1822: The Role of Southern Slaveholders in Sending Freed Slaves to Liberia to Preserve the Institution of Slavery in America

Monrovia, Liberia (1842); Source: Wikimedia Commons

In discussions of the colonization of Africa much focus is often given to the efforts of major Western Powers to carve up the continent for their own. People often forget that the United States itself would found a colony for the purpose of settling free-born Blacks and ex-slaves on the mainland of Africa. Fewer still will remember the integral role Southern slaveholders played in starting the colony that would become Liberia.

Though the part of Africa that would become Liberia had seen trade with Europeans since 1461, it was until 1822 that the colony that would become the country would see its start. By this point in time, there was a surge in support for the settling of free-born Blacks and freed slaves into Africa, supposedly with the hopes that they would be able to get out from under racial discrimination and seize political enfranchisement, thereby claiming the civil, religious, social rights that they were due as people.

However, this does not tell the whole story.

For Southern Slaveholders, freed slaves represented a threat to the hierarchy and social system that had been constructed around slaveholding. Not only did these individuals represent tangible proof that those of African descent were just as capable as the white slaveholders, there was also some concern that they could serve as a source of rebellion. Over time these fears would contribute to the founding of the American Colonization Society in 1816 by several politicians and, you guessed it, a group of slaveholders. Though the ranks of membership would eventually expand to include many abolitionists, the point remains that the organization was originally founded as a way to actually support the continuation of slavery in the South.

Ships like the Monrovia would prove to be instrumental in sending the would-be colonists to the Pepper Coast of Africa. Under Captain Henry Rogers, the Monrovia made fifty-four round trip voyages to Sierra Leone and Liberia, liberating slaves over the duration of its use. Without the backing of the ACS, however, there would not have been enough political or monetary support for ships like the Monrovia to make the long trips to and from the African Pepper Coast to set up and supply the colony.

By 1822, the ACS would begin sending black volunteers to the Pepper Coast (which would become Liberia) and by 1867 a total of more than 13,000 people had been sent to the colony with the assistance of the ACS and its affiliated state chapters. The result of these efforts would contribute to a unique social identity labeled as Americo-Liberians, with a cultural tradition bassed around American republicanism and religious views based in Protestant Christianity.

Sadly, aspects of this culture would prove to have detrimental impacts on the lives of the natives of the Pepper Coast. Americo-Liberians treated the locals in much the same way they had been treated by Whites in the South, that is to say badly. Natives were not allowed to vote, could not speak unless spoken to, were prohibited from intermarrying, and were largely forbidden from having high positions in society or government.

In sum, though these actions were direct contributions to the founding, and eventual creation of Liberia as an independent state, it also brought with it some levels of racism and discrimination against the local populations that would continue well after the colony declared independence. Moreover, the Souther Slaveholder hopes that sending freed slaves to Liberia would serve as an alternative to complete abolishment of slavery as an institution would see their hopes crushed following their defeat at the hands of the North in the American Civil War that lasted from 1861 to 1865.

Interested in learning more about the American Colonization Society or the Liberia Colony? Check out these books!

  1. Slavery and the Peculiar Solution: A History of the American Colonization Society: A comprehensive examination of the ACS, it has chapters dealing with the perspectives of slaves, slaveholders, abolitionists, ACS members, and others, to give unique insight into the organization and the activities it engaged in.
  2. Another America: The Story of Liberia and the Former Slaves Who Ruled It: From the back of the book — James Ciment’s Another America is the first full account of this dramatic experiment [in Liberia]. With empathy and a sharp eye for human foibles, Ciment reveals that the Americo-Liberians struggled to live up to their high ideals. They wrote a stirring Declaration of Independence but re-created the social order of antebellum Dixie, with themselves as the master caste. Building plantations, holding elegant soirees, and exploiting and even helping enslave the native Liberians, the persecuted became the persecutors — until a lowly native sergeant murdered their president in 1980, ending 133 years of Americo rule. In making Liberia, the Americoes transplanted the virtues and vices of their country of birth. The inspiring and troubled history they created is, to a remarkable degree, the mirror image of our own.

Interested in learning more about the territorial history of the United States? Check out this article:

This article contains some affiliate links to books that I recommend as references to the colonization of Liberia. If you choose to purchase these books via my affiliate links, you will help support my writing and research at no additional cost to you.

Charles writes on art, history, politics, travel, fantasy, science fiction, poetry. BA, MA in Political Science, Phd Pending. Inquires: charlesbeuck@gmail.com

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