Arrival of the Freed Slaves

The Need for Removing the Freed Slaves from the US

In the early 1800s, freed blacks in the US were a growing part of the population. A lot of these people had run away from their slave masters and others gained their freedoms upon the deaths of their masters. The promotion of equality of all men by the British and growth in this population created fear in the white population.

Removing the black race from America had been introduced a few decades earlier with many leaders of that era not wanting the mixture of the white and black races. This class had limited legal status in many states and there was concern that they would not integrate well with the majority white society. There was also fear that the black race was inferior to the whites and would not effectively compete with the white population but rather become a lasting underclass.

The idea of colonization was not new in 1820. Thomas Jefferson, for one, had broached it in his Notes on the State of Virginia, written just five years after the Declaration of Independence. “Among the Romans emancipation required but one effort,” Jefferson wrote. “The slave [usually of the same race], when made free, might mix with, without staining the blood of his master. But with us a second is necessary, unknown to history. When freed, he is to be removed beyond the reach of mixture.”


The American Colonization Society

The American Colonization Society (ACS) was established on December 28, 1816 by white Americans as a means of transporting freed black slaves from the Americas back to Africa. The organization was founded by a Presbyterian minister named Robert Finley and other influential Americans like Bushrod Washington (nephew of US President George Washington and the Society’s first president), Francis Scott Key and Henry Clay.

[Life Membership Certificate for American Colonization Society], ca. 1840. Certificate. American Colonization Society Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress
It was created with the intension to”…promote and execute a plan for colonizing the free people of colour, residing in the United States, in Africa, or such other place as Congress shall deem most expedient” (ACS, 1831). This was the means to rid America of the black population.

Another advocate for the ACS was the British Abolitionist Movement which was already in effect by the 1790’s. The ACS was supported by a small group of white men, local churches and auxiliary state organizations. Its preliminary evaluation of the West African Coast in order to find a suitable land for a settlement was charged to Samuel J. Mills and Ebenezer Burgess.

According to Bushrod Washington, these were “gentlemen possessing all the qualifications requisite for the important trust confided to them” (ACS, 1818). They visited the British colony at Shebro Island, and reported to the US government that the land was favorable for resettling the freed slaves.

Resettling the Freed Slaves

The Elizabeth leaves New York for Cape Mesurado
Source: The Wesphalian Post

After about 6 months of recruiting, the Elizabeth (sometimes called the Mayflower of Liberia) left the port of New York on January 31, 1820 with 86 passengers. There were 28 men aboard and the rest were women and children. This first group under the leadership of former US Marine Captain Reverend Samuel Bacon, landed on Shebro Island, Sierra Leone in February 1820.

Although they were given mud shelters upon arrival, living conditions were not favorable for them. They were in unfamiliar territory, had no knowledge of living in the tropics and besides their distant African heritage, had nothing in common with the indigenous tribes.

Another problem was malaria and other diseases that were foreign to the settlers. Their only doctor, John Crozier, died a few weeks after arrival. In September, Agent Bacon travelled to Freetown to get some food and medicine for the settlers. He too fell ill and died at Cape Shilling. By this time, 49 of the company of 86 had died.

Daniel Coker succeeded Bacon and decided to take the rest of the people to Fourah Bay. The ACS headquarters heard the news and again solicited federal aid for the colony. More agents were sent along with 35 freed slaves who boarded the Nautilus at Hampton Roads, Virginia on January 21, 1821. This vessel arrived at Fourah Bay in March.

At this time, US President Monroe appointed US Navy surgeon Eli Ayres and Navy officer Robert Stockton as his personal envoy. They arrived at Fourah Bay via the Navy schooner Alligator to meet another wave of the African fever. They travelled southward in search for a better location for the colony. Upon reaching the St. Paul River, they tried to land near the mouth of the river but the natives would not permit them for fear that they were involved in some slavery venture.

Further south, they found the Cape Mesurado (so named by the Portuguese) area more suitable for their settlement. This land at the end of the Mesurado River was called “Ducuh” by the Dey or “Dugbuh” by the Bassa. The native kings would not sell under any circumstances as a land could be leased or lent out for temporary use by strangers, but could never be sold to outsiders. Stockton and Ayres would not take no for an answer and King Long Peter was forced to sell his land to the ACS when Stockton held a pistol to the king’s head. The agreement to take the land was made at gun point and the land was sold for guns and other goods worth US $300.00.

When the freed slaves arrived from Sierra Leone, the native warriors encamped on the beach and would not allow them to land on Cape Mesurado. They therefore landed on Dozoa Island (later named Perseverance Island and then renamed Providence Island) out of the reach of the natives and stayed there for 3 months. Eventually, they moved to the Cape and established the Colony at Cape Mesurado.


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