John Hanson Thomas McPherson.

History of Liberia online

. (page 1 of 5)
Online LibraryJohn Hanson Thomas McPhersonHistory of Liberia → online text (page 1 of 5)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



IN "



History is past Politics and Politics present History Freeman




Fellow in History, Johns Hopkins University, 1889 ; Instructor in History, University of Michigan,
Professor of History and Politics, University of Georgia, 1891.














1. As a Southern Movement toward Emancipation 52

2. As a Check to the Slave Trade 55

3. As a Step toward the Civilization of Africa .% 56

4. As a Missionary Effort 58

, 5. As a Refuge to the Negro from the Pressure of Increasing

Competition in America 59



This paper claims to be scarcely more than a brief sketch. It
is an abridgment of a History of Liberia in much greater detail,
presented as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
at the Johns Hopkins University. I have devoted the leisure
hours of several years to the accumulation of materials, which I
hope will prove the basis of a larger work in the future.

J. H. T. McP.

June, 1891.



There are but few more interesting spots in Africa than
the little corner of the west coast occupied by the Republic of
Liberia. It has been the scene of a series of experiments
absolutely unique in history experiments from which we are
to derive the knowledge upon which we must rely in the so-
lution of the weighty problems connected with the develop-
ment of a dark continent, and with the civilization of hun-
dreds of millions of the human race. Many questions have
arisen which have not been settled to our complete satisfaction.
Is the Negro capable of receiving and maintaining a superim-
posed civilization ? Fronde declares that "the worst enemies
of the blacks are those who persist in pressing upon them an
equality which nature has denied them. They may attain it
in time if they are fairly treated, but they can attain it only
on condition of going through the discipline and experience
of hundreds of years, through which the white race had to
pass before it was fit for political rights. If they are raised
to a position for which they are unqualified, they can only fall
back into a state of savagery." 1 Upon the truth or error of

letter to Philip A. Bruce, dated London, April 8, 1889.

10 History of Liberia. [488

this view how much depends ! It is shared by many ; some
even believe that the condition of Liberia tends to confirm it,
thinking they discern signs of incipient decay. But the great
preponderance of opinion is on the other side. The weight of
evidence shows the colonists have at the lowest estimate re-
tained the civilization they took with them. Many maintain
that there has been a sensible advance. A recent traveller
describes them as " in mancher Hinsicht schon hypercultivirt."

What might be called a third position is taken by one of
the most prominent writers of the race, E. W. Blyden, the
widely-known President of Liberia College. The radical
difference in race and circumstance must, he thinks, make
African civilization essentially different from European : not
inferior, but different. The culture which the blacks have
acquired, or may attain in further contact with foreign influence,
will be used as a point of departure in future intelligent
development along lines following the characteristics of the
race. This tendency to differentiate he regards as natural and
inevitable ; it ought to be recognized and encouraged in every
way, that the time may be hastened when a great negro civi-
lization, unlike anything we have yet seen, shall prevail in
Africa and play its part in the world's history.

If we make allowance for the errors and mistakes of an
untrained and inexperienced people, the history of Liberia
may be regarded as a demonstration of the capacity of the
race for self-government. t Upon the capability of individuals
is reflected the highest credit. The opportunities for a rounded-
out and fully developed culture afforded by the peculiar con-
ditions of life in the Republic produced a number of men who
deserve unqualified admiration. From the earliest days of
the colony, when Elijah Johnson upheld the courage of the
little band in the midst of hostile swarms of savages, to the
steadfast statesmanship of Russwurm and the stately diplo-
macy of Roberts, there have stood forth individuals of a
quality and calibre that fill with surprise those who hold the
ordinary opinion of the possibilities of the Negro. The trials

489] Introduction. 11

of the Republic have afforded a crucial test in which many
a character has shown true metal. It is not too much to
assert that the very highest type of the race has been the pro-
duct of Liberia.

