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Liberia
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The Settlement of Freed Slaves from America in Liberia

The History of the Coastal Area of West Africa Before the Creation of Liberia and Sierra Leone

The area of West Africa which later became Liberia was invaded in the sixteenth century by Manes tribes from what is now the interior of Ivory Coast and Ghana. The Manes partitioned the conquered territories and their peoples among Manes leaders with one chieftain over all. It was the usual feudalistic arrangement. The overall ruler resided in the Cape Mont region.

Shortly after the Manes conquered the region there was a migration of the Vai people into the region of Cape Mont. The Vai were part of the Malian Empire. When the Malian Empire collapsed in the fourteenth century its peoples were forced to migrate. The Vai chose the pre-Liberian coastal region.

A tribe native to the area, the Kru, opposed the migration into their region by the Vai. An alliance of the Manes and Kru stopped the further migration of the Vai but the Vai remained in the Cape Mont region (where the city of Robersport is now located).

The Kru became involved with trading with Europeans. Initially the Kru traded in non-slave commodities but later became active participants in the slave trade. Kru traders also engaged in a surprising form of trade. Kru traders and their canoes would be taken on board European ships and would engage in trade along the coast. At some agreed upon point the Kru traders and their canoes would be put off the ship and the traders would paddle back to their home territory.

Kru laborers left their territory to work on plantations and construction as paid laborers, some even worked building the Suez and Panama Canals.

Another tribal group in the area was the Glebo. The Glebo were driven as a result of the Manes invasion to migrate to the coast of what later became Liberia.

In 1602 the Dutch established a trading port at Cape Mont. About the same time the English established a two trading sites in the vicinity of the Cape Mont region.

The Condition of Free Blacks in the U.S. Around 1800

The number of free Blacks in the U.S. was dramatically increasing in the late 18th century. For example, in Virginia their numers were:

Subject to prejudice and finding employment difficult to find their lot was not an easy one. Various religious groups devoted their attentions to the poverty of free Blacks. The Quakers were one group but another was the Evangelicals, the same sect that was influential in abolishing slavery in Great Britain and gaining official suppression of the Atlantic slave trade. Because of the involvement of the Evangelicals or Saints in the colonization scheme in Sierra Leone it was natural for American Evangelicals to think in terms of a similar settlement for American Freed slaves.

American Evangelicals considered resettlement of free Blacks in Louisiana and Florida (which were outside of the U.S. at the time), or the West Indies as well as West Africa.

American Evangelicals contacted the authorities in England who controlled the Sierra Leone settlement. Sierra Leone would have accepted Americans who wanted to settle there. But at the time the Sierra Leone settlement was perceived to be a failure with many of the settlers leaving to participate in the West African slave trade. This was not encouraging to th American Evangelicals so they thought of establishing a new settlement.

The British promoters of Sierra Leone relied primarily upon private funding, both charitable and commercial, with government support only as a supplement. The American promoters of West African resettlement sought public support as the primary basis for their scheme. Three American Presidents favored and supported the resettlement program; Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe. In addition two of the most prominent politicians and orators of their day, Daniel Webster of Massachesetts and Henry Clay of Kentucky were not just supporters of the plan but could be said to be instrumental in launching the program.

The resettlement program took form as the American Colonization Society (ACS). The ACS included religious zealots who wanted to suppress slavery and better the life of American Blacks, but it also included racial segregationists who wanted to purge America of Africans. It also included people who wanted to expel free Blacks from the South to better protect the institution of slavery.

The ACS chose Reverend Samuel Mills and Professor Ebenezer Burgess to go to West Africa to select a site. The two men journeyed to England to consult with the authorities for Sierra Leone before going to West Africa. It was recommended that they establish their settlement on Sherbro Island, eighty miles south of Freetown.

(To be continued.)


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