Maryland In Liberia – Liberia History

The widespread interest awakened by the actual establishment of a permanent colony at Monrovia led to the formation of a number of State Colonization Societies, at first purely auxiliary to the central body, but later in some cases independent. The foundation of independent settlements at Bassa Cove and Sinou by the New York, Pennsylvania and Mississippi Societies, and their union in 1837 into the Commonwealth, has been considered. A much more important colony was founded by Maryland at Cape Palmas, which for years maintained its independence.

In 1831, the Maryland State Colonization Society was formed. Active interest in the movement had long been felt in the State, and it scarcely needed the eloquence of Robert Finley, son of the old champion of colonization, who visited Baltimore in that year, to awaken enthusiasm. The Society had hardly been formed when ample funds were provided in an unexpected way. In August, 1831, a tragic Negro uprising took place in Virginia, in which some sixty-five white men, women and children were murdered. The Southampton Massacres were attributed largely to the instigation of the troublesome free Negro element, and the growing sentiment in favor of emancipation was abruptly checked. The Maryland Legislature, sharing the general excitement, passed in December a resolution which became law in March, and proved to the State Society what the Act of March 3, 1819, was to the main organization. The connection was more explicit. Three members of the Society were to be appointed Commissioners to remove all free Negroes to Liberia. The sum of $20,000 in the current year, and of $10,000 in each succeeding year, for a period of twenty years, was devoted to the purpose. Any free Negro refusing to emigrate was to be summarily ejected from the State by the sheriff. The wave of feeling which dictated this monstrous piece of legislation passed away before any of its harsh provisions were carried out. But the beneficent portion remained in force. The Society was left in the enjoyment of the liberal annuity of $10,000.

In October, 1831, and December, 1832, expeditions were sent out which landed emigrants at Monrovia. The difficulty of arriving at an agreement with the parent Society regarding the rights and status of these people, together with other considerations, led to the adoption of the idea of founding a separate colony. The plan was adopted largely through the support of Mr. John H. B. Latrobe, throughout his life one of the most active and efficient friends of colonization. The motives of the undertaking were distinctly announced to be the gradual extirpation of slavery in Maryland, and the spread of civilization and Christianity in Africa. Cape Palmas, a bold promontory marking the point where the coast makes a sharp bend toward the east, was selected as the new site. Its conspicuous position makes it one of the best known points on the coast, and some identify it with the “West Horn” reached by Hanno, the Carthaginian explorer, twenty-nine days out from Gades. Dr. James Hall, who had gained experience as physician in Monrovia, was placed in charge of the expedition, and the brig Ann, with a small number of emigrants, sailed from Baltimore November 28, 1833. A firm legal basis was projected for the new establishment in a Constitution to which all emigrants were to subscribe. The experience gained by the older colony was put to good use. Regular courts, militia, and public schools were provided for from the first.

The vessel touched at Monrovia, gathered as many recruits as possible from those sent out on the two previous expeditions, and finally anchored at Cape Palmas on February 11, 1834. After the usual tedious “palaver” and bargaining, the natives formally sold the required land. The cape is a promontory some seventy-five feet in height, separated from the mainland, except for a narrow, sandy isthmus. A river, navigable for some miles to small boats, opens opposite it, and forms a safe harbor. A long, salt water lake extends to the east, parallel to the coast. The land is very fertile and well adapted to farming. Several native villages lie near the cape. From a well founded fear of native treachery the colonists laid out their town on the promontory, upon the summit of which a brass six pounder was mounted. Farm lands were laid out on the mainland, and in a short time the little community was in a thriving condition. None of the distressing misfortunes encountered by the colony at Monrovia marred the early history of “Maryland in Liberia.”

In 1836 the health of Dr. Hall, whose services to the infant colony had been invaluable, became so much impaired that he was obliged to resign. He returned to the United States, and long rendered the Society efficient service in another capacity. John B. Russwurm, a citizen of Monrovia, and once editor of the Liberia Herald, was appointed Governor, and served ably and faithfully until his death in 1851. Early in his administration a convenient form of paper currency, receivable at the Society’s store, was introduced, and proved most useful in trade with the natives. In 1841 some slight difficulties with employees of missions led the Society, while still retaining control of affairs, to assert by resolution that the colony was a sovereign State. A revenue law introduced in 1846 soon produced an income of about $1,200. In this year began the trips of the “Liberia Packet,” a vessel maintained by a company formed to trade between Baltimore and Harper, as the town of the colony was named, in honor of Robert Goodloe Harper. A certain amount of trade was guaranteed and other aid given by the Society. In 1847 the judiciary was separated from the executive; a chief justice and a system of courts were provided for.

