Slavery in Liberia


Figure 1.--This early-20th century portrait is entiteled, "Wealthy merchant of Monrovia with his wife , two sons , cook, and a couple of house boys." The cook is presumably the bare-chested young woman. We have no additional information on the group, but in many African family portraits, the lack of cobering often denotes slavery. There is no evudence that this is the situation here, but we suspect that the terms of employment were not what we would today consider to be a normal contractual arrangemt. Also notice the chain-like jewelry. Or is it jewlry-like chain?. A CIH reader has prided a good assessment of the photograph. Click on the image.

We know nothing about the early involvemnent of what is now Liberia in the Arab Trans-Saharan slave trade. Most of the coast of Africa was an embarcation pont for captive Africans tranported to the Americas in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Liberia is of course a modern concept. The area of thecoast corresponding to modern Liberia was the Pepper (melegueta pepper) Coast or Windward Coast. It also includes Ivory Coast. Of all the African coastal areas, this was the least important source od captive Africans in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Less than 2 percent of the Aftrians tranported to the Americas came from the Pepper Coast. As a result, Liberia's involvement with the history of slavery is primarily concerned with the African colonization effort of the American Colonisation Society. Liberia is thus a creation of the American Abolitionist movement. Returning American slaves to Africa was never more than a chimera. The value of American slaves was an astromical sum. The first group of freed slaves arrived (1820). Monrovia also became a point where the U.S. Navy on West Africa Station could off load captive Africans taken from slavers. (There was no way of retruning them to their homes.) The British did the same in Sierra Leon (Freetown) with far more freed captives from their ships on the West African Station. Independence under American diplomatic tutelage was achieved (1847). The local population, however, did not like the idea or the newcomers and proved hostile. They harassed and attacked them throughout the 19th century. It soon became evident even before the Americam Civil War and Empancipation that few free blacks wanted to return to Africa. As Liberia became established, the country became dominated by the black colonists (Americo-Liberians) and their descendants who were in fact only amall minority. Man of the returned Africans were mulattoes, mixed race individuals. The spoke English and tended to marry within their own community. They established plantations and businesses and were much more affluent than the indigenous people. They controlled the country. And there are charges that they reduced the local population to slave conditions. Slavery was outlawed in the consitution, but variants like forced labor did exist.






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Created: 2:56 AM 9/13/2010
Last updated: 9:23 PM 10/27/2013