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.
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.
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.
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