There are other aspects in which our tropical offspring has
for us a vital interest. Perhaps the most important is the
connection it will have in the future with what is called the
Negro Problem in our own country. There have been and
are thoughtful men who see in colonization the only solution
of its difficulties. Others ridicule the very suggestion. It is
a question into which we do not propose to go. But there is
scarcely any doubt that when the development of Liberia is a
little more advanced, and when communication with her ports
becomes less difficult, and when the population of the United
States grows more dense and presses more upon the limits of
production, there will be a large voluntary migration of
negroes to Africa. And no one will deny that the existence
of a flourishing Republic of the black race just across the At-
lantic will react powerfully upon all questions relating to our
own colored population.

But let us not venture too deeply into this theme. Another
claim of Liberia upon the sympathetic interest of the entire
people, is that it represents our sole attempt at colonial enter-
prise. It is true the movement was largely individnal, but
the effort came from a widespread area of the country ; more-
over, the part played by the National Government was not
only important, but essential. Without its friendly interven-
tion, the plan could never have been carried out. The action
carries with it some responsibility. The United States might
well exercise some protective care, might now and then ex-
tend a helping hand, and let the aggressive Powers of Europe
see that Liberia is not friendless, and that encroachment upon
her territory will not be tolerated.

A few words upon the topography of the country and upon
the aborigines may not be out of place. Liberia is by no
means the dreary waste of sand and swamp that some imagine

12 History of Liberia. [490

it. The view from the sea has been described as one of un-
speakable beauty and grandeur. From the low-lying coast
the land rises in a terraced slope a succession of hills and
plateaux as far as the eye can reach, all covered with the dense
perennial verdure of the primeval forest. Perhaps the best
authority on the natural features of the country is the zoolo-
gist of the Royal Museum of Leyden, J. Biittikofer, who
has made Liberia several visits and spent several years in its
scientific exploration. The account of his investigations is
most interesting. Small as is the area of the country all kinds
of soil are represented, and corresponding to this variety is a
remarkably rich and varied flora. Amidst this luxuriance
is found an unusually large number of products of commer-
cial value. Cotton, indigo, coffee, pepper, the pineapple, gum
tree, oil palm, and many others grow wild in abundance,
while a little cultivation produces ample crops of rice, corn,
potatoes, yams, arrowroot, ginger, and especially sugar,
tobacco, and a very superior grade of coffee. The fertility of
the soil renders possible the production of almost any crop.

The fauna of the land is scarcely less remarkable in variety
and abundance. The larger animals, including domestic cattle
and horses, do not thrive on the coast, but are plentiful farther
inland. On the Mandingo Plateau, elephants are not uncom-
mon. Buffaloes, leopards, tigers, antelopes, porcupines, the
great ant-eater, divers species of monkeys, and numerous other
animals are found, besides many varieties of birds.

The native Africans inhabiting this territory are probably
more than a million in number, and belong to several different
stocks of somewhat varying characteristics. The most common
type is of medium size, well formed, coal-black in color and
rather good-looking. They are intelligent and easily taught,
but are extremely indolent. Their paganism takes the form
of gross superstition, as seen in their constant use of gree-gree
charms and in their sassa-wood ordeal. Like all the races of
Africa, they are polygamists ; and as the women manage the
farms and do nearly all the work, a man's wealth and import-

491] Introduction. 1 3

ance are often estimated by the number of his wives. Domestic
slavery is universal among them, the great majority of slaves
being obtained by capture in war. These inter-tribal wars
were once almost constant, and their prevention requires the
utmost vigilance of the Liberian authorities.

The natives harvest rice and cassada ; supply the coasting
trader's demand for palm-oil ; raise tobacco ; procure salt by
evaporating sea- water ; engage in hunting and fishing. They
carry on a number of rude industries such as the manufacture
of basket-work, hats, mats, fish-nets ; a crude sort of spinning
and weaving. Iron ore exists in abundance, and the natives
have long known how to smelt it and obtain the metal, from
which they manufacture rude weapons, spurs, bits, stirrups
and kitchen utensils. The cheapness of imported iron ware
has driven out this interesting art on the coast ; but in the in-
terior it is still practised by the Mandingoes, who are also
fine goldsmiths, and manufacture highly ornamented rings.
There are also silversmiths among the Veys, who do good
work. The leather industry, too, has been carried to some

With all their disadvantages the natives seem to extract a
good deal of enjoyment out of existence. They are very fond
of singing and dancing to the rude strains of a drum and
harp, and usually prolong their revelries far into the night.

