Stephen Allen Benson

Stephen Allen Benson
Credit:

Stephen Allen Benson

Term 2nd President: 1856 – 1864
Born March 1816, Cambridge, Maryland, USA
Died January 24, 1865 Grand Bassa, Liberia
Race/Ethnicity Black, Americo-Liberian
County of Origin Grand Bassa
Profession Businessman, Farmer, Preacher
Political Party True Liberian Party

Bio

Liberia’s second president was born in Cambridge, Maryland, USA, in 1816. His parents were free people of color. Benson and his family moved to the colony on the brig Strong in 1822 when he was six years old. His father James worked as a soldier keeping guard over the settlement to prevent attacks from the tribal people.

He was one of seven children captured by the natives during the November 10, 1822 to December 1, 1822 battles between the settlers and indigenous. Benson’s father was wounded and his older brother was killed. The natives, especially the women, took care of the children for four months and they were returned to their families after some negotiations.

He spent the next 2 years helping his father build their family home which was the biggest house on the colony at that time. In 1825 their mother passed away. His father later moved the family to Bassa where he was assigned, purchasing rice and other commodities for the settlers in Monrovia.

Like his father, Benson farmed and traded with the people of Bassa Country. He was also involved in many battles with them. For those concerned that Roberts was almost white, Benson was of a darker complexion and considered more representative of the black race.

I have seldom seen a man more free from imperfections, or more adorned with virtues. Mr. Benson is of purely African Descent; but through his dark features beams a mind of great intelligence, of stainless honor, of quick and delicate sensibilities, and noble affections. From early childhood he lived in Liberia; there he has been educated, and there uninterruptedly lived.

-Rev. R.R. Gurley, The African Repository, 1865.

Education

Benson received all of his education from the colony schools in Liberia. He stopped school at 15 and his father encouraged him to select a suitable career path.

Career

Merchant and Farmer
1832 – 1836 Clerk and storekeeper
1836 Soldier
1837? Secretary to Grand Bassa Governor Thomas Buchanan
1841 Local preacher, Methodist Episcopal Church
1842 Deacon, Methodist Episcopal Church
1842 Member of the Colonial Council for Grand Bassa County
1848 Judge of the Court of Quarter Sessions & Admiralty of Grand Bassa County
1854 – 1856 VP under President J.J. Roberts
1856 – 1864 President of Liberia

Vice Presidents:
1856 – 1860: Benjamin Y. Yates
1860 – 1864: Daniel B. Warner

Stephen Allen Benson was a Military Shopkeeper for four years then served as a Private Secretary to Thomas Buchanan who was Liberia’s white governor.  Benson became a Successful Businessman and a Methodist Preacher. In 1835 he joined the militia and in 1842 Benson was first elected to public office becoming a delegate to the Colonial Council. After Liberia gained independence in 1847 he became a judge and served until his election as Vice President. Benson was the 3rd Vice President of Liberia from 1854 to 1856 under President Joseph Jenkins Roberts and succeeded him in 1856 as President.

Presidency

Benson became president in January 1856 and served for 8 years. He faced unrest with the tribal people, particularly the Grebo war between the natives and colonists at Cape Palmas. The situation grew worse and President Roberts accompanied by some soldiers went to Cape Palmas to intervene. They successfully negotiated with the natives and resolved the conflict. In the end, Maryland in Africa joined the Republic of Liberia and became Maryland County on February 28, 1857.

During his term, the nation received the vessel “Hirondelle” and military equipment for 1000 armed men from Napoleon III of France. Benson gained recognition of Liberia’s independence from Italy and the U.S. in 1862. While in London, he signed a freedom of trade treaty with the U.S. A notable event of his tenure was the opening of Liberia College in 1863.

Post Presidency

President Benson was succeeded by Daniel B. Warner in 1864. He returned to private life, retiring to his plantation. His focus was promoting agricultural, commercial and other development. Benson died at his home near Buchanan on January 24th 1865 and was buried on his farm in Grand Bassa County.


Sources

Death of S. A. Benson, President of Liberia. The Anti-Slavery Reporter. V XIII. Third Series. London: 1865. Web.

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

Guannu, Joseph S. Liberian Civics. Monrovia: Herald Publishing, 2004. Print.

Richardson, Nathaniel R. Liberia’s Past and Present. Diplomatic Press and Pub. Co., 1959. Print.

S. A. Benson, President of Liberia. The National Magazine. VIII. New York: Carlton & Phillips. Jan. – Jun. 1856. Web.

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

The African Repository and Colonial Journal. V39. The American Colonization Society. Washington: William H. Moore, 1863. Print.

The African Repository and Colonial Journal. V41. The American Colonization Society. Washington. William H. Moore, 1865. Print.

Wilson, Charles Morrow. Liberia: Black Africa in Microcosm. [1st ed.]. Harper & Row, 1971. Print.

Twenty First Annual Report of the New York State Colonization Society. New York: John A.Gray, 1853. Print.

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