Colonization as a Remedy for Migration

Because of these untoward circumstances consequent to the immigration of free Negroes and fugitives into the North, their enemies, and in some cases their well intentioned friends, advocated the diversion of these elements to foreign soil. Benezet and Brannagan had the idea of settling the Negroes on the public lands in the West largely to relieve the situation in the North. 1 Certain anti-slavery men of Kentucky, as we have observed, recommended the same. But this was hardly advocated at all by the farseeing white men after the close of the first quarter of the nineteenth century. It was by that time very clear that white men would want to occupy all lands within the present limits of the United States. Few statesmen dared to encourage migration to Canada because the large number of fugitives who had already escaped there had attached to that region the stigma of being an asylum for fugitives from the slave States.

The most influential people who gave thought to this question finally decided that the colonization of the Negro in Africa was the only solution of the problem. The plan of African colonization appealed more generally to the people of both North and South than the other efforts, which, at best, could do no more than to offer local or temporary relief. The African colonizationists proceeded on the basis that the Negroes had no chance for racial development in this country. They could secure no kind of honorable employment, could not associate with congenial white friends whose minds and pursuits might operate as a stimulus upon their industry and could not rise to the level of the successful professional or business men found around them. In short, they must ever be hewers of wood and drawers of water. 2

To emphasize further the necessity of emigration to Africa the advocates of deportation to foreign soil generally referred to the condition of the migrating Negroes as a case in evidence. “So long,” said one, “as you must sit, stand, walk, ride, dwell, eat and sleep “here” and the Negro “there”, he cannot be free in any part of the country.” 3 This idea working through the minds of northern men, who had for years thought merely of the injustice of slavery, began to change their attitude toward the abolitionists who had never undertaken to solve the problem of the blacks who were seeking refuge in the North. Many thinkers controlling public opinion then gave audience to the colonizationists and circles once closed to them were thereafter opened. 4

There was, therefore, a tendency toward a more systematic effort than had hitherto characterized the endeavors of the colonizationists. The objects of their philanthropy were not to be stolen away and hurried off to an uncongenial land for the oppressed. They were in accordance with the exigencies of their new situation to be prepared by instruction in mechanic arts, agriculture, science and Biblical literature that some might lead in the higher pursuits and others might skillfully serve their fellows. 5 Private enterprise was at first depended on to carry out the schemes but it soon became evident that a better method was necessary. Finally out of the proposals of various thinkers and out of the actual colonization feats of Paul Cuffé, a Negro, came a national meeting for this purpose, held in Washington, December, 1816, and the organization of the American Colonization Society. This meeting was attended by some of the most prominent men in the United States, among whom were Henry Clay, Francis S. Key, Bishop William Meade, John Randolph and Judge Bushrod Washington.

The American Colonization Society, however, failed to facilitate the movement of the free Negro from the South and did not promote the general welfare of the race. The reasons for these failures are many. In the first place, the society was all things to all men. To the anti-slavery man whose ardor had been dampened by the meagre results obtained by his agitation, the scheme was the next best thing to remove the objections of slaveholders who had said they would emancipate their bondsmen, if they could be assured of their being deported to foreign soil. To the radical proslavery man and to the northerner hating the Negro it was well adapted to rid the country of the free persons of color whom they regarded as the pariahs of society. 6 Furthermore, although the Colonization Society became seemingly popular and the various States organized branches of it and raised money to promote the movement, the slaveholders as a majority never reached the position of parting with their slaves and the country would not take such radical action as to compel free Negroes to undergo expatriation when militant abolitionists were fearlessly denouncing the scheme. 7

The free people of color themselves were not only not anxious to go but bore it grievously that any one should even suggest that they should be driven from the country in which they were born and for the independence of which their fathers had died. They held indignation meetings throughout the North to denounce the scheme as a selfish policy inimical to the interests of the people of color. 8 Branded thus as the inveterate foe of the blacks both slave and free, the American Colonization Society effected the deportation of only such Negroes as southern masters felt disposed to emancipate from time to time and a few others induced to go. As the industrial revolution early changed the aspect of the economic situation in the South so as to make slavery seemingly profitable, few masters ever thought of liberating their slaves.

