heathen. The funds of the society were not
as large as the nature and scope of the work demanded. Emigrants went
slowly, not averaging more than 170 per annum, - only 1,232 in ten
years: but the average from the first of January, 1848, to the last of
December, 1852, was 540 yearly; and, in the single year of 1853, 782
emigrants arrived at Monrovia. In 1855 the population of Monrovia and
Cape Palmas had reached about 8,000.

Going south from Monrovia for about one hundred miles, and inland
about twenty, the country was inhabited by the Bassa tribe and its
branches; numbering about 130,000 souls, and speaking a common
language. "They were peaceful, domestic, and industrious; and, after
fully supplying their own wants, furnish a large surplus of rice, oil,
cattle, and other articles of common use, for exportation."[107] This
tribe, like the Veis, of whom we shall make mention subsequently, have
reduced their language to a written system. The New Testament has been
translated into their language by a missionary, and they have had the
gospel these many years in their own tongue.

The "Greybo language," spoken in and about Cape Palmas, has been
reduced to a written form; and twenty thousand copies of eleven
different works have been printed and distributed. There are about
seventy-five thousand natives within fifty miles of Cape Palmas; and,
as a rule, they desire to avail themselves of the blessings of
civilization. The Veis occupy about fifty miles of seacoast; extending
from Gallinas River, one hundred miles north of Monrovia, and
extending south to Grand Mount. Their territory runs back from the
seacoast about thirty miles, and they are about sixteen thousand

This was a grand place to found a Negro state, - a _missionary
republic_, as Dr. Christy terms it. When the republic rose, the
better, wealthier class of free Colored people from the United States
embarked for Liberia. Clergymen, physicians, merchants, mechanics, and
school-teachers turned their faces toward the new republic, with an
earnest desire to do something for themselves and race; and history
justifies the hopes and players of all sincere friends of Liberia.
Unfortunately, at the first, many white men were more anxious to get
the Negro out of the country than to have him do well when out; and,
in many instances, some unworthy Colored people got transportation to
Liberia, of whom Americans were rid, but of whom Liberians could not
boast. But the law of the survival of the fittest carried the rubbish
to the bottom. The republic grew and expanded in every direction. From
year to year new blood and fresh energy were poured into the social
and business life of the people; and England, America, and other
powers acknowledged the republic by sending resident ministers there.

The servants of Christ saw, at the earliest moment of the conception
to build a black government in Africa, that the banner of the cross
must wave over the new colony, if good were to be expected. The
Methodist Church, with characteristic zeal and aggressiveness, sent
with the first colonists several members of their denomination and two
"local preachers;" and in March, 1833, the Rev. Melville B. Cox, an
ordained minister of this church, landed at Monrovia. The mission
experienced many severe trials; but the good people who had it in
charge held on with great tenacity until the darkness began to give
away before the light of the gospel. Nor did the Board of the
Methodist Missionary Society in America lose faith. They appropriated
for this mission, in 1851, $22,000; in 1852, $26,000; in 1853,
$32,957; and in 1854, $32,957. In the report of the board of managers
for 1851, the following encouraging statement occurs: -

"All eyes are now turned toward this new republic on the
western coast of Africa as the star of hope to the colored
people both bond and free, in the United States. The
republic is establishing and extending itself; and its
Christian population is in direct contact with the natives,
both Pagans and Mohammedans. Thus the republic has,
indirectly, a powerful missionary influence, and its moral
and religious condition is a matter of grave concern to the

Online LibraryGeorge W. WilliamsHistory of the Negro Race in America From 1619 to 1880. Vol 1 Negroes as Slaves, as Soldiers, and as Citizens → online text (page 12 of 57)