In the 19th century, the American Colonization Society (ACS), a white-dominated private organization, financed and organized the transportation of nearly 13,000 African-Americans to the West Coast of Africa and their settlement on a coastal strip of land, with diplomatic, military, financial and logistical support of the US Government. In 1847, the American colonies thus created declared themselves independent. The Republic of Liberia was a reality.
Unfortunately, there exists no historical overview and analysis of how many colonists were forced to leave the country where they were born and where they had grown up.
Below I offer another proof of the historic reality of forced emigration. The 19th c. African-American colonists to Africa have often been presented as courageous people who took their destiny into their own hands. In many cases they indeed were brave people, who courageously faced an uncertain future in an unknown land with no infrastructure, a harsh and humid tropical climate, deadly diseases and a hostile indigenous population. However, many of them had not opted voluntary for the new environment where they would spend the rest of their lives. It is significant that emigration of African-Americans from the United States to Liberia came to a virtual standstill after US President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 declaring that as from January 1, 1863 all persons held as slaves in the southern, rebellious states were free.
The 1844 newspaper ‘Public Leger’, published in Philadelphia, Penns., carries a short article in its May 7 edition on the voyage of 18 manumitted slaves to Africa.
They were manumitted by the last will of a Missouri slaveholder, Thomas Lindsay of St. Charles county, on condition of their emigrating to Liberia.
In the words of Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding Fathers of the United States, third president of the US, and a staunch supporter of the American Colonization Society: There is no place for two races in this country.’
The following is a heartbreaking story. One of Liberia’s leading newspapers, the Daily Observer, on March 18, 2021 published an article, entitled ‘School Expels K-1 Pupil for Alleged Witchcraft’. To read the article click here.
I was baffled. The administration of the TYNECEPLOH Education Foundation, which runs a school in Paynesville, in Greater Monrovia, asked the parents of a six-year-old kindergarten pupil to stop sending her to the school. The reason? The child’s alleged involvement in witchcraft activities. My initial reaction was, and to a certain extent still is one of disbelief. Knowing Liberia, I am aware that among members of certain communities the belief in witchcraft still exists, even today, in 2021, in the 21st century. Many Liberians use a mobile telephone. Also, the use of internet is widespread in Liberia. Yet the belief in magical powers, superstition, witchcraft hasn’t disappeared. Superstition can only be eliminated from society through education and awareness, yet in this case those who are engaged in educational institutions show that they too believe in witchcraft.
I was struck and outraged for three reasons. First, parents entrust their children to teachers in schools and kindergartens because they expect that their children are thus protected by people who are well educated and trained, and qualified for their job. And yet these teachers and administrators disappoint us by believing in witchcraft, humiliating an innocent six-year old child by expelling her from school and making her an outcast in society!
Secondly, in any well functioning society there exists a system of checks and balances, institutions that watch and check on the respect of rules which we have agreed on as a society. In Liberia, the Ministry of Education is responsible for overseeing the activities of schools. Moreover, there is a Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection with a clear mandate. I woud have expected an immediate reaction of these two governmental institutions. Besides, the school is located near the residence of President Weah. Where are the authorities in Liberia when a six-year old child and her parents need them??
Last but not least, it is mind-boggling that responsible, adult people decide to insult, hurt, – I even call it torture – an innocent, small child that needs love, protection and guidance, and who should not be rejected, stigmatized, expelled from school, rejected by her friends and the society. Those who are responsible for this reprehensible, repulsive behavior should be brought before justice since what they have done is nothing less than a crime. I mention here the school’s principal and notably the proprietor of TYNECEPLOH Education Foundation, Napoleon Chattah.
On a national level, President Weah and/or the Legislature should immediately summon the Minister of Education, Prof Ansu D. Sonii, and the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection, William-Etta Piso Saydee-Tarr, question them how this can happen, ask them whether this is an unique act and situation or if it happens more frequently in the country, and instruct them to take all measures needed to avoid a repeat of this situation.
I continue browsing through nineteenth century American newspapers with articles of varying length on the colonization of a strip of land on the shore of Western Africa and the subsequent creation of an independent state, Liberia. See my previous postings.
This morning I stumbled upon a short article which, at first sight, without a shadow of a doubt, would fall into the category ‘meaningless trivia’. However, after some reflection I decided to share it with you because of the afterthoughts that came with it.
In the Salem Gazette, a newspaper published in the city of the same name in Massachusetts, United States, dated August 4, 1857, I read that Joseph Blake had died.