Scarcely any intelligent Negroes except those who, for economic or religious reasons were interested, availed themselves of this opportunity to go to the land of their ancestors. From the reports of the Colonization Society we learn that from 1820 to 1833 only 2,885 Negroes were sent to Africa by the Society. Furthermore, more than 2,700 of this number were taken from the slave States, and about two thirds of these were slaves manumitted on the condition that they would emigrate. 9 Later statistics show the same tendency. By 1852, 7,836 had been deported from the United States to Liberia. 2,720 of these were born free, 204 purchased their freedom, 3,868 were emancipated in view of their going to Liberia and 1,044 were liberated Africans returned by the United States Government. 10 Considering the fact that there were 434,495 free persons of color in this country in 1850 and 488,070 in 1860, the colonizationists saw that the very element of the population which the movement was intended to send out of the country had increased rather than decreased. It is clear, then, that the American Colonization Society, though regarded as a factor to play an important part in promoting the exodus of the free Negroes to foreign soil, was an inglorious failure.

Colonization in other quarters, however, was not abandoned. A colony of Negroes in Texas was contemplated in 1833 prior to the time when the republic became independent of Mexico, as slavery was not at first assured in that State. The “New York Commercial Advertiser” had no objection to the enterprise but felt that there were natural obstacles such as a more expensive conveyance than that to Monrovia, the high price of land in that country, the Catholic religion to which Negroes were not accustomed to conform, and their lack of knowledge of the Spanish language. The editor observed that some who had emigrated to Hayti a few years before became discontented because they did not know the language. Louisiana, a slave State, moreover, would not suffer near its borders a free Negro republic to serve as an asylum for refugees. 11 The Richmond Whig saw the actual situation in dubbing the scheme as chimerical for the reason that a more unsuitable country for the blacks did not exist. Socially and politically it would never suit the Negroes. Already a great number of adventurers from the United States had gone to Texas and fugitives from justice from Mexico, a fierce, lawless and turbulent class, would give the Negroes little chance there, as the Negroes could not contend with the Spaniard and the Creole. The editor believed that an inferior race could never exist in safety surrounded by a superior one despising them. Colonization in Africa was then urged and the efforts of the blacks to go elsewhere were characterized as doing mischief at every turn to defeat the “enlightened plan” for the amelioration of the Negroes. 12

It was still thought possible to induce the Negroes to go to some congenial foreign land, although few of them would agree to emigrate to Africa. Not a few Negroes began during the two decades immediately preceding the Civil War to think more favorably of African colonization and a still larger number, in view of the increasing disabilities fixed upon their class, thought of migrating to some country nearer to the United States. Much was said about Central America, but British Guiana and the West Indies proved to be the most inviting fields to the latter-day Negro colonizationists. This idea was by no means new, for Jefferson in his foresight had, in a letter to Governor Edward Coles, of Illinois, in 1814, shown the possibilities of colonization in the West Indies. He felt that because Santo Domingo had become an independent Negro republic it would offer a solution of the problem as to where the Negroes should be colonized. In this way these islands would become a sort of safety valve for the United States. He became more and more convinced that all the West Indies would remain in the hands of the people of color, and a total expulsion of the whites sooner or later would take place. It was high time, he thought, that Americans should foresee the bloody scenes which their children certainly, and possibly they themselves, would have to wade through. 13

The movement to the West Indies was accelerated by other factors. After the emancipation in those islands in the thirties, there had for some years been a dearth of labor. Desiring to enjoy their freedom and living in a climate where there was not much struggle for life, the freedmen either refused to work regularly or wandered about purposely from year to year. The islands in which sugar had once played a conspicuous part as the foundation of their industry declined and something had to be done to meet this exigency. In the forties and fifties, therefore, there came to the United States a number of labor agents whose aim was to set forth the inviting aspect of the situation in the West Indies so as to induce free Negroes to try their fortunes there. To this end meetings were held in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Boston and even in some of the cities of the South, where these agents appealed to the free Negroes to emigrate. 14

