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Historical Perspective: American Colonization Society

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The American Colonization Society was established in 1816 by Robert Finley as an attempt to satisfy two groups in America. Ironically, these groups were on opposite ends of the spectrum involving slavery in the early 1800’s. One group consisted of philanthropists, clergy and abolitionist who wanted to free African slaves and their descendants and provide them with the opportunity to return to Africa. The other group was the slave owners who feared free people of color and wanted to expel them from America.

 

Both the these groups felt that free blacks would be unable to assimilate into the white society of this country. John Randolph, one famous slave owner called free blacks “promoters of mischief.” At this time, about 2 million Negroes live in America of which 200,000 were free persons of color. Henry Clay, a southern congressman and sympathizer of the plight of free blacks, believed that because of “unconquerable prejudice resulting from their color, they never could amalgamate with the free whites of this country.”

On December 21, 1816, a group of exclusively white upper-class males including James Monroe, Bushrod Washington, Andrew Jackson, Francis Scott Key, and Daniel Webster met at the Davis hotel in Washington D.C. with Henry Clay presiding over the meeting. They met one week later and adopted a constitution. During the next three years, the society raised money by selling membership using the certificate shown here. The Society’s members relentlessly pressured Congress and the President for support. In 1819, they received $100,000 from Congress and in January 1820 the first ship, the Elizabeth, sail from New York headed for West Africa with three white ACS agents and 88 emigrants.

The ship arrive first at Freetown, Sierra Leone then sailed south to what is now the Northern coast of Liberia and made an effort to establish a settlement. All three whites and 22 of the emigrants died within three weeks from yellow fever. The remainders returned to Sierra Leone and waited from another ship. The Nautilus sail twice in 1821 and established a settlement at Mesurado Bay on an island they named Perseverance. It was difficult for the early settlers, made of mostly free-born blacks, who were not born into slavery, but were denied the full rights of American citizenship. The native Africans resisted the expansion of the settlers resulting in many armed conflicts. Nevertheless, in the next decade 2,638 African-Americans migrated to the area. Also, the colony entered an agreement with the U.S. Government to accept freed slaves captured from slave ships.

During the next 20 years the colony continued to grow and establish economic stability. Since the establishment of the colony, the ACS employed white agents to govern the colony. In 1842, Joseph Jenkins Roberts became the first non-white governor of Liberia. In 1847, the legislature of Liberia declared itself an independent state, with J.J. Roberts elected as its first President.

The society in Liberia developed into three segments: The settlers with European-African lineage; freed slaves from slave ships and the West Indies; and indigenous native people. These groups would have a profound effect on the history of Liberia.

Early Independence

Joseph Jenkins Roberts:

J.J. Roberts, Liberia’s first President, spent his first year as Liberia’s leader attempting to attain recognition from European countries and the United States. England and France were the first countries to accept Liberian independence in 1848. In 1849, Portugal, Brazil, Sardinia, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Hamburg, Brenem, Lubeck, and Haiti all formally recognized Liberia. However, the United Stated withheld recognition until 1862, during the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, because the U.S. leaders believed that the southern states would not accept a black ambassador in Washington D.C.

Roberts was re-elected three more times to serve a total of eight years. During his leadership, the coastline was extended to over 600 miles and a institution of higher learning, later to become Liberia University, was established. By 1860, through treaties and purchases with local African leaders, Liberia had extended its boundaries to include a 600 mile coastline.

Stephen Allen Benson:

Following Roberts, Stephen Allen Benson serves as president for eight years. He biggest accomplishment was the annexation of the Colony of Maryland, now Maryland Country, into the Republic of Liberia in 1857. He also obtained the recognition of Liberia from the following countries: Belgium, 1858: Denmark, 1869; United States and Italy, 1862; Norway and Sweden, 1863; and Haiti, 1864.  The president from 1864 to 1868 was Daniel Bashiel Warner. His main concern was how the indigenous people, particularly the natives in the interior, could be brought into the society and become useful citizens. He organized the first expedition into the dense forest lead by J. K. Anderson. Following Warner, James Spriggs Payne served for two years from 1868 to 1870. He also served as president again in 1876 to 1878.

