Categories: Expansion and Reform, Slavery and Abolition, Social Movements

Liberian Independence Day

Third Annual Report of the Managers of the Colonization Society of the State of Connecticut
Cover image, Third Annual Report of the Managers of the Colonization Society of the State of Connecticut. (New Haven, 1830). This wood-engraving shows the first settlement at Cape Montserado in what was then called the Grain Coast and which later became the Republic of Liberia – Connecticut Historical Society

by Barbara Austen

On July 26, 1847, a group of settlers in a small colony on the west coast of Africa issued a Declaration of Independence, creating the independent Republic of Liberia with a constitution based on the political principles of the United States. Many of these former African Americans had been freed from enslavement; others were born free but left the United States seeking greater opportunities for themselves and their children.

Africa. Hand-colored lithograph from Mitchell’s Series of Outline Maps

Africa. Hand-colored lithograph from Mitchell’s Series of Outline Maps, 1841. Mitchell’s maps were used to teach geography and history to school children – Connecticut Historical Society

The American Colonization Society, which aimed to send African Americans to Africa, was founded in 1816. Connecticut’s own Colonization Society was founded in 1828. According to its constitution the purpose was:

to promote and execute a plan for colonizing (with their consent) the free people of colour residing in our country, in Africa, or such other places as Congress shall deem most expedient.

Colonization Movement Gains Supporters—and Detractors

The colony that would eventually become Liberia was established in 1822; by 1832, there were more than 2,500 settlers there. Eventually 18,000 Americans of African descent would emigrate to Liberia. Charlotte Cowles, of Farmington, mentioned in a letter to her brother Samuel that:

Dr. Porter [the minister] preached one of the most remarkable sermons which was ever heard. It was Anti-Abolition, of course. He said ‘the only difference was, that one class [the Abolitionists] wished to persuade or compel (!!!) the slaveholders to give up their slaves immediately; and the other class [the Colonization advocates] were for having slavery abolished gradually’.

While some Connecticut residents, like Miss Cowles, were ardent Abolitionists, others favored the approach of the Colonization advocates. In 1852, Hartford’s well-known and successful African American photographer Augustus Washington chose to emigrate to Liberia with his family. He achieved great success there not only as a photographer but also as a major landowner and a member of the Liberian Congress.

Portrait of Gideon Tomlinson

Portrait of Gideon Tomlinson (1780-1854), Oil on panel. Tomlinson was the first president of the Connecticut Colonization Society – Connecticut Historical Society

Colonization proved only a temporary and partial solution for the problem of slavery. Many African Americans had lived for generations in the United States and considered it their country. They had no desire to emigrate to Africa. And many Abolitionists, both black and white, felt that Colonization favored the slave holders and advocated for immediate emancipation. It would require a bloody conflict to finally put an end to slavery, and it would require a century of struggle and protest before future generations of African Americans would gain rights that their ancestors had long sought.

Barbara Austen is the Florence S. Marcy Crofut Archivist at the Connecticut Historical Society.

© Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network and Connecticut Historical Society. All rights reserved. This article originally appeared on Your Public Media

LEARN MORE

Documents

“Catalog Record of the Charlotte and Samuel Cowles Correspondence, 1833-141, 1846.” Connecticut Historical Society Library Catalog, 2016. Link.

Books

Colonization Society of the State of Connecticut. An Address to the Public by the Managers of the Colonization Society of Connecticut. New Haven, CT: Printed by Treadway and Adams, 1828. Link.
Carey, Mathew. Letters on the Colonization Society: With a View of Its Probable Results ... Addressed to C.F. Mercer. Philadelphia, PA: Young, Printer, 1833. Link.
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