Joseph Blake was one of the eighty-eight African-American emigrants who in 1820 sailed on the Elizabeth from New York to West Africa, heading for Sherbro country. The expedition had been organized by the American Colonization Society, with financial and military support of the US government (the Elizabeth was a public vessel of the United States). The colonization attempt was a disaster and within a period of three months, three of the four accompanying whites and 15 of the 88 colonists died. The settlement was abandoned and the surviving African-American settlers (‘pioneers’) sought refuge in the neighboring English colony of Sierra Leone before joining another group of African-American emigrants who successfully installed themselves at Cape Mesurado in 1822.
Joseph Blake had been a successful craftsman in Liberia which even enabled him, financially, to return to the United States when he became seriously ill. It was here that he met his untimely death.
Here follows the text of the article:
Quote: “Death of a Pioneer. One of the emigrants and perhaps the last surviving member of the first company of eighty-eight colored persons who sailed from New York, January 1, 1820, in the ship Elizabeth, to found a settlement on the shores of Western Africa, died in this city yesterday. His name was Joseph Blake. He was, we believe, a native of Philadelphia, having, for several years prior to his embarkation, worked in one of the shipyards of Kensington, as a journeyman – shipcarpenter. The same calling was followed by him in his adopted country – many of the trading craft of Liberia having been constructed by him or under his direction. Being afflicted latterly with rheumatism, he made a visit to the United States, and arrived in this city in May, where he sought and obtained relief to such an extent, that he proposed returning home next fall, in company with a fellow Liberian. Strange to say, his death was mainly caused by exposure to the sun here, while there he had been exposed to its rays unharmed for over a third of a century.” Unquote.
The story of his life warrants three observations. First, just like in any group of emigrants, the group of eighty-eight African-Americans who left the country where they were born to settle in unknown territory (‘pioneers’) included energetic and enterprising men and women. Joseph Blake is just an example. Secondly, though maybe not very common, it was apparently not an exception for colonists to pay for a passage back to the United States, a country where they originated from but where they were considered (less than) second-class citizens (with no civil rights!). Thirdly, health conditions being precarious in the colony, later the republic of Liberia, if people could afford medical treatment abroad, they would travel to a place with better health facilities than existing in their own country.
Joseph Blake’s decision to seek medical treatment in the United States is basically not different from today’s politicians, businessmen, and other people who have the means to escape from Liberia’s poor health infrastructure and travel to overseas health clinics for medical treatment. That was one of the afterthoughts that came to my mind after reading the short article in the Salem Gazette, ‘Death of a Pioneer’.
To conclude, and to be honest with you, I don’t blame those who travel abroad for medical treatment. Those who are to be blamed are the politicians and managers who fail to create and sustain a well functioning, effective, inclusive and accessible-to-all health system while in a position to do so.
I continue browsing through old American newspapers (see my previous posts). Today I found a remarkable article in a New York paper, the Watertown Reformer and Semi-Weekly Times of Wednesday, August 7, 1901.
The article is entitled Liberia’s Future and it deals with Liberia’s foreign relations, its economic prospects, its financial situation, and the state of the art with respect to immigration. The article starts as follows:
“London, August 3, (1901). A number of officials of Liberia have arrived in England for the purpose of endeavoring to procure from Great Britain the right to navigate the Manna river, which separates Liberia from Sierra Leone. The delegation consists of Secretary of the Treasury Barclay, Chief Justice Roberts and senator King.”
I was struck, not only by the contents of the article, but most of all by the heading “The West African colony making good progress”. What?! The West African colony? Which colony? Whose colony? In 1901?! We’re talking about a newspaper article of 1901, more than 50 years after the founders of the first African republic declared Liberia an independent and sovereign state, in 1847. It was published by a New York newspaper, hence the qualification ‘West African colony’ can only refer to an American point of view.
Then, secondly, the article mentions in a succinct summary that the “European aggression is warded of” and “Keeping out of Germany’s Grasp”.
It is interesting to note what a Liberian delegation member, Barclay, said to reporters of the Associated Press: “Thanks to the firm stand of the United States and Great Britain we are not troubled by the European aggression, though, to tell the truth, we are rather afraid of Germany as she is so patiently on the lookout for colonies. However, I do not think she will get a chance to appropriate our country.”