The year 1852 ended the period during which the Society drew its annual stipend from the State treasury; but the General Assembly was induced to extend the provisions of the Act of 1831 for a further period of six years. It may be as well to note here that in 1858 a further extension was made for five years, the amount at the same time being reduced to $5,000 per annum. For twenty years the colony had flourished under the care and good management of the Society. Prosperity now seemed secure, and a spirit of discontent, a desire to throw off the yoke and assume autonomy began to prevail. The great success following the assumption of Independence by Liberia in 1847, and the recognition at once obtained from the leading nations of Europe, naturally strengthened the feeling. A committee of leading citizens petitioned the Society to relinquish its authority, at the same time demanding or begging almost everything else in its power to bestow. The Society was further asked by its spoiled fosterling to continue to support schools, provide physicians and medicine, remit debts, and finally, to grant a “loan” of money to meet the expenses of government.

The Board of Managers, though deeming the colony still unripe for independence, generously determined to grant the request, as made advisable by force of circumstances. Among other things it was feared that the better class of colonists might be attracted toward the independent State of Liberia. A sort of federal union with that State was suggested, but found impracticable. A convention met and drafted a Constitution, which was submitted to the Board. An agreement was reached as to the conditions of the transfer of the Society’s lands, etc. Both were ratified by the people, and in May, 1854, Wm. A. Prout was elected Governor. Other officials, senators and representatives, were chosen at the same time.

The prosperity of the colony continued under the careful management of Gov. Prout. On his death the Lieutenant-Governor, Wm. S. Drayton, succeeded to his office. It was not long before the “rash and imprudent” conduct of this official precipitated a serious conflict with the natives. An expedition against them resulted in a demoralizing defeat, with loss of artillery and twenty-six valuable lives. In consternation an urgent appeal was sent to Monrovia. The treasury of the Republic was exhausted from the effects of the uprising of the Sinou River tribes; but Dr. Hall was fortunately present, and supplied the Government with a loan from the funds of the Maryland Society. One hundred and fifteen Liberian troops, under command of ex-President Roberts, were soon embarked for Cape Palmas, and easily overawed the native chiefs, who agreed to a fair adjustment of their grievances by treaty, February 26, 1857.

The war was not without important results. The Maryland colonists were thoroughly aroused to the weakness of their isolated position, and determined to have union with Liberia at any price. It was known that the Republic was willing to admit Maryland only as a county, on precisely the same terms as the other three Montserado, Sinou, and Bassa. State pride and the views of the Society had hitherto kept them from such a union; but now, in the reaction from their recent terror, a vote of the people called for by Act of the Legislature was unanimous in favor of “County Annexation;” and a committee was appointed to arrange matters at once with Roberts. When he declined to assume any such responsibility, they actually proceeded to dissolve the Government, and cede all public property forthwith to the Republic of Liberia. The interesting document entitled the “Act or Petition of Annexation,” shows the number of colonists to have been at this time 900 and the aboriginal population about 60,000. The tax on imports produced $1,800 a year. The State’s liabilities were $3,000, with assets estimated at $10,000.

The Liberian Legislature by an Act of April, 1857, formally received the colony into the Republic as “Maryland County.” The advantages gained by this change undoubtedly more than counterbalanced any loss of independence. Though the total dissolution of the government and surrender of all rights and property before any negotiation with Liberian authorities had taken place, seems inconceivably rash states craft, the wisdom of the colonists in desiring the union is unquestionable.

At the time of annexation the Maryland Colonization Society had on hand some $6,000, which was invested, and the interest devoted to a school at Cape Palmas; in connection with this trust its existence is prolonged. Up to the end of its period of activity it had received and expended nearly half a million dollars; the balance sheet of December 31, 1857, may be of interest.


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

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