Taken as a whole, the native character has many fine traits ;
and from the civilization and development of this part of her
population, Liberia has much to hope.



It is always a most interesting part of historic inquiry to
search out the very earliest sources, the first feeble germ of the
idea whose development we are investigating. It is difficult
to decide from what one origin can be traced the continuous
development of the idea which resulted in the birth of Li-
beria ; but toward the close of the last century there arose a
number of projects, widely differing in object and detail,
which bore more or less directly upon it, each of which may
be said to have contributed some special feature to the fully
rounded and developed plan.

The earliest of these sprang from the once notorious hot-bed
of slavery Newport, R. I. As early as J773 the Rev.
Samuel Hopkins, then widely known as a theological writer,
and responsible for the system termed Hopkinsianism, con-
ceived the idea of a missionary effort in Africa, undertaken by
natives properly trained in the United States. 1 This at first
did not include the conception of a permanent settlement ; but
on consultation with the Rev. Ezra Styles, afterward President
of Yale, it developed into a definite plan for a colony. The
scheme proved popular ; it was widely advertised by sermons
and circulars both in this and the mother country ; and by
1776 funds had been collected, Negro students placed under
suitable instruction at Princeton, and success seemed almost
assured. The outbreak of the Revolution, however, swept

1 James Ferguson, Life of Hopkins. Hopkins' Circular, 1793.


493] The Colonization Idea. 15

away all the thought of carrying Hopkins' cherished enterprise
into execution, and after peace was restored his most strenuous
efforts failed to arouse the old interest. Later thinkers, how-
ever, found suggestion and encouragement in his labors.

The colony founded at Sierra Leone by English philanthro-
pists drew in part its inspiration from Hopkins 7 idea, and in
turn suggested later American plans. After the celebrated
decision of Lord Mansfield in the Somerset case (1772), many
slaves escaped to England, where they congregated in the dens
of London in helpless poverty and misery. James Ramsay's
essay on Slavery soon turned public attention to the Negro,
and Dr. Smeathman's letters suggested quite a scheme of
colonization. A movement in behalf of the oppressed race
asserted itself at the University of Cambridge, in which
Clarkson, Wilberforce, Granville Sharp and others took part.
As a result of these efforts some four hundred Negroes and
sixty whites were landed at Sierra Leone in May, 1787.
Disease and disorder were rife, and by 1791 a mere handful
survived. The Sierra Leone Company was then incorporated;
some 1,200 colonists from the Bahamas and Nova Scotia were
taken over, and the settlement in spite of discouraging results
was kept up by frequent reinforcements until 1807, when it
was made a Government colony and naval station. Its growth
in population and commerce has since steadily increased, and
it now numbers some 60,000 persons chiefly concentrated in
the city of Freetown, and all blacks save one or two hundred.

It may be as well to mention here two other sporadic at-
tempts to lead colored colonists to Africa. In 1787 the gifted
and erratic Dr. Wm. Thornton proposed himself to become
the leader of a body of Rhode Island and Massachusetts
colonists to Western Africa ; he appears to have been in com-
munication with Hopkins on the subject a year later, but the
effort fell through for want of funds. The other is much
later. Paul Cuffee, the son of a well-to-do Massachusetts
freedman, had become by his talents and industry a prosperous
merchant and ship-owner. Stimulated by the colony at Sierra

16 History of Liberia. [494

Leone, and longing to secure liberty to his oppressed race, he
determined to transport in his own vessels, and at his own
expense, as many as he could of his colored brethren. Ac-
cordingly, in 1815, he sailed from Boston with about forty,
whom he landed safely at Sierra Leone. He was about to
take over on a second voyage a much larger number, when his
benevolent designs were interrupted by death.