Thus before the American Colonization Society had got well on its way toward accomplishing its purpose of deporting the Negroes to Africa the West Indies and British Guiana claimed the attention of free people of color in offering there unusual opportunities. After the consummation of British emancipation in those islands in 1838, the English nation came to he regarded by the Negroes of the United States as the exclusive friend of the race. The Negro press and church vied with each other in praising British emancipation as an act of philanthropy and pointed to the English dominions as an asylum for the oppressed. So disturbed were the whites by this growing feeling that riots broke out in northern cities on occasions of Negro celebrations of the anniversary of emancipation in the West Indies. 15

In view of these facts, the colonizationists had to redouble their efforts to defend their cause. They found it a little difficult to make a good case for Liberia, a land far away in an unhealthy climate so much unlike that of the West Indies and British Guiana, where Negroes had been declared citizens entitled to all privileges afforded by the government. The colonizationists could do no more than to express doubt that the Negroes would have there the opportunities for mental, moral and social betterment which were offered in Liberia. The promoters of the enterprise in Africa did not believe that the West Indian planters who had had emancipation forced upon them would accept blacks from the United States as their equals, nor that they, far from receiving the consideration of freedmen, would be there any more than menials. When told of the establishment of schools and churches for the improvement of the freedmen, the colonizationists replied that schools might be provided, but the planters could have no interest in encouraging education as they did not want an elevated class of people but bone and muscle. As an evidence of the truth of this statement it was asserted that newspapers of the country were filled with disastrous accounts of the falling off of crops and the scarcity of labor but had little to say about those forces instrumental in the uplift of the people. 16

An effort was made also to show that there would be no economic advantage in going to the British dominions. It was thought that as soon as the first demand for labor was supplied wages would be reduced, for no new plantations could be opened there as in a growing country like Liberia. It would be impossible, therefore, for the Negroes immigrating there to take up land and develop a class of small farmers as they were doing in Africa. Under such circumstances, they contended, the Negroes in the West Indies could not feel any of the “elevating influences of nationality of character,” as the white men would limit the influence of the Negroes by retaining practically all of the wealth of the islands. The inducements, therefore, offered the free Negroes in the United States were merely intended to use them in supplying in the British dominions the need of men to do drudgery scarcely more elevating than the toil of slaves. 17

Determined to interest a larger number of persons in diverting the attention of the free Negroes from the West Indies, the colonizationists took higher ground. They asserted that the interests of the millions of white men in this country were then at stake, and even if it would be better for the three million Negroes of the country gradually to emigrate to the British dominions, it would eventually prove prejudicial to the interests of the United States. They showed how the Negroes immigrating into the West Indies would be made to believe that the refusal to extend to them here social and political equality was cruel oppression and the immigrants, therefore, would carry with them no good will to this country. When they arrived in the West Indies their circumstances would increase this hostility, alienate their affections and estrange them wholly from the United States. Taught to regard the British as the exclusive friends of their race, devoted to its elevation, they would become British in spirit. As such, these Negroes would be controlled by British influence and would increase the wealth and commerce of the British and as soldiers would greatly strengthen British power. 18

It was better, therefore, they argued, to direct the Negroes to Liberia, for those who went there with a feeling of hostility against the white people were placed in circumstances operating to remove that feeling, in that the kind solicitude for their welfare would be extended them in their new home so as to overcome their prejudices, win their confidence, and secure their attachment. Looking to this country as their fatherland and the home of their benefactors, the Liberians would develop a nation, taking the religion, customs and laws of this country as their models, marketing their produce in this country and purchasing our manufactures. In spite of its independence, therefore, Liberia would be American in feeling, language and interests, affording a means to get rid of a class undesirable here but desirable to us there in their power to extend American influence, trade and commerce. 19

Negroes migrated to the West Indies in spite of this warning and protest. Hayti, at first looked upon with fear of having a free Negro government near slaveholding States, became fixed in the minds of some as a desirable place for the colonization of free persons of color. 20 This was due to the apparent natural advantages in soil, climate and the situation of the country over other places in consideration. It was thought that the island would support fourteen millions of people and that, once opened to immigration from the United States, it would in a few years fill up by natural increase. It was remembered that it was formerly the emporium of the Western World and that it supplied both hemispheres with sugar and coffee. It had rapidly recovered from the disaster of the French Revolution and lacked only capital and education which the United States under these circumstances could furnish. Furthermore, it was argued that something in this direction should be immediately done, as European nations then seeking to establish friendly relations with the islands, would secure there commercial advantages which the United States should have and could establish by sending to that island free Negroes especially devoted to agriculture.

