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American Colonization Society, Six African Kings and Haiti

American Colonization Society

American Colonization Society Back to Africa Movement

Go back to Africa

The American Colonization Society (ACS) platform to freed blacks in America was if you do not like it here in America, ships are leaving the harbor, and we want to help you go back to Africa.

Note Emigrants are persons who leave their own country in order to settle permanently in another. Immigrants are people who come to one country from another to settle.

The American Colonization Society (ACS) had its origins in 1816 when Charles Fenton Mercer, a Federalist member of the Virginia General Assembly discovered accounts of earlier legislative debates on black colonization in the wake of Gabriel Prosser's rebellion.

On December 21, 1816, the society was officially established at the Davis Hotel in Washington, D.C. Attendees included James Monroe, Bushrod Washington, Andrew Jackson, Francis Scott Key, and Daniel Webster, with Henry Clay presiding over the meeting.

Liberia drums
Song of Africa
The ACS was formed in 1817 to send free blacks to Africa as an alternative to emancipation in the United States. On February 6, 1820, the first ship, the Elizabeth, sailed from New York for West Africa with three white ACS agents and 88 freed blacks emigrants aboard.

In 1822, the society established on the west coast of Africa a colony that in 1847 became the independent nation of Liberia. In 1850, Virginia set aside $30,000 annually for five years to aid and support emigration. During the 1850s, the society also received several thousand dollars from the New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Maryland legislatures.

Pennsylvania, Maryland and Mississippi set up their own state societies and colonies on the coast next to Liberia.  Mississippi-in-Africa joined Liberia in 1847; the Republic of Maryland, established as a colony in the 1830s and by 1867, the societies had sent more than 13,000 black emigrants to Africa. Because the United States refused to claim sovereignty over Liberia, in 1846 the ACS ordered the Liberians to proclaim their independence.

From the start, colonization of free blacks in Africa was an issue on which both whites and blacks were divided.

Some blacks supported emigration because they thought that blacks would never receive justice in the United States. Others believed blacks should remain in the United States to fight against slavery and for full legal rights as American citizens. Some whites saw colonization as a way of ridding the nation of blacks, while others believed blacks would be happier in Africa, where they could live free of racial discrimination. Still, others believed black American colonists could play a central role in Christianizing and civilizing black Africans.

Liberia near Monrovia Hotel-Ducor
Liberia near Monrovia Hotel-Ducor 
In December 1821, Dr. Ayres the American Colonization Society Colonial Agent in Liberia wrote to the ACS Board;

“The Gentlemen of the Board will expect me to say something of the hostility of the natives. There is not a king or headman, within 50 or 80 miles of us, who can arm, properly, 50 men. They are cowardly in the extreme and have little control over their men. Besides, there is the same jealousy and political selfishness existing among them, which has served so much, to check the accumulation of power, and the prosecution of their ambitious schemes, among the different States of Europe. Not one of them, I fear.”

In 1821, the American Colonization Society dispatched a representative, Dr. Eli Ayers, to purchase land. December 1821, with the aid of Robert F. Stockton, a U.S. naval officer, they sailed to Cape Montserado, to purchase land from the African Kings whom they named, King Peter, King George, King Zoda, King Long Peter, King Governor, and King Jimmy. King Peter, was reluctant to surrender the land to the white ACS agents but was forcefully persuaded.

Stores in the Waterside Market section of Monrovia Liberia
Stores in the Waterside Market section of Monrovia Liberia
Ayres wanted to buy land from the Kings large enough for homes and farms with excellent springs of water, fertile soil on the banks of a river as large as Connecticut and with one of the best harbors between Gibraltar and the Cape of Good Hope for $300 dollars.  Ayres stated, “We gave them our rum and tobacco, and returned to our vessel. 

The island at the mouth of the river we have named Perseverance to perpetuate the long and tedious trouble we had in obtaining the land.  A settlement will begin immediately at Cape Montsera.”

In May 1825, Jehudi Ashmun, a Colonial Agent in Liberia for the ACS also took steps to buy land from African Kings along the coast and on major rivers leading inland. Like his predecessor Dr. Ayres, who in 1821 persuaded African King Peter to sell Cape Montserado. In his agreement of May 1825, the Kings contracted to sell land in return for 500 bars of tobacco, three barrels of rum, five casks of powder, five umbrellas, ten iron posts, and ten pairs of shoes, among other items.

Ashmun journal contains the following account of the Colonial Agent’s conversation with King Peter and King Long Peter, on August 14, 1825; "The chiefs inquired whether goods had been sent to pay for the lands, I answered that the ACS believed that nearly the whole price had been paid to King Peter many years ago. Should more goods and fresh instructions in relation to the purchase of the lands arrive from America, he would call a general meeting of the Kings."

What was the Gabriel Prosser rebellion

As a child, Gabriel Prosser was taught to read and write. His master, Thomas Henry allowed Gabriel to hire himself out to masters in and around Richmond, giving him access to a certain amount of freedom, as well as money.

Gabriel also met fellow hired slaves, free blacks, during his travels. Inspired by the island of Saint-Domingue (Haiti), Prosser leads a slave rebellion in Richmond Virginia in the summer of 1800. His plan involved seizing Capitol Square in Richmond and taking Governor James Monroe as a hostage but, plans regarding the rebellion were leaked and around 65 slaves were tried in court.

Prosser and 26 slaves were executed by hanging in public. Virginia paid over $8900 to slaveholders for the executed slaves. Virginia and other slaveholding states passed restrictions on free blacks and making it a crime to educate blacks. It was also illegal for more than two blacks to meet without a white person present.

Saint-Domingue (Haiti) did you know?

In 1791, slaves and free blacks of Saint-Domingue began waging a rebellion against French rule following the abolition of slavery in the colony in 1793. French troops withdrew from the western portion of Hispaniola island in 1803, and the colony later declared its independence as Haiti in 1804.

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