The American Colonization Society
The American Colonization Society was established in 1816 by Robert Finley as an attempt to satisfy two groups in America. Ironically, these groups were on opposite ends of the spectrum involving slavery in the early 1800's. One group consisted of philanthropists, clergy and abolitionist who wanted to free African slaves and their descendants and provide them with the opportunity to return to Africa. The other group was the slave owners who feared free people of color and wanted to expel them from America.
Both the these groups felt that free blacks would be unable to assimilate into the white society of this country. John Randolph, one famous slave owner called free blacks "promoters of mischief." At this time, about 2 million Negroes live in America of which 200,000 were free persons of color.
Henry Clay, a southern congressman and sympathizer of the plight of free blacks, believed that because of "unconquerable prejudice resulting from their color, they never could amalgamate with the free whites of this country."
On December 21, 1816, a group of exclusively white upper-class males including James Monroe, Bushrod Washington, Andrew Jackson, Francis Scott Key, and Daniel Webster met at the Davis hotel in Washington D.C. with Henry Clay presiding over the meeting. They met one week later and adopted a constitution. During the next three years, the society raised money by selling membership using the certificate shown here. The Society's members relentlessly pressured Congress and the President for support. In 1819, they received $100,000 from Congress and in January 1820 the first ship, the Elizabeth, sail from New York headed for West Africa with three white ACS agents and 88 emigrants.
The ship arrive first at Freetown, Sierra Leone then sailed south to what is now the Northern coast of Liberia and made an effort to establish a settlement. All three whites and 22 of the emigrants died within three weeks from yellow fever. The remainders returned to Sierra Leone and waited from another ship. The Nautilus sail twice in 1821 and established a settlement at Mesurado Bay on an island they named Perseverance. It was difficult for the early settlers, made of mostly free-born blacks, who were not born into slavery, but were denied the full rights of American citizenship. The native Africans resisted the expansion of the settlers resulting in many armed conflicts. Nevertheless, in the next decade 2,638 African-Americans migrated to the area. Also, the colony entered an agreement with the U.S. Government to accept freed slaves captured from slave ships.
During the next 20 years the colony continued to grow and establish economic stability. Since the establishment of the colony, the ACS employed white agents to govern the colony. In 1842, Joseph Jenkins Roberts became the first non-white governor of Liberia. In 1847, the legislature of Liberia declared itself an independent state, with J.J. Roberts elected as its first President.
The society in Liberia developed into three segments: The settlers with European-African lineage; freed slaves from slave ships and the West Indies; and indigenous native people. These groups would have a profound affect on the history of Liberia.