As a Step toward the Civilization of Africa – Liberia History

George Whitefield is said to have declared to Oglethorpe when lamenting his failure to exclude slavery from Georgia, that he was making a mistake: the Africans were much better off as slaves than in their native barbarism, and would receive a training that would enable them ultimately to return and civilize the land of their nativity. In this bold idea he anticipated one of the leading thoughts of the fathers of colonization, and, perhaps prophesied, a great migration which the world is yet to see. But to confine ourselves to the present and the strictly practical there is to the interior of Liberia, sweeping away beyond the valley of the Niger, a country of teeming population and vast resources. That this territory be opened to the commerce of the world, and the blessings of civilization be conferred upon the people, it is necessary that some impulse of enlightenment come from without. The casual visit of the trader has been proved by experience to do vastly more harm than good. Vice and demoralization have too often followed in his track. The direction and instruction of European agents accomplish little. The best efforts of all men of this class have resulted in an unequal hand to hand fight with the deadly climate, in which no white man can work and live. Besides, the natives need more than guidance; they must have before them the example of a civilized settlement.

It would be impossible to imagine a more ideal agent for accomplishing this work than Liberia. True, its slow development has prevented it as yet from penetrating to the most fruitful portion of the interior district; but so far as it has gone the work has been wonderful. One after another of the native chiefs has sought, with his people, admission to the privileges of citizenship, agreeing to conform to the laws of the country and abolish inconsistent aboriginal customs. The schools are full of native children, while large numbers are distributed in a sort of apprenticeship among Liberian families for training in the arts of civilized life. The English language has become widely known. More remote tribes, while retaining native customs, have entered into agreements or treaties to abstain from war, to keep open roads and routes of commerce, to protect travelers and missionaries and such Liberians as may settle among them. This is in itself an advance; and in addition various forms of knowledge, improved implements and methods of agriculture must enter in and insensibly raise these tribes to a higher plane.

In reclaiming the natives lies a source of great future power for Liberia. When immigration from the United States shall assume such proportions that numbers of interior settlements can be made which shall be radiating centers of civilization, the enormous potential energy of native intelligence and labor will be brought to bear on the development of the country with marvelous results.

As a Missionary Effort.

The attempts of the Christian Church to evangelize the western districts of Africa constitute one of the saddest and most discouraging records of history. From the first attempt of the Roman church in 1481, it has been one continuous narrative of a futile struggle against disease and death. A whole army of martyrs has gone bravely to its doom leaving no trace of its sacrifice save unmarked and forgotten graves. It has indeed been a bitter experience that has proved this work can be successfully undertaken only by men of African blood, for whom the climate has no terrors. And the superiority of an established Christian community to a few isolated missionary stations requires no demonstration. From the first the colonists were active in spreading a knowledge of the Gospel among the natives. Lot Cary, one of the earliest emigrants, was an earnest missionary, and besides efficient work at home he established mission stations at Cape Mount and elsewhere.

In 1826 four emissaries of the Basle Missionary College made Monrovia their headquarters, and did some good work; but they soon succumbed to the climate. The American churches of those denominations most largely represented in Liberia the Episcopal, Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist made strenuous efforts, and sent out a succession of missionaries, most of whom fell victims to the fever. Later, after learning the salutary lesson, they accomplished much through the organization and direction of the work of Liberian missionaries. In this way the gospel is safely and successfully propagated among the natives.

A foe more stubborn than paganism is to be met in the ranks of Islam. There seems to be something in its teachings which renders the native a ready convert. Its simplicity is readily understood; and it sanctions the practices of polygamy and slave holding to which he is accustomed. Under the zealous proselytism of the Mandingoes the Mohammedan faith has taken a strong hold on the interior, and is spreading rapidly to the very doors of Liberia. Candor compels the admission that it brings with it a marked improvement in the condition and intelligence of the converts. Intemperance which in many cases follows in the tracks of the Christian merchant disappears. A knowledge of Arabic is soon acquired and the Koran is eagerly read and its principles put in practice. The whole life of the convert is transformed, and he becomes in turn zealous in the dissemination of the faith. The efforts of missionaries alone can never stem this torrent; if any impression is to be made upon the Mohammedan tribes it must be by the extension of Christian settlements and civilization.


McPherson, John Hanson Thomas. The History Of Liberia. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press. 1891.

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