American Colonization Society
February 6, 1820: The first American Colonization Society (ACS) ship leaves New York City. The ACS was formed in 1816 by Robert Finley of New Jersey as an attempt to appease two separate groups which were on opposite sides of the issue of slavery. In 1786, the Committee for the Relief of the Black Poor attempted to establish the Sierra Leone Province of Freedom as a haven for escaped colonial slaves. Paul Cuffee, a wealthy mixed-race shipowner and advocate hoped to settle freed blacks back in Africa. He was able to finance successful voyages to British ruled Sierra Leone and help freed blacks settle in Africa. He died in 1817 and his ventures may have helped inspire the ACS.
The early advocates felt repatriation in Africa would allow freed slaves a better chance for a full life. Slaveholders were against mandated abolition and saw the movement of freed slaves back to Africa as a way to stem further revolts among the slaves. Beginning in 1821, thousands of free black Americans moved to Liberia and the colony continued to grow and gain economic stability. In 1847, the legislature of Liberia declared themselves to be an independent state. Critics of ACS claim it was a racist society and point to the benevolent origins which eroded. They further charge that it became an American colonization tool to form an empire in Africa. The ACS closely controlled the development of Liberia until it declared itself independent.
Between 1816 and 1819, the members of ACS, some of whom were well known political figures of the day, relentlessly pressured Congress and the US President for support. In 1819 Congress gave them $100,000 and they were able to take 88 black emigrants and three white ACS agents aboard the Elizabeth and said for West Africa and Liberia. ACS purchased the freedom of slaves and paid for their passage as well as helping already freed African-Americans get back to Africa. Henry Clay attempted to get Congress to fund sending colonists to Liberia without success but some state legislatures were willing. Several states eventually helped move freed blacks from America to Liberia. While some in America saw it as a means to colonial expansion, the idea was never fully adopted.
The first ship arrived at Freetown, Sierra Leone and then sailed south to what is currently the northern coast of Liberia. All three whites and 22 of the blacks died of yellow fever in the first few weeks. The rest of the settlers returned to Sierra Leone and waited for another ship to arrive. Nautilus sailed twice in 1821 and they were able to create a settlement at Mesurado Bay on an island they called Perseverance. They ran into many difficulties along the way, one of which was the resistance of locals to accept the colonists – some of which resulted in armed confrontations. Even so, during the next decade, 2,638 African-Americans migrated to the area. The colony had an agreement with the US Government to accept freed slaves who had been taken from illegal slave ships.
There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires. – Nelson Mandela
The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion. – Albert Camus
Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
What light is to the eyes – what air is to the lungs – what love is to the heart, liberty is to the soul of man. – Robert Green Ingersoll
Also on this day: Tobacco Road – In 1987, the US bans smoking in all federal buildings, except Congress.
Not So Old – In 1987, President Ronald Reagan became the oldest sitting US President.
QEII – In 1952, British King George VI died.
Voice Artist – In 1914, Thurl Ravenscroft was born.
Trains – In 1815, the first railroad charter in the US was issued.