It will be observed that the colonization plans hitherto un-
folded had all been proposed for some missionary or similar
benevolent object, and were to be carried out on a small scale
and by private means. It is now time to consider one pro-
posed from a widely different standpoint. As a political
measure, as a possible remedy for the serious evils arising
from slavery and the contact of races, it is not surprising to
find Thomas Jefferson suggesting a plan of colonization. The
evils of slavery none ever saw more clearly. "The whole
commerce between master and slave/ 7 he quaintly says, " is a
perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most
unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submis-
sions on the other. Our children see this and learn to imitate
it." And again, " With what execration should the statesman
be loaded, who, permitting one-half the citizens thus to tram-
ple on the rights of the other, transforms these into despots
and those into enemies, destroys the morals of the one part,
and the amor patriae of the other. ... I tremble for my
country when I reflect that God is just." * Yet his equally
clear perception of the evils sure to result from emancipation
immediate and unqualified, makes him look to colonization as
the only remedy. " Why not retain and incorporate the blacks
into the state?" he asks, "Deep rooted prejudices entertained
by the whites, ten thousand recollections by the blacks of the
injuries they have sustained ; new provocations ; the real dis-
tinctions which nature has made; and many other circum-
stances, will divide us into parties and produce convulsions
which will probably never end but in the extermination of the

1 Jefferson, Notes on Virginia.

495] The Colonization Idea. 17

one or the other race." After the lapse of a century how
prophetic these words sound ! Jefferson believed then that by
colonization slavery was to be abolished. All slaves born after
a certain date were to be free ; these should remain with their
parents till a given age, after which they should be taught at
public expense agriculture and the useful arts. When full-
grown they were to be "colonized to such a place as the cir-
cumstances of the time should render most proper, sending
them out with arms, implements of the household and handi-
craft arts, pairs of the useful domestic animals, etc. ; to declare
them a free and independent people, and extend to them our
alliance and protection till they have acquired strength. "

Such in outline was Jefferson's contribution to the coloni-
zation idea. Its influence was unquestionably great : the
" Notes on Virginia," privately circulated after 1781, and at
length published in 1787, went through eight editions before
1800, and must have been familiar to nearly all of those con-
cerned in the formation of the Colonization Society.

Clearer still must the details of Jefferson's project have
been in the minds of the members of the Virginia Legislature
in 1800, when, after the outbreak of a dangerous slave con-
spiracy in Richmond, they met in secret session to consult the
common security. The resolution which they reached shows
unmistakably Jefferson's influence. With the delicate if
somewhat obscure periphrasis in which legislation concerning
the Negro was traditionally couched, they enacted : " That
the Governor be requested to correspond with the President
of the United States on the subject of purchasing lands with-
out the limits of this State whither persons obnoxious to the
laws or dangerous to the peace of society may be removed."
An interesting correspondence ensued between Monroe, who
was then Governor, and Jefferson. Both regarded the idea as
something far more important than a mere penal colony.
Monroe, too, saw in it a possible remedy for the evils of

1 Kennedy's Report, p. 160.

18 History of Liberia. [496

slavery, and refers to the matter as " one of great delicacy
and importance, involving in a peculiar degree the future
peace, tranquillity, and happiness" of the country. After
much discussion Africa was selected as the only appropriate
site, and approved by another Act of the Legislature. Jef-
ferson lost no time in attempting to secure land for the colony,
but his efforts met with no success. After a discouraging re-
pulse from Sierra Leone, and the failure of several half-
hearted attempts to obtain a footing elsewhere, the whole
matter was allowed to sink into abeyance. For years a pall
of secrecy concealed the scheme from public knowledge.