The last quarter of the 19th century the existence of Liberia as an independent nation was more than once endangered. In the 1880s Great Britain successfully exerted pressure on Liberia to cede the Galinhas territory, between the Sherbro and Mano rivers. From then on the Mano river formed the boundary between Liberia and Sierra Leone. In 1879 France attempted to establish a protectorate over Liberia. In 1885, Spain attempted the same. Also in 1885, France made a second attempt to annex Liberia, followed in 1886 by Germany. In 1892, France annexed the territory east of Cape Palmas (formerly part of the independent republic of ‘Maryland in Africa’). Desperate, the Liberian government in 1893 asked the United States to establish a protectorate over the country. In vain, the US government declined the offer but undertook diplomatic action to protect its West African stepchild.
Seen against this background, the Watertown Reformer heading which calls Liberia ‘the West African colony’ sounds differently.
After 1900: In 1903 an Anglo-Liberian Boundary Treaty was signed, which precisely described the boundaries between Liberia and Sierra Leone. Still in 1904 England again tried to establish a protectorate over Liberia. And in 1907 the Liberian Government officially acknowledged the loss of about 2,000 square miles to France and accepted the Cavalla river as the official boundary between Liberia and the French colony of Ivory Coast. Ironically, as Liberian government officials who negotiated the Liberian-French boundary treaty ignored the fact that the official description of the flow of a river starts at its source downward to its mouth, they thought making a good deal while accepting the clause that the right bank of the Cavalla river formed the boundary between Liberia and the French colony of Ivory Coast. Hence, France gained authority over the entire river.
Emigration of former slaves and colored people to the west coast of Africa wasn’t always voluntary, as we have seen in preceding posts. This, however, doesn’t mean that African Americans who left the United States to settle on the other side of the Atlantic were unhappy or embittered. Far from that, in most cases. Few colonists returned to the United States. Most emigrants stayed in one of the American colonies where they had started a new life with better perspectives than what they had ‘back home’, in the United States where they were discriminated and/or held in bondage.
From letters which the settlers sent to their relatives who had stayed behind in the United States, or sometimes to their former ‘owners’, we learn that the new environment included many challenges. Two noteworthy books with letters from emigrants which I can recommend in this respect are Bell I. Wiley’s ‘Slaves No More. Letters from Liberia 1833-1869‘ (University Press of Kentucky, 1980) and ‘ “Dear Master”, Letters of a slave family‘ (Cornell University Press, Ithaca/London, 1978).
American 19th century newspapers contain many articles lauding the American Colonization Society which organized and financed the emigration of former slaves to one of the American colonies, with military, financial and diplomatic support of the US government. Some of these articles are in fact hardly disguised propaganda for a – also – much criticized effort to get rid of a group of undesired people.
However, I also find in some American newspapers letters from colonists who describe their improved status, and express their feelings of gratitude, as well as their happiness with their present situation. One of such letters I have reproduced here.
The letter was written by an African American colonist, James Moore, who had settled in Edina, in one of the American colonies created. From it we learn that he was an emigrant with considerable education; he may have been a former slave. The newspaper which contains his letter is ‘The Christian Mirror’ (published in Portland, Maine, one of the so-called ‘free states’ where slavery was not permitted), dated July 26, 1838, and cites from another newspaper, ‘The Washington Statesman’, hence south of the Mason-Dixon line.
The Christian Mirror presents James Moore’s letter, dated May 2, 1838, under the heading “News from Liberia”. It is not known to whom his letter was addressed. Presumably someone he knows well and holds in high esteem (maybe a former employer or slave-owner?).