More than 160 years ago, two members of the board of trustees of the town of Newark, Ohio met and issued an order that all Negroes should leave within twenty-four hours. A constable was sent out to the black community to inform them of the order of banishment. A young black boy ran to the home of the third member of the board of trustees, A.E. Elliot, begging him to use his influence to circumvent the order. Elliot, his son, and Eddie Roye, went along to the Square where a large crowd had gathered, both blacks and whites. The entire Negro population was pleading that they should not be driven from their homes. Elliot did use his influence; he protested that such hasty action would create hardship on the people involved. His arguments proved effective and the order was postponed until it could be given more consideration. The postponement became indefinite and was never brought up again.

Trustee Elliot went about his affairs as usual, but young Eddie Roye must have walked away from the Square with a determination to find a land with freedom for “men of color.”

The history of Edwards J. Roye and the history of Newark begin at about the same time. In 1810, just eight years after Newark was founded and surveyed, John Roye is recorded as having purchased a lot on the south side of the Square. Roye, said to have been born in slavery in Kentucky, came north with his wife Nancy and became a prosperous land owner. Their son, Edward J. Roye was born in a little house on what is now Mount Vernon Road on Feb. 3, 1815. He was educated in Newark schools, but nothing much is known of his early years. In 1822, his father sold his Newark property and went to Illinois, leaving Edward and his mother behind. A letter dated April 14, 1829, from John Edward Roye, is in the Vandalia Illinois courthouse. The letter beginning, “Dear Son,” leaves all the property John Roye had acquired in Illinois to his son.

Several biographers say Edward Roye became a barber, which was acceptable occupation for a black at that time. Newark did not have a white barber until 1856. By the year 1832, Edward Roye had left his hometown and was enrolled in Ohio University in Athens. He went on to teach school at Chillicothe in 1836 and after that he moved to Terre Houte, Ind., where he opened that city’s first bathhouse/barbershop next door to the best hotel.

By the time Nancy Roye died and was buried in the Sixth Street cemetery in 1840, the mood of the country was changing. Colonizationists wanted to remove all blacks and send them to Africa. Whether due to changing in climate of the 1840’s or to the scene around the Square that day in his childhood, Edward Roye decided to leave the United States for an African country, Liberia. On May 1, 1846, Roye sailed from New York and one month later landed in Monrovia.

His energy and intelligence soon made him a leading merchant and after acquiring great wealth, he returned to the U.S. on his own ship. It is said he visited Newark where he was entertained at a banquet for an event for Thomas Ewin, adoptive father of William Tecumseh Sherman. Years later Roye became chief justice, speaker of the House, and finally, president of Liberia in 1871. He began a program of reconstruction for his nation intending to build new roads and schools. For these purposes he needed money. Roye sailed for England where he began negotiations with London banks. The results proved ruinous, the terms of the loans were severe, among other things carrying an interest of 7 percent. Roye hastily agreed without consulting the legislature. Liberia actually received about $90,000, while bonds were issued for $400,000.

The whole affair caused great resentment against him, and when he returned home he was accused of embezzlement. He then tried to extend his two-year term of president by edict, after the people rose up against him.  In October 1871, Edward J. Roye was deposed from office., He was brought to trial, but escaped in the night . His is believed to have drowned while trying to reach a English ship in Monrovia harbor, on Feb. 12, 1872.

After many years the nation of Liberia has taken another look at their fifth president. A building housing what was the True Wig Party headquarters is named in his honor, as well as a ship, a town, and several schools. Was he a villain or a victim of political planning? Did he seek his own prosperity of that or the common man? The Ohio Historical Society refers to Edward James Roye as the “ninth and forgotten president from Ohio.” While in a land far away from the “land of Legend” he is known by some as the “Lincoln of Liberia.”

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