In the meantime a new private movement toward coloniza-
tion was started at the North. Samuel J. Mills organized at
Williams College, in 1808, for missionary work, an under-
graduate society, which was soon transferred to Andover, and
resulted in the establishment of the American Bible Society
and Board of Foreign Missions. But the topic which en-
grossed Mills' most enthusiastic attention was the Negro. The
desire was to better his condition by founding a colony between
the Ohio and the Lakes ; or later, when this was seen to be
unwise, in Africa. On going to New Jersey to continue his
theological studies, Mills succeeded in interesting the Presby-
terian clergy of that State in his project. Of this body one of
the most prominent members was Dr. Robert Finley. Dr.
Finley succeeded in assembling at Princeton the first meeting
ever called to consider the project of sending Negro colonists
to Africa. Although supported by few save members of the
seminary, Dr. Finley felt encouraged to set out for Washing-
ton in December, 1816, to attempt the formation of a coloni-
zation society.

Earlier in this same year there had been a sudden awakening
of Southern interest in colonization. Toward the end of Feb-
ruary, Gen. Charles Fenton Mercer accidentally had his atten-
tion called to the Secret Journals of the Legislature for the
years 1801-5. 1 He had been for six years a member of the

1 A. C. S. Report for 1853, pp. 37-55.

497] The Colonization Idea. 19

House of Delegates, in total ignorance of their existence. He
at once investigated and was rewarded with a full knowledge
of the Resolutions and ensuing correspondence between Mon-
roe and Jefferson. Mercer's enthusiasm was at once aroused,
and he determined to revive the Resolutions at the next meeting
of the Legislature. In the meantime, imputing their previous
failure to the secrecy which had screened them from public
view, he brought the whole project conspicuously into notice.
At the next session of the Legislature, in December, resolu-
tions embodying the substance of the secret enactments were
passed almost unanimously in both houses. Public attention
had been in this way already brought to bear upon the advan-
tages of Colonization when Finley set on foot the formation of
a society in Washington. The interest already awakened and
the indefatigable efforts of Finley and his friend Col. Charles
Marsh, at length succeeded in convening the assembly to
which the Colonization Society owes its existence. It was a
notable gathering. Henry Clay, in the absence of Bushrod
Washington, presided, setting forth in glowing terms the object
and aspirations of the meeting. Finley's brother-in-law, Elias
B. Caldwell was Secretary, and supplied the leading argument,
an elaborate plea, setting forth the expediency of the project
and its practicability in regard to territory, expense, and the
abundance of willing colonists. The wide benevolent objects
to be attained were emphasized. John Randolph of Roanoke,
and Robert Wright of Maryland, dwelt upon the desirability
of removing the turbulent free-negro element and enhancing
the value of property in slaves. 1 Resolutions organizing the
Society passed, and committees appointed to draft a Constitu-
tion and present a memorial to Congress. At an adjourned
meeting a week later the constitution was adopted, and on
January 1, 1817, officers were elected.

1 The remarks of these gentlemen and others of similar views have sub-
jected the Society to many unjust attacks. Of course many would join such
a movement from mixed motives ; but the guiding principles of the Society
kself have always been distinctly philanthropic.



With commendable energy the newly organized Society set
about the accomplishment of the task before it. Plans were
discussed during the summer, and in November two agents,
Samuel J. Mills and Ebenezer Burgess, sailed for Africa to
explore the western coast and select a suitable spot. They
were cordially received in England by the officers of the
African Institution, and by Earl Bathurst, Secretary of State
for the Colonies, who provided them with letters to Sierra
Leone. Here they arrived in March, 1818, and were hos-
pitably received, every facility being afforded them to prose-
cute their inquiries, though marked unwillingness to have a
foreign colony established in the vicinity was not concealed.
Their inspection was carried as far south as Sherbro Island,
where they obtained promises from the natives to sell land to
the colonists on their arrival with goods to pay for it. In
May they embarked on the return voyage. Mills died before
reaching home. His colleague made a most favorable report
of the locality selected, though, as the event proved, it was a
most unfortunate one.

After defraying the expenses of this exploration the Society's
treasury was practically empty. It would have been most
difficult to raise the large sum necessary to equip and send
out a body of emigrants; and the whole enterprise would
have languished and perhaps died but for a new impelling

1 3 4 5

Online LibraryJohn Hanson Thomas McPhersonHistory of Liberia → online text (page 1 of 5)