In 1836, Z. Kingsley, a Florida planter, 21 actually undertook to carry out such a plan on a small scale. He established on the northeast side of Hayti, near Port Plate, his son, George Kingsley, a well-educated colored man of industrious habits and uncorrupted morals, together with six “prime African men,” slaves liberated for that express purpose. There he purchased for them 35,000 acres of land upon which they engaged in the production of crops indigenous to that soil.

Hayti, however, was not to be the only island to get consideration. In 1834 two hundred colored emigrants went from New York alone to Trinidad, under the superintendence and at the expense of planters of that island. It was later reported that every one of them found employment on the day of arrival and in one or two instances the most intelligent were placed as overseers at the salary of $500 per annum. No one received less than $1.00 a day and most of them earned $1.50. The Trinidad press welcomed these immigrants and spoke in the highest terms of the valuable services they rendered the country. 22 Others followed from year to year. One of these Negroes appreciated so much this new field of opportunity that he returned and induced twenty intelligent free persons of color living in Annapolis, Maryland, also to emigrate to Trinidad. 23

“The New York Sun” reported in 1840 that 160 colored persons left Philadelphia for Trinidad. They had been hired by an eminent planter to labor on that island and they were encouraged to expect that they should have privileges which would make their residence desirable. The editor wished a few dozen Trinidad planters would come to that city on the same business and on a much larger scale. 24 N.W. Pollard, agent of the Government of Trinidad, came to Baltimore in 1851 to make his appeal for emigrants, offering to pay all expenses. 25 At a meeting held in Baltimore, in 1852, the parents of Mr. Stanbury Boyce, now a retired merchant in Washington, District of Columbia, were also induced to go. They found there opportunities which they had never had before and well established themselves in their new home. The account which Mr. Boyce gives in a letter to the writer corroborates the newspaper reports as to the success of the enterprise. 26

The “New York Journal of Commerce” reported in 1841 that, according to advices received at New Orleans from Jamaica, there had arrived in that island fourteen Negro emigrants from the United States, being the first fruits of Mr. Barclay’s mission to this country. A much larger number of Negroes were expected and various applications for their services had been received from respectable parties. 27 The products of soil were reported as much reduced from former years and to meet its demand for labor some freedmen from Sierra Leone were induced to emigrate to that island in 1842. 28 One Mr. Anderson, an agent of the government of Jamaica, contemplated visiting New York in 1851 to secure a number of laborers, tradesmen and agricultural settlers. 29

In the course of time, emigration to foreign lands interested a larger number of representative Negroes. At a national council called in 1853 to promote more effectively the amelioration of the colored people, the question of emigration and that only was taken up for serious consideration. But those who desired to introduce the question of Liberian colonization or who were especially interested in that scheme were not invited. Among the persons who promoted the calling of this council were William Webb, Martin R. Delaney, J. Gould Bias, Franklin Turner, Augustus Greene, James M. Whitfield, William Lambert, Henry Bibb, James T. Holly and Henry M. Collins.

There developed in this assembly three groups, one believing with Martin R. Delaney that it was best to go to the Niger Valley in Africa, another following the counsel of James M. Whitfield then interested in emigration to Central America, and a third supporting James T. Holly who insisted that Hayti offered the best opportunities for free persons of color desiring to leave the United States. Delaney was commissioned to proceed to Africa, where he succeeded in concluding treaties with eight African kings who offered American Negroes inducements to settle in their respective countries. James Redpath, already interested in the scheme of colonization in Hayti, had preceded Holly there and with the latter as his coworker succeeded in sending to that country as many as two thousand emigrants, the first of whom sailed from this country in 1861. 30 Owing to the lack of equipment adequate to the establishment of the settlement and the unfavorable climate, not more than one third of the emigrants remained. Some attention was directed to California and Central America just as in the case of Africa but nothing in that direction took tangible form immediately, and the Civil War following soon thereafter did not give some of these schemes a chance to materialize.


