Colonization and Emigration
Overview
The Reasons for Emigration and Colonization
The Colonization of Sierra Leone
The Colonization of Liberia
Migration to Haiti
Migrations to Other Lands
The Debate over Emigration and Colonization
Marcus Garvey's Back-to-Africa Movement
Consequences of Colonization and Emigration
References
Links

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< The Colonization of Sierra LeoneMigration to Haiti >

Though Sierra Leone would continue to receive African-American immigrants over the years, their primary destination soon became Liberia, the country of the Vai, Kru, Kissi, Grebo, Bassa, Kpelle, Mandingo, and other populations. The controversial American Colonization Society (ACS) helped them in this endeavor.

It was founded in 1816 with the expressed aim to colonize free African-Americans in Africa or wherever else it saw fit. An organization with mostly white members and supporters, many of whom were slaveholders, the ACS did not gain widespread support among African Americans, who saw it as a means by which whites hoped to deport free blacks. Nonetheless, some people, dissatisfied with their lives in the United States, sought help from the society. Its first vessel, the Elizabeth, set sail in 1820 with some eighty migrants on board. They were unable to acquire land in Liberia and took refuge in Sierra Leone.

Journal of Daniel Coker: A Descendant of Africa, from the Time of Leaving New York, in the Ship Elizabeth, Capt. Sebor, on a Voyage from Sherbro, in Africa, in Company with Three Agents, and About NinJournal of Daniel Coker: A Descendant of Africa, from the Time of Leaving New York, in the Ship Elizabeth, Capt. Sebor, on a Voyage from Sherbro, in Africa, in Company with Three Agents, and About Nin by Daniel Coker

A year later, the ACS was successful in obtaining acreage, and a ship carrying thirty-three African Americans landed at Cape Mesuardo - later to become Monrovia, after U.S. President James Monroe.

Abstract of a Journal Kept by E. Bacon, Assistant Agent of the United States, to Africa: With an Appendix, Containing Extracts from the North American Review, on the Subject of Africa, Containing Cuts, Showing a Contrast Between Two Native TownsAbstract of a Journal Kept by E. Bacon, Assistant Agent of the United States, to Africa: With an Appendix, Containing Ex... by Ephraim Bacon
Report of the Secretary of State, communicating the report of the Rev. R. R. Gurley, who was recently sent out by the government to obtain information in respect to Liberia. September 14, 1850. Read. September 16, 1850. Ordered to be printed.Report of the Secretary of State, communicating the report of the Rev. R. R. Gurley, who was recently sent out by the go...

Over the course of the nineteenth century, the ACS transported an estimated sixteen thousand migrants to Liberia. The migration peaked between 1848 and 1854; during this period, the ACS chartered forty-one ships, carrying over four thousand colonists to new lives in a new land. Most were free blacks who had either lived in the North all their lives or had been born in the South and later moved across the Mason-Dixon Line.

An Address to the Free People of Color of the State of Maryland By James Hall, General Agent of the Maryland State Colonization SocietyAn Address to the Free People of Color of the State of Maryland By James Hall, General Agent of the Maryland State Colon... by James Hall

They came from almost all the Southern states and from as far west as Colorado. Many of the Southern migrants were born free, but a large number had been freed from enslavement on the expressed condition that they leave the United States.

Election of Slaves to go to Liberia, Dec. 16, 1847Election of Slaves to go to Liberia, Dec. 16, 1847

Gen. Robert E. Lee freed most of his slaves before the Civil War. He offered to pay the expenses of those, like William and Rosabella Burke and their children, who wanted to go to Liberia. Burke went to the seminary in Monrovia and became a Presbyterian minister in 1857. A year later, he wrote a friend back home:

Persons coming to Africa should expect to go through many hardships, such as are common to the first settlement in any new country. I expected it and was not disappointed or discouraged at any thing that I met with; and so far from being dissatisfied with the country, I bless the Lord that ever my lot was cast in this part of the earth.

In a letter to Mary Custis Lee, Rosabella Burke noted, "I love Africa and would not exchange it for America."

Liberian Letters: Samson Ceasar to Henry F. Westfall 1835 August 3 and Saunders A. Campion for George Walker, et al, to Dr. James H. Minor 1857 March 5Liberian Letters: Samson Ceasar to Henry F. Westfall 1835 August 3 and Saunders A. Campion for George Walker, et al, to Dr. James H. Minor 1857 March 5 by Samson Ceasar and Saunders A. Campion

The colonists were predominantly male, and often traveled in family groups. Many were under twenty years old. During the 1820-1828 period, women made up 43 percent of those going to Liberia. Freeborn migrants were mostly artisans, involved in agriculture in some way, or skilled and unskilled laborers; a few were professionals.

As the nineteenth century progressed, an increasing number came from the middle and professional class.

The migration was not always without problems - many prospective settlers died en route. They succumbed to fevers, tuberculosis, pleurisy, and other lung diseases. The primary reason for African Americans to seek freedom through emigration was their perception that there was no other alternative to a hopeless situation. But they also came to Africa because it was the land of their ancestors. Another reason was that the American Colonization Society paid their passage. Most could scarcely have afforded it and would have remained in the United States had the society not paid their way.

Interview with Anna JonesFlorida Narratives, Volume 3Interview with Anna Jones from Florida Narratives, Volume 3
Interview with Tom WindhamArkansas Narratives, Volume 2, Part 7Interview with Tom Windham from Arkansas Narratives, Volume 2, Part 7

In the early years the ACS ran Liberia's government, but the settlers soon demanded control of their own affairs. In 1837 the Commonwealth was formed, and virtually all power devolved to the emigrants. The society retained only the right to choose the governor. A decade later, Liberia became an independent nation, and in 1848, Joseph Jenkins Roberts - a Monrovia merchant who had emigrated from Virginia twenty years earlier - was elected president.

Even as they left the United States behind, the colonists made concerted efforts to create a sort of "little America" in their new surroundings. They spoke English, and their manners, clothing, and even the construction of their homes reflected their previous place of residence. They were not always welcome in Liberia. Heavily influenced by Christian values, many exhibited a missionary zeal toward the indigenous Africans. They wished to "civilize" and Christianize people whom they often perceived as "heathen savages."

Emigration to Africa continued on a small scale into the twentieth century.

"Interview with Will Ann Rogers" Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938"Interview with Will Ann Rogers" Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938 by Arkansas Narratives

Between 1890 and 1910, some one thousand African Americans immigrated to Liberia. In 1913, sixty Oklahomans settled in the Gold Coast under the leadership of Chief Alfred Sam.

Chief Sam's African Movement and Race Consciousness in West AfricaPhylon, vol. 32, no. 2 (Second quarter, 1971)Chief Sam's African Movement and Race Consciousness in West Africa from Phylon, vol. 32, no. 2 (Second quarter, 1971) by J. Ayo Langley

Though small in number, these efforts were not insignificant, as in most cases they represented self-initiated migrations, heavily influenced by nationalist ideas. Although individuals continued to migrate to the continent, there were few organized movements. Events in Africa itself may have been the reason. The 1884 partition of the continent resulted in full-scale domination by Europe. African nations, with the exception of Liberia and Ethiopia, came under European rule. In this climate, it was difficult for African Americans to consider emigration schemes.

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Migration to Haiti >