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Image above: President James Monroe. Image right: Triumph, depicting eventual victory of Union, with reference to the Missouri Compromise. Created by Morris H. Traubel, 1861. Images courtesy Library of Congress.
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February 6, 1820 - Free African American colonists, eighty-six in number, plus three American Colonization society members, leave the United States from New York City and sail to Freetown, Sierra Leone.
The American Revolution and the War of 1812 had subsequently freed the American people from the clutches of British taxation and tyranny, but it had done nothing for the institution of slavery. The number of slaves continued to increase, four million by the middle of the 19th century. But a movement was beginning to take place that also increased the number of free blacks. From the end of the American Revolution forward two decades, free blacks in the state of Virginia rose from one percent of the black population to ten percent; in the entire United States, from one and one half percent to seven and one half percent. However, being a free black in a slave state, or even a free state, had serious limitations, and the idea of creating a colony for free blacks began to take shape.
Seeds for the province began on January 5, 1786, in London. The Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor, including those of black and Asian descent, was formed with clergy and abolitionists. At first, they raised money to assist the poor with food, but eventually, moved to the formation of a colony where blacks would have freedom. The reasons for those in London were various; some altruistic wanting a better life for people of color, while others wished to keep a racial mixture from occuring in their society. By April 9, 1787, three ships with three hundred and twenty black men and women, plus seventy white women, were given citizenship in Sierra Leone and transported there, arriving on May 15. By the end of 1787, four thousand people were emigrated from London to Sierra Leone.
In the United States, the American Colonization Society, supported a similar goal. It was established in 1816 by Robert Finley, a New Jersey teacher and minister who had graduated from the University of New Jersey (later Princeton) at the age of 15. They supported the migration of free blacks to the continent of Africa. It was an odd coalition in the ACS. Abolitionists who thought that free blacks would have a better life in Africa and slave holders who wanted to tamp down slave rebellions as the percentage of free blacks increased. The society had its famous supporters, including Henry Clay, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Francis Scott Key, and Daniel Webster. There had been precedent set recently by Paul Cuffee, a mixed race ship owner who had emigrated thirty-eight blacks to Sierra Leone in 1816.
American Colonization Society, Sierra Leone, and Liberia
The initial sailings of Free African Americans to the British colony in Sierra Leone convinced the American Colonization Society that the idea had merit, and formally began to establish a larger colony in Liberia that would take additional Free African Americans over the next century. Two representatives of the society were sent to Africa to negotiate land for the colony in 1818; local tribal leaders would not sell. The Society petitioned Congress about the idea, raising $100,000 from the government in 1919. An instrument of understanding, a precursor to the 1824 Liberia constitution, was drawn up between the colonists and the American Colonization Society, and in part, the United States.
On February 6, 1820, the ship Elizabeth left New York City to transport over eighty (some sources state eight-six and others eighty-eight plus three Society members) African Americans to Liberia. Once they arrived in Sierra Leone, the ship turned south toward the northern coast of Liberia and attempted to establish a settlement. Within three weeks, twenty-two of the emigrants had died of yellow fever. The remaining colonists returned to Sierra Leone. Two more ships arrived with additional colonists and another attempt at a settlement on Mesurado Bay was made after a U.S. Navy officer, Robert Stockton, convinced a local chief to sell him land. Two thousand six hundred and thirty-eight Free African Americans emigrated to the Liberian colony of the next ten years. Through that time, local tribal leaders continually fought with the colonists.
On July 26, 1847, Liberia gained its independence from the American Colonization Society. They elected their first black president, Joseph Jenkins Roberts, who had been born free in Norfolk, Virginia and emigrated in 1829.
Liberia Constitution, 1820
ARTICLE 1 - All persons born within the limits of the territory held by the American Colonization Society in or removing there to reside, shall be free, and entitled to all the rights and privileges of the free people of the United States.
ARTICLE 2 - The Colonization Society shall, from time to time, make such rules as they may think fit for the government of the Settlement, until they shall withdraw their Agents, and leave the settlers to the government of themselves.
ARTICLE 3 - The Society's Agents shall compose a Board, to determine all questions relative to the government of the Settlement, shall decide all disputes between Individuals, and shall exercise all judicial powers, except such as they shall delegate to justices of the Peace.
ARTICLE 4 - The Agents shall appoint all officers not appointed by the Man agers, necessary for the good order, and government of the Settlement.
ARTICLE 5 - There shall be no slavery in the Settlement.
ARTICLE 6 - The common law as in force and modified in the United States, and applicable to the situation of the people, shall be in force in the Settlement.
ARTICLE 7 - Every settler coming to the age of 21 years, and those now of age shall take an oath or affirmation to support the Constitution.
ARTICLE 8 - In cases of necessity, where no rule has been made by the Board of Managers, the Agents are authorized to make the necessary rules and regulations, of which they shall, by the first opportunity, inform the Board for their approbation; and they shall continue in force until the Board shall send out their decision upon them.
The Constitution was amended at a meeting of the Board of Mana gers held on December 23, 1820. 6 At this meeting, on motion by Wm. Thornton, the 1st article of the Constitution for the government of the Settlement was amended by adding after the word "Society" the words "in Africa" and by striking out the word "the" which occur after the word "all," and inserting "such" and striking out "of the free people" and inserting "as are enjoyed by the citizens."
On motion by Mr. Caldwell the following was added by way of a new article to the said Constitution:
ARTICLE 9 - This Constitution is not to interfere with the jurisdiction rights, and claims of the agents of the United States over the captured Africans and others under their care, and control, so long as they shall reside within the limits of the Settlement.
ARTICLE 10. - No alteration shall be made in this Constitution, except by an unanimous consent of all present at a regular meeting of the Board of Managers, or by a vote of two thirds of the members present at two successive meetings of the Board of Managers.
Image above: Watercolor drawing of Bassau Fish Town, Liberia, 1856, American Colonization Society Collection. Courtesy Library of Congress. Image below: Drawing of the mansion of President Joseph Jenkins Roberts, Monrovia, Liberia. Date unknown. Courtesy Library of Congress. Source Info: Wikipedia Commons; Office of the Historian, Department of State; The Political and Legislative History of Liberia, 1847, Charles Henry Huberich; onliberia.org.
History Photo Bomb
America's Best History where we take a look at the timeline of American History and the historic sites and national parks that hold that history within their lands.
Photos courtesy of the Library of Congress, National Archives, National Park Service, americasbesthistory.com & its licensors.