Edward Jenkins Roye

Liberia's Fifth President

Edward J. Roye
More than 160 years ago, two members of the board of trustees of the town of Newark, Ohio met and issued an order that all Negroes should leave within twenty-four hours. A constable was sent out to the black community to inform them of the order of banishment. A young black boy ran to the home of the third member of the board of trustees, A.E. Elliot, begging him to use his influence to circumvent the order. Elliot, his son, and Eddie Roye, went along to the Square where a large crowd had gathered, both blacks and whites. The entire Negro population was pleading that they should not be driven from their homes. Elliot did use his influence, he protested that such hasty action would create hardship on the people involved. His arguments proved effective and the order was postponed until it could be given more consideration. The postponement became indefinite and was never brought up again.
Trustee Elliot went about his affairs as usual, but young Eddie Roye must have walked away from the Square with a determination to find a land with freedom for "men of color."
The history of Edwards J. Roye and the history of Newark begin at about the same time. In 1810, just eight years after Newark was founded and surveyed, John Roye is recorded as having purchased a lot on the south side of the Square. Roye, said to have been born in slavery in Kentucky, came north with his wife Nancy and became a prosperous land owner. Their son, Edward J. Roye was born in a little house on what is now Mount Vernon Road on Feb. 3, 1815. He was educated in Newark schools, but nothing much is known of his early years. In 1822, his father sold his Newark property and went to Illinois, leaving Edward and his mother behind. A letter dated April 14, 1829, from John Edward Roye, is in the Vandalia Illinois courthouse. The letter beginning, "Dear Son," leaves all the property John Roye had acquired in Illinois to his son Edward.
Several biographers say Edward Roye became a barber, which was acceptable occupation for a black at that time. Newark did not have a white barber until 1856. By the year 1832, Edward Roye had left his hometown and was enrolled in Ohio University in Athens. He went on to teach school at Chillicothe in 1836 and after that he moved to Terre Houte, Ind., where he opened that city's first bathhouse/barbershop next door to the best hotel.
By the time Nancy Roye died and was buried in the Sixth Street cemetery in 1840, the mood of the country was changing. Colonizationists wanted to remove all blacks and send them to Africa. Whether due to changing in climate of the 1840's or to the scene around the Square that day in his childhood, Edward Roye decided to leave the United States for an African country, Liberia. On May 1, 1846, Roye sailed from New York and one month later landed in Monrovia.
His energy and intelligence soon made him a leading merchant and after acquiring great wealth, he returned to the U.S. on his own ship. It is said he visited Newark where he was entertained at a banquet for an event for Thomas Ewin, adoptive father of William Tecumseh Sherman.
Years later Roye became chief justice, speaker of the House, and finally, president of Liberia in 1871. He began a program of reconstruction for his nation intending to build new roads and schools.
For these purposes he needed money. Roye sailed for England where he began negotiations with London banks. The results proved ruinous, the terms of the loans were severe, among other things carrying an interest of 7 percent. Roye hastily agreed without consulting the legislature. Liberia actually received about $90,000, while bonds were issued for $400,000.
The whole affair caused great resentment against him, and when he returned home he was accused of embezzlement. He then tried to extend his two-year term of president by edict, after the people rose up against him.
In October 1871, Edward J. Roye was deposed from office., He was brought to trial, but escaped in the night . His is believed to have drowned while trying to reach a English ship in Monrovia harbor, on Feb. 12, 1872.
After many years the nation of Liberia has taken another look at their fifth president. A building housing what was the True Wig Party headquarters is named in his honor, as well as a ship, a town, and several schools.
Was he a villain or a victim of political planning? Did he seek his own prosperity of that or the common man?
The Ohio Historical Society refers to Edward James Roye as the "ninth and forgotten president from Ohio." While in a land far away from the "land of Legend" he is known by some as the "Lincoln of Liberia."
Most of this text is taken from a newspaper article in The Newark Advocate, April 22, 1984
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