Woodson, Carter G. A Century of Negro Migration. Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. 1918.

Search Military Records - Fold3
  1. “The African Repository”, XVI, p. 22.[]
  2. “The African Repository”, XVI, p. 23; Alexander, “A History of Colonization”, p. 347.[]
  3. “Ibid”., XVI, p. 113.[]
  4. Jay, “An Inquiry”, pp. 25, 29; Hodgkin, “An Inquiry”, p. 31.[]
  5. “The African Repository”, IV, p. 276; Griffin, “A Plea for Africa”, p. 65.[]
  6. Jay, “An Inquiry”, passim; “The Journal of Negro History”, I, pp. 276-301; and Stebbins, “Facts and Opinions”, pp.200-201.[]
  7. Hart, “Slavery and Abolition”, p. 237.[]
  8. “The Journal of Negro History”, I, pp. 284-296 Garrison, “Thoughts on Colonization”, p. 204.[]
  9. “The African Repository”, XXXIII, p. 117.[]
  10. “The African Repository”, XXIII, p. 117.[]
  11. “The African Repository”, IX, pp. 86-88.[]
  12. “Ibid.”, IX, p. 88.[]
  13. “If something is not done, and soon done,” said he, “we shall be the murderers of our own children. The “murmura venturos nautis prudentia ventos” has already reached us (from Santo Domingo); the revolutionary storm, now sweeping the globe will be upon us, and happy if we make timely provision to give it an easy passage over our land. From the present state of things in Europe and America, the day which begins our combustion must be near at hand; and only a single spark is wanting to make that day tomorrow. If we had begun sooner, we might probably have been allowed a lengthier operation to clear ourselves, but every day’s delay lessens the time we may take for emancipation.”

    As to the mode of emancipation, he was satisfied that that must be a matter of compromise between the passions, the prejudices, and the real difficulties which would each have its weight in that operation. He believed that the first chapter of this history, which was begun in St. Domingo, and the next succeeding ones, would recount how all the whites were driven from all the other islands. This, he thought, would prepare their minds for a peaceable accommodation between justice and policy; and furnish an answer to the difficult question, as to where the colored emigrants should go. He urged that the country put some plan under way, and the sooner it did so the greater would be the hope that it might be permitted to proceed peaceably toward consummation. See Ford edition of “Jefferson’s Writings”, VI, p. 349, VII, pp. 167, 168.[]

  14. “Letter of Mr. Stanbury Boyce;” and “The African Repository.”[]
  15. “Philadelphia Gazette,” Aug. 2, 3, 4, 8, 1842; “United States Gazette,” Aug. 2-5, 1842; and the “Pennsylvanian,” Aug. 2, 3, 4, 8, 1842.[]
  16. “The African Repository”, XVI, pp. 113-115.[]
  17. “The African Repository,” XXI, p. 114.[]
  18. “The African Repository,” XVI, p. 116.[]
  19. “The African Repository,” XVI, p. 115.[]
  20. “Ibid.,” XVI, p. 116.[]
  21. Speaking of this colony Kingsley said: “About eighteen months ago, I carried my son George Kingsley, a healthy colored man of uncorrupted morals, about thirty years of age, tolerably well educated, of very industrious habits, and a native of Florida, together with six prime African men, my own slaves, liberated for that express purpose, to the northeast side of the Island of Hayti, near Porte Plate, where we arrived in the month of October, 1836, and after application to the local authorities, from whom I rented some good land near the sea, and thickly timbered with lofty woods, I set them to work cutting down trees, about the middle of November, and returned to my home in Florida. My son wrote to us frequently, giving an account of his progress. Some of the fallen timber was dry enough to burn in January, 1837, when it was cleared up, and eight acres of corn planted, and as soon as circumstances would allow, sweet potatoes, yams, cassava, rice, beans, peas, plantains, oranges, and all sorts of fruit trees, were planted in succession. In the month of October, 1837, I again set off for Hayti, in a coppered brig of 150 tons, bought for the purpose and in five days and a half, from St. Mary’s in Georgia, landed my son’s wife and children, at Porte Plate, together with the wives and children of his servants, now working for him under an indenture of nine years; also two additional families of my slaves, all liberated for the express purpose of transportation to Hayti, where they were all to have as much good land in fee, as they could cultivate, say ten acres for each family, and all its proceeds, together with one-fourth part of the net proceeds of their labor, on my son’s farm, for themselves; also victuals, clothes, medical attendance, etc., gratis, besides Saturdays and Sundays, as days of labor for themselves, or of rest, just at their option.”