It reads as follows (the text is reproduced as it appears in the newspaper):
“You may wish to know my situation, and how I like this part of the world, and if I wanted anything. I answer the first – I am doing well: I am in the Medical Department ; my salary was five hundred dollars a year heretofore, and now is five hundred; I have two good houses and three lots; also, forty acres of land, ten of which are in culture – coffee, cotton, cassada, plantains, banaanas, beans, rice, yams, papaws, and melons, that you can tend or raise in the States; they grow all the year here. One acre of land is worth two in the United States. In a word, Sir, no man can starve here, that will work one-third of his time. It is a beautiful country indeed. I would not return to the States again to live , on any condition whatsoever, even if slavery was removed. But, sir, we are freemen here, and enjoy the rights of men. What shall I say about want – why sometimes we want sugar and tea, also butter and meat. But time will remove all this. I have plenty of milk, and make butter; but there are a great many that have not cows and goats in abundance. Cloth and tobacco are acceptable here, and earthenware or crockery. I would be glad to get as much blue cloth as would make me a close bodies coat, as the article is scarce here. I will try to do what you requested me. You would do well to send out some brandy to preserve such things as snakes, scorpions and many other things, as spirits are prohibited here, and hardly used among us, and cannot be bought for money. You need not be afraid to send it, by thinking it would bring trouble on me, for it is with and by the consent of Dr. Johnson that I am employed, and he will assist in choosing the plants for you – he is a smart man. I showed him your letter, and he offered his views on the subject. I would send you many things now, but your letter came to hand too late, and the ship arrived to-day and will sail to-morrow. I will write you by every ship that goes to America, for the time to come. I have the satisfaction to inform you that this is a flourishing settlement indeed. The people thrive. All my children are well, and my wife has good health; the children are good English scholars. James is studying medicine with Dr. Johnson. Yours, James Moore
It’s the year 1839. In the southern states of the United States of America (the ‘slave states’) hundreds of thousands of black people are kept in bondage. On slave markets in these southern states human beings are sold as slaves, individually or in a group, a family.
Simultaneously, however, and increasingly, slaves run away from their ‘owners’, to the northern states, to the ‘free states’, where slavery had been outlawed.
On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, a couple of hundred freed slaves and free-born blacks who had left the United States in search for freedom, create the Commonwealth of Liberia, grouping three American colonies: Liberia, Bassa Cove and Mississippi in Africa (1839).
In 1822, a first group of freed slaves and free-born blacks had been successful in creating a settlement on the west coast of Africa. Between 1822 and 1839 about a thousand colonists – desperate, optimistic, courageous – left the United States to start a new life in West Africa, hoping to realize a brighter future than what they could expect in the United States of America.
The African American colonists had gone to Africa under the umbrella of the American Colonization Society (ACS), created in 1816 by a group of wealthy and politically powerful white Americans who had various reasons to promote their emigration.
The ACS members, supporters and sympathizers included abolitionists and slave-owners who wanted to remove freed slaves and free-born African Americans from a predominantly white Anglo-Saxon protestant (WASP) society where, according to the most radical among them, there was ‘no place for two races’. A more moderate group consisted of supporters of the Anti-Slavery Society.They wanted to send black and colored people ‘back to Africa’, where they would be free and have a better future. However, they underestimated the consequences of the fact that most ex-slaves who went to Liberia (‘repatriates’) had never seen Africa before. Another group of ACS members had religious motives to support the cause of colonization: to Christianize a continent (‘a dark continent’) inhabited by people considered to be savages and heathens.
As stated above, the Unites States were far from united. In the ‘free states’ slavery was outlawed, in the ‘slave states’ slavery existed. In 1807 the US government had enacted a law prohibiting the importation of slaves but this had not ended slavery in the country nor had it outlawed the sale of slaves within the United States. Moreover, illegal slave traders continued the importation of slaves into the US.
So, on the one hand a private organization (the ACS), financially and military supported by the US government, organized and funded the removal (emigration) of black people, whereas on the other hand slave-owners continued to hold slaves and slave traders continued importing new slaves. Runaway slaves from below the Mason-Dixon line, Mseparating the free states from the slave states, would try to escape to one of the northern states where they would be free.
In southern states, newspaper advertisements announcing a reward for capturing and bringing back runaway slaves were very common, with rewards varying from twenty to fifty sometimes one hundred dollars or more as the illustrations below illustrate. Eventually, the conflicting views and opposing interests between the southern and northern states turned out to be a crucial factor in the start of the American civil war (1861-1865).
After the end of the civil war, which also brought to an end the inhuman system of slavery in the United States, emigration of African Americans to Liberia virtually came to a standstill. However, the freeing of hundreds of thousands slaves revealed another huge problem in American society: the racial discrimination of one group by another.
The other day, when browsing through a pile of old, 19th century American newspapers containing news about the recently created colony of Liberia, I came across another article that I like sharing with you.
A slave owner in the State of Virginia, Johnson Cleaveland, decided that after his death his slaves would be set free on condition that they emigrate to Liberia. I have always questioned the altruism of slave owners who wished to show their humanity by liberating their slaves after passing away – hence after enjoying a luxurious life based on the involuntary, free labour of human beings bought from people as unscrupulous as they were, and who had been responsible for the kidnapping, shipping and enslaving of innocent people, men, women and children.
