THE AMERICAN COLONIZATION SOCIETY
At the end of the American Revolution many white citizens of the new United States began to think seriously about the moral aspects of slavery. The valuable service rendered by some free African-American soldiers during the Revolutionary War brought the issue of slavery to bear upon the consciences of many Americans, who had so recently won their own freedom from England. A few slaves had also earned their personal freedom fighting in the war.
During the fledgling years of the nation the Abolitionist movement slowly began to take shape throughout the original 13 states. The northern states had all individually abolished slavery between 1784 and 1804. This action established the political boundaries between North and South, free and slave states. Even southern states had a brief 10-year fling with abolitionist activity. During the 1780s Virginia narrowly defeated a bill to abolish slavery in the state.
An issue on many European-Americans' minds was how to deal with all the free Negroes if and when slavery ever came to an end. This was of more concern in the South because of its much larger per capita black population. Though free Negroes in the North had been able to survive, they lacked the numbers to exert any real political influence.
In many parts of the South, however, where blacks outnumbered whites, the latter were afraid that if freed and allowed to vote the former slaves could exert considerable influence on southern politics. This concern prompted many southerners who might otherwise have favored abolishing slavery to decide against such a move.
From 1810 through 1860 the opposing views on slavery drove the North and South further apart. A common view today is that there were only two choices: freedom or slavery for African-American slaves. There was another view, however, shared by a sizable group of American citizens. Although they held slavery to be wrong, they believed for a variety of reasons that it would be best for freed slaves to return to Africa. Some felt the Negro could never get a fair deal in America. Others feared the former slaves' competition for jobs. Still others were sure the two races would never be able to get along together.
In 1816 a group calling themselves the American Colonization Society was founded. Six years later they established an American colony on the northern bulge of West Africa and named it Liberia, calling to mind the word "liberty." The ACS encouraged free Negroes to emigrate to Liberia, where they were promised the proverbial 40 acres and a mule to help them build a new life
Every state in the United States before the Civil War had state and county chapters of the American Colonization Society. In southeast Ohio’s Washington County there were frequent debates between the county Abolitionist Society and Colonization Society over the issue of free Negroes.
The ACS thought all freed slaves should go to Liberia, and the Abolitionist Society believed they should be given full U.S. citizenship. Southern states paid the ACS for each free Negro resettled in Liberia. Virginia, for example, passed an act in 1833 paying the ACS $28 for every free person of color who emigrated there.
In 1847 Liberia became the first independent republic in Africa, its institutions of government modeled after those of the United States. Monrovia, the capital and principal city, was named for the fifth American President. There are nine Liberian counties: Lofa, Cape Mount Bounty, Monterrado, Bong, Nimba, Grand Bassa, Grand Gedeh, Sinoe, and Maryland.
Following is a letter written in 1834 by Beverly Wilson, an emigrant to Liberia from Richmond, VA.:
"The emigrants that went out with us all had the fever, of which five have died, viz.: one woman of 75, two children under 12, and the wife of the Rev. Mr. Wright. The rest are all convalescent.
"I am not prepared to tell you much about the distant parts of Africa at this time: as far as I have seen I am well pleased. Monrovia is improving very fast; the town contains 220 dwelling homes, besides stores and other buildings; there are about ten warehouses built of stone, and a number of their dwellings have stone basement stories, and are neatly finished.
"There are many vessels on the coast, which are going out and coming in every day. We have also many foreign vessels here. The harbor has not been clear since I arrived.
"We have fruit in abundance, and the varieties are too numerous to mention at this time. We have also horses, cattle, hogs, sheep, goats, jacks, and all kinds of poultry that we have at home. The fish are very fine, I have seen them weigh up to 187 pounds. Porgeys, mullets, and sunfish are very plenty. I am told by some who are acquainted with farming that the land is as good as any in America.
"We have two sabbath schools in Monrovia, and an every day school for male and female pupils. I have seen at the Methodist Sabbath School about 100 children. We have also sabbath schools at Grand Bassa, about 100 miles from Monrovia, at Millsbourg, and Caldwell; and have established three others among the natives.
"Since I have arrived, we have purchased land (40 acres) on the Junk River which is good for farming, and the water is abounding with excellent fish and oysters.
"We have a number of different tribes to visit us from the interior; I have seen them from as far away as Arabia. I have seen the Mahometan [sic] priests in the colony; they read and write, and are anxious to converse on the Scriptures. They ask us many interesting questions.
"I believe that this bids fair for a good country. We only want means for the people, who are sent here unprepared for farming and anything else. I have seen the sugar cane and coffee-tree both very thriving."
[signed] Beverly Wilson