roots of the colonization movement date back to various plans first
proposed in the eighteenth century. From the start, colonization of
free blacks in Africa was an issue on which both whites and blacks
were divided. Some blacks supported emigration because they thought
that black Americans would never receive justice in the United States.
Others believed African-Americans should remain in the United States
to fight against slavery and for full legal rights as American citizens.
Some whites saw colonization as a way of ridding the nation of blacks,
while others believed black Americans would be happier in Africa, where
they could live free of racial discrimination. Still others believed
black American colonists could play a central role in Christianizing
and civilizing Africa.
The American Colonization Society (ACS) was formed
in 1817 to send free African-Americans to Africa as an alternative
in the United States. In 1822, the society established on the west
coast of Africa a colony that in 1847 became the independent nation
of Liberia. By 1867, the society had sent more than 13,000 emigrants.
Beginning in the 1830s, the society was harshly attacked by abolitionists,
who tried to discredit colonization as a slaveholder's scheme. And,
after the Civil War, when many blacks wanted to go to Liberia, financial
support for colonization had waned. During its later years the society
focused on educational and missionary efforts in Liberia rather than
In 1913 and at its dissolution in 1964, the society donated
its records to the Library of Congress. The material contains a wealth
about the foundation of the society, its role in establishing Liberia,
efforts to manage and defend the colony, fund-raising, recruitment
of settlers, and the way in which black settlers built and led the
Moreover, opportunities exist for additional research
on the collection. For example, map study could reveal new data about
land ownership, and community development in Liberia. Work on the
photographs could lead to identification of more of the individuals,
and events depicted. From passenger lists and land grants, researchers
could glean new knowledge about Liberian genealogy. And, although
the early history of the society has been well presented in publications,
the post- Civil War period has not been thoroughly examined.
Beginnings of the American Colonization Society
||Paul Cuffee (1759-1817), a successful Quaker ship
owner of African- American and Native American ancestry, advocated
settling freed American slaves in Africa. He gained support from
the British government, free black leaders in the United States,
and members of Congress for a plan to take emigrants to the British
colony of Sierra Leone. Cuffee intended to make one voyage per
year, taking settlers and bringing back valuable cargoes. In 1816,
at his own expense, Captain Cuffee took thirty-eight American blacks
to Freetown, Sierra Leone, but his death in 1817 ended further
However, Cuffee had reached a large audience with his pro-colonization
arguments and laid the groundwork for later organizations such
as the American Colonization Society.
Memoir of Captain Paul Cuffee, A Man of Colour: To
Which is Subjoined The Epistle of the Society of Sierra Leone
in African & etc., title page York: W. Alexander,
1812  Rare
Book and Special Collections Division (1)
||In July 1820, the ACS published The African Intelligencer, edited
by Jehudi Ashmun (1794-1828), a young teacher who hoped to become
a missionary to Africa. Its thirty-two pages contained articles
on the slave trade, African geography, the expedition of the Elizabeth (the
ship that carried the first group of colonists to Liberia), and
the ACS constitution. Upset by the expense and the lack of public
support for the journal, ACS managers canceled the monthly journal
after one issue.
Ashmun went to Africa in 1822, where he became an early leader of the
Liberian colony before dying from a fever in 1828. This copy belonged
to William Thornton, architect of the United States Capitol and a supporter
The African Intelligencer, vol. 1, no. 1, July 1820, title
page Journal Rare Book and
Special Collections Division (2)
||Selling life memberships was a standard fund-raising
practice of benevolent societies such as the American Colonization
Society. At thirty dollars each, the memberships were a popular
gift for ministers. In 1825, one of the agents who sold the certificates
in New England estimated that "not less than $50,000 have in this
way been poured into the treasury of the Lord." This certificate
bears a facsimile signature of Henry Clay, a founder of the ACS
and its strong advocate in Congress. Clay succeeded former president
James Madison as president of the society, serving from 1836 to
[Life Membership Certificate for American Colonization Society], ca.
1840 Certificate American Colonization Society Papers Manuscript
||Jehudi Ashmun envisioned an American empire in Africa.
During 1825 and 1826, Ashmun took steps to lease, annex, or buy
tribal lands along the coast and on major rivers leading inland.
Like his predecessor Lt. Robert Stockton, who in 1821 persuaded
African King Peter to sell Cape Montserado (or Mesurado) by pointing
a pistol at his head, Ashmun was prepared to use force to extend
the colony's territory. His aggressive actions quickly increased
Liberia's power over its neighbors. In this treaty of May 1825,
King Peter and other native kings agreed to sell land in return
for 500 bars of tobacco, three barrels of rum, five casks of powder,
five umbrellas, ten iron posts, and ten pairs of shoes, among other
[Treaty between American Colonization Society and African
Kings], May 11, 1825 Holograph American Colonization Society
||In March 1825, the ACS began a quarterly, The
African Repository and Colonial Journal, edited by Ralph
Randolph Gurley (1797-1872), who headed the Society until 1844.
Conceived as the society's propaganda organ, the journal promoted
both colonization and Liberia. Among the items printed were articles
about Africa, letters of praise, official dispatches stressing
the prosperity and steady growth of the colony, information about
emigrants, and lists of donors. This issue shows the first Liberian
settlement at Cape Montserado (or Mesurado), which became the
capital city, Monrovia.
The African Repository and Colonial Journal, vol. 1, no.
4, June 1825, p. 129 Journal Rare
Book and Special Collections Division (5)
||For many years the ACS tried to persuade the United
States Congress to appropriate funds to send colonists to Liberia.
Although Henry Clay led the campaign, it failed. The society did,
however, succeed in its appeals to some state legislatures. In
1850, Virginia set aside $30,000 annually for five years to aid
and support emigration. In its Thirty-Fourth Annual Report, the
society acclaimed the news as "a great Moral demonstration of the
propriety and necessity of state action!" During the 1850s, the
society also received several thousand dollars from the New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Maryland legislatures.
[Act by State of Virginia making appropriations for removal of free
persons of color to Liberia], 1850 American Colonization Society Papers Manuscript
||During the 1830s, William Lloyd Garrison's violent
condemnations of colonization as a slaveholder's plot to perpetuate
slavery created deep hostility between abolitionists and colonizationists.
Intended to encourage emigration and answer anti-colonization propaganda,
the ACS pamphlet answers questions about household items needed
in Liberia, climate, education, health conditions, and other concerns
about the new country. Citing abolitionist charges that colonizationists
merely wanted "to get clear of the colored people of the United
States from their political and social disadvantages . . . to place
them in a country where they may enjoy the benefits of free government
. . . and to spread civilization, sound morals, and true religion
Information About Going to Liberia: Things Which Every Emigrant
Ought to Know. . ., title page Washington: American Colonization
Society, 1848 Rare Book and
Special Collections Division (8)
||By the 1840s, Liberia had become a financial burden
on the ACS. In addition, Liberia faced political threats, chiefly
from Britain, because it was neither a sovereign power nor a bona
fide colony of any sovereign nation. Because the United States
refused to claim sovereignty over Liberia, in 1846 the ACS ordered
the Liberians to proclaim their independence. This map of the newly
independent country shows the dates that the various territories
were acquired. Settlements were located primarily along the coast
and the many rivers leading inland. Inset maps highlight important
areas of the country.
Republic of Liberia. Drawn under superintendence of Com.
Lynch, USN, 1853 Map Geography
and Map Division (9)