As you can read in this newspaper clipping from the New York Transcript, dated September 13, 1834, Johnson Cleaveland’s slaves were given two years to decide. Should they decline the ‘offer’ the inevitable alternative meant that they would continue their enslaved existence since their ‘owner’ had stipulated in his will that they then had to make a choice of their new ‘owners’ amongst any of his relatives. After all, in 1834 slavery was common and legal notably in the southern states.
History does not tell us what eventually happened with the slaves, whether they emigrated to Liberia or stayed in the United States – and under which conditions. However, the article clearly shows that the emigration of African-Americans to Liberia was not always voluntary. The seal of the independent republic of Liberia which the colonists created in 1847 expressed their feelings and what brought them to Africa’s shores: the love of liberty.
On April 12, 2019 the Magistrate’s Court in Cape Town again postponed the case. It was the umpteenth postponement. I nearly lost track of the previous delays. The Dutch authorities want Guus Kouwenhoven back in the Netherlands. In April 2017 a Dutch court found him guilty of illegal arms trading in Liberia – in violation of a UN arms embargo – and of war crimes in Liberia and neighboring Guinea. Kouwenhoven had not awaited the final verdict and had fled to South Africa where he was arrested in December 2017.
He was released on bail which allows him te stay in his luxurious mansion in Cape Town. Kouwenhoven – once a member of the Dutch Quote500 – the list of 500 richest people in the Netherlands – hired the best and probably most expensive lawyers in South Africa to keep him out of jail. He had done the same in the Netherlands where he had hired Inez Weski, a well known and well paid Dutch lawyer, and one of the best.
Now, again, Kouwenhoven’s lawyers managed to keep him out of jail, preventing his extradition to the Netherlands where the 77-year old businessman – who made a fortune in Liberia aided by his partners-in-crime Charles Taylor and Emmanuel Shaw – was sentenced to 19 years in jail. By the way, former Finance minister Shaw is now …. one of president Weah’s senior advisors, whereas warlord-turned-president Taylor serves a 50-year jail sentence in the UK for aiding and abetting rebels and war criminals in Sierra Leone.
The magistrate’s decision to postpone the case was motivated by his wish to first hear the opinion of the Cape Town High Court on the request of Kouwenhoven’s South African lawyers, Gary Eisenberg and Anton Katz, who have questioned the legitimacy of Kouwenhoven’s arrest, in December 2017.
Katz and Eisenberg were already successful in obtaining several postponements of the extradition case in 2018. “We are becoming incredibly frustrated, but not surprised.”, said prosecutor Christopher Burke, after the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court umpteenth postponement of the case in 2018. Christopher Burke left us puzzling what he meant.
The High Court in Cape Town will decide on the case on June 7, 2019.
There’s a saying: ‘Justice delayed is justice denied.’
More on the Kouwenhoven trial in the Netherlands, which lasted from 2005 till 2017, and the saga of his extradition (2017 – present) on my website.
Browsing through old American newspapers searching for articles on the newly created republic of Liberia (1847), I read with a shock a headline that gave me goose pimples. “Arrest of Another Fugitive Slave” I read on page 3 of The New York Herald, dated August 26, 1851.
It was the chilling story of the arrest of John Bolding, a fugitive slave from Columbia, South Carolina, who – according to this newspaper – “was the property of Mr. Barnet Anderson of the same State”. Some four years earlier, John Bolding had run away from his ‘boss’. When arrested, in Poughkeepsie (NY), John Bolding was working successfully as a taylor, occupying a shop next to the Eastern Hotel. At Poughkeepsie, it seems, he was doing quite a profitable little business and was happily married.
His arrest incited his black friends to come to his rescue but before they could intervene the police hastily put John Bolding on a train to New York. The train left and at the time of the publication of the newspaper the ultimate fate of the fugitive slave was yet undecided.
Unfortunately, the case of John Bolding was one of many. The slavery issue in the United States would only be settled with the Emancipation Proclamation, issued by president Abraham Lincoln (1863). The Emancipation Proclamation changed the federal legal status of more than 3.5 million enslaved Afr0-Americans in the southern states. However, it did not end discrimination and racism in the United States, be it in the north or the south.
Notwithstanding the lack of civil rights most Afro-Americans decided to stay in the United States and build up their lives in the country where they were born. Emigration to Liberia came virtually to a stand-still.
The original 1851 article:
The New York Herald, morning edition, Tuesday, August 26, 1851 (page 3, 3rd column).