Liberia: A Brief History, From Founding To Independence
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The United States and Liberia share a history unlike any other nations, and two New England states in particular were instrumental in the founding of Africa’s first republic and America’s first colony.
The two West African nations that Charles Taylor obliterated were born on the docks of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, roughly 50 years before the American Civil War.
- In 1696, just 75 years after the Mayflower landed on Plymouth Rock, the Seaflower docked in Newport, Rhode Island, and delivered the first documented African slaves to arrive in America.
- By the early 1700s, “Enslaved Africans outnumber indentured white servants in Newport 10:1.”
- In 1780, activists and advocates founded America’s first African mutual aid society, the Free African Union Society, in Newport.
- In 1811, a crew of freeborn Black Americans and freed American slaves first sailed from New Bedford, and settled a colony in West Africa.
- In 1815, Paul Cuffe, a wealthy mixed race merchant and Quaker from New Bedford who championed the Back-to-Africa movement, sailed 38 black Americans colonists, mostly Bostonians, to settle in West Africa.
- In 1817, The American Colonization Society was formed. They sought to ship African-Americans back to Africa as an alternative to emancipation.
- In 1820, settlers from New York City to West Africa aboard the Elizabeth, nicknamed the “Mayflower of Liberia.”
- In 1822, The American Colonization Society officially declared the colony of Liberia the first US colony.
- In the 1830s, The American Colonization Society was “harshly attacked by abolitionists, who tried to discredit colonization as a slaveholder’s scheme.”
- In 1847, Liberia declared its independence, formed the first African republic, flew a lone star red, white, and blue flag over the capital, Monrovia, named after US President James Monroe.
- In 1850, the United States passed the Fugitive Slave Act. Many blacks fled the US for Liberia.
- In 1854, President Abraham Lincoln wrote: “When southern people tell us they are no more responsible for the origin of slavery, than we; I acknowledge the fact. When it is said that the institution exists; and that it is very difficult to get rid of it, in any satisfactory way, I can understand and appreciate the saying. …I surely will not blame them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself. If all earthly power were given me, I would not know what to do, as to the existing institution. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia—to their own native land.”
- In 1862, the US Congress celebrated the “Independence of Hayti and Liberia.” “At last, civilization has obtained a foothold in Africa, almost under the equator,” Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner said in his congressional proposition “to authorize the appointment of diplomatic representatives to the republics of Hayti and Liberia.” “Liberia has claims of its own. If our commercial relations with this interesting country are less important, they are nevertheless of such consequence as to require protection, while this republic may properly look to us for parental care.”
While Liberia is “the only Black state in Africa never subjected to European Colonial rule,” the republic was founded as the relocation destination championed by duplicitous abolitionists. Americo-Liberians, who made up about 2% of the population and the vast majority of voters, adopted similar economic and social structures of the American South, built Southern-style mansions, and enslaved and exploited the locals.
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