    “On my arrival at my son’s place, called Cabaret (twenty-seven miles east of Porte Plate) in November, 1837, as before stated, I found everything in the most flattering and prosperous condition. They had all enjoyed good health, were overflowing with the most delicious variety and abundance of fruits and provisions, and were overjoyed at again meeting their wives and children; whom they could introduce into good comfortable log houses, all nicely whitewashed, and in the midst of a profuse abundance of good provisions, as they had generally cleared five or six acres of their land each, which being very rich, and planted with every variety to eat or to sell on their own account, and had already laid up thirty or forty dollars apiece. My son’s farm was upon a larger scale, and furnished with more commodious dwelling houses, also with store and out houses. In nine months he had made and housed three crops of corn, of twenty-five bushels to the acre, each, or one crop every three months. His highland rice, which was equal to any in Carolina, so ripe and heavy as some of it to be couched or leaned down, and no bird had ever troubled it, nor had any of his fields ever been hoed, or required hoeing, there being as yet no appearance of grass. His cotton was of an excellent staple. In seven months it had attained the height of thirteen feet; the stalks were ten inches in circumference, and had upwards of five hundred large boles on each stalk (not a worm nor red bug as yet to be seen). His yams, cassava, and sweet potatoes, were incredibly large, and plentifully thick in the ground; one kind of sweet potato, lately introduced from Taheita (formerly Otaheita) Island in the Pacific, was of peculiar excellence; tasted like new flour and grew to an ordinary size in one month. Those I ate at my son’s place had been planted five weeks, and were as big as our full grown Florida potatoes. His sweet orange trees budded upon wild stalks cut off (which every where abound), about six months before had large tops, and the buds were swelling as if preparing to flower. My son reported that his people had all enjoyed good health and had labored just as steadily as they formerly did in Florida and were well satisfied with their situation and the advantageous exchange of circumstances they had made. They all enjoyed the friendship of the neighboring inhabitants and the entire confidence of the Haytian Government.”

    “I remained with my son all January, 1838 and assisted him in making improvements of different kinds, amongst which was a new two-story house, and then left him to go to Port au Prince, where I obtained a favorable answer from the President of Hayti, to his petition, asking for leave to hold in fee simple, the same tract of land upon which he then lived as a tenant, paying rent to the Haytian Government, containing about thirty-five thousand acres, which was ordered to be surveyed to him, and valued, and not expected to exceed the sum of three thousand dollars, or about ten cents an acre. After obtaining this land in fee for my son, I returned to Florida in February, in 1838.” See “The African Repository”, XIV, pp. 215-216.[]

  22. “Niles Register”, LXVI, pp. 165, 386.[]
  23. “Niles Register”, LXVII, p. 180.[]
  24. “The African Repository”, XVI, p. 28.[]
  25. “Ibid.”, p. 29.[]
  26. “Letter of Mr. Stanbury Boyce.”[]
  27. St. Lucia and Trinidad were then considered unfavorable to the working of the new system.–See “The African Repository”, XXVII, p. 196.[]
  28. “Niles Register”, LXIII, p. 65.[]
  29. “Ibid.”, LXIII, p. 65.[]
  30. Cromwell, “The Negro in American History”, pp. 43-44.[]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top