Joseph J. Cheeseman

Joseph J. Cheeseman
Credit: Heard

Joseph James Cheeseman

Term 12th President: 1892 – 1896
Born March 7, 1843, Edina, Grand Bassa County, Liberia
Died November 12, 1896, Monrovia, Liberia
Race/Ethnicity Black, Americo-Liberian
County of Origin Grand Bassa
Profession Minister, Merchant
Political Party True Whig Party


Joseph James Cheeseman was born in Edina, Grand Bassa County when Liberia was still a colony. His parents were among the early settlers that migrated to the colony by the ACS. He was trained as a minister by his father, Baptist Missionary John H. Cheeseman. His father died when he was 16 years old, causing him to assume responsibility of this mother. In November 1868, he was ordained as pastor of the First Baptist Church in Edina (Starr, 1913). He also worked as a merchant and gained prominence among the coastal merchants in spite of his humble beginnings.


Cheeseman was educated in Liberia and attended Liberia College.


1868 – 1982 Ordained Minister, Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Edina
1871 Superintendent, Southern Baptist Mission
1868 – 1892 President, Liberian Baptist Convention
1872 – 1875 Collector of Customs, Port of Grand Bassa
County Court Clerk
1875 – 1879 Representative, Grand Bassa County
Mayor of Edina
1884 – 1891 Judge, Court of Quarterly Sessions and Common Pleas
1892 – 1896 President

Vice President
William D. Coleman

He had a successful career spanning the church, business and government. He diligently served in various capacities and excelled in his career. Starting as a minister, he became superintendent of the Southern Baptist Convention and later served as President of the Liberian Baptist Convention. He collected customs in Grand Bassa and became a judge before his election to the presidency. The Liberia Bulletin No. 1-9 in states his personal motto as:

Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might.

-Cheeseman, Liberia, 1892

He was initially a member of the Republican Party and lost the presidential race to Gardner in 1881. He later joined the True Whig Party and ran for the presidency in 1891.



1892 – 1894
1894 – 1896
1896 – died in office on Nov 12, 1896

As a candidate of the True Whig Party, Cheeseman won the election in May 1891 against Anthony D. Williams and began his first term in January 1892. He initially focused on implementing fiscal policies to increase the nation’s revenues. A legislative act allowed the administration to buy a gunboat from Europe. It was then used it to patrol the shores and prevent steamers from entering unauthorized ports. This curbed smuggling of goods into the country and increased the national revenue.

An Act was passed requiring custom duties be paid in gold only. Another fiscal measure of the administration was creating a sound legal tender for the country, and changed the nation’s currency from paper note to gold.

He was re-elected in 1893 and 1895 was described as very energetic and one with unusual abilities with much devotion to his calling. Cheeseman had to deal with the third Grebo war that required sending troops to the Cavalla area. The Liberian army defeated the Grebo fighters and signed a peace treaty with them. On the other end of the coast, there was fighting in Cape Mount with the tribal people in that region.

Cheeseman and his cabinet, 1894
Credit: H.H. Johnston

Due to disorder at Liberia College, he closed the college. This era also saw the French colonists in the Ivory Coast take Liberian land between the Cavalla River and San Pedro River.

Regardless of his efforts, Liberia’s economy saw little growth due to minimal agricultural and industrial development. His hard work is believed to have contributed to his demise. During his third term, he died in office on November 12, 1896. He was the first president to die in office and was succeeded by Vice President William David Coleman who completed his term.


Brawley, Benjamin Griffith. A Social History of the American Negro, Being a History of the Negro Problem in the United States, Including a History and Study of the Republic of Liberia. The Macmillan Company, 1921. Print.

Cassell, Abayomi. Liberia: History of the First African Republic. New York. Fountainhead Publishers, 1970. Print.

Dunn, D. Historical Dictionary of Liberia / D. Elwood Dunn, Amos J. Beyan, Carl Patrick Burrowes. 2nd ed. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2001. Print.

Elections in Liberia. African Elections Database. 25 Nov. 2011. Web.

Heard, William H. The Bright Side of African Life. Negro Universities Press, 1969. Print.

Johnston, Harry Hamilton. Liberia,. Hutchinson & Co., 1906. Print.

Liberia. American Colonization Society Bulletin No. 1-9, Jan. 1892. Web.

Liberia. American Colonization Society Bulletin No. 19-27, Jan. 1901. Web.

Starr, Frederick. Liberia : Description, History, Problems. Chicago: s.n., 1913. Print.