On Afric's Shore: A History of Maryland in Liberia, 1834-1857

Article excerpt

On Afric's Shore: A History of Maryland in Liberia, 1834-1857. By Richard L. Hall. Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 2003. Pp. xxiii, 644. $45.

In 1999 Lamin Sanneh published Abolitionists Abroad, arguing that AfricanAmericans engaged the motherland successfully because they were inspired by certain republican principles and antistructural ideology that sidelined the traditional chiefs, who were compromised in the slave trade. But Sanneh did not pursue the consequences of the settler presence. A different genre of historiography soon emerged: county/parish histories characterized by intrepid archival grubbing and detailed biographical narratives. Richard Hall represents the latter mold. During his undergraduate years in the early 1980s, he encountered sixty boxes of the records about African Americans who left Maryland for the motherland during the repa-triation process. He studied them through the next two decades and then in 2003 published On Afric's Shore (a phrase taken from one of the romantic lyrics of the protagonists).

Hall tells the story of blacks sponsored by the Maryland Colonization Society going to Cape Palmas (later annexed into Liberia), a county that later produced a president and notable professionals. It is a detailed story with 431 pages of narrative, 78 pages of annotated lists of early settlers, and copious reference notes. The first hundred pages deal with five key issues: the multilayered, contested motivations, the institutional organization of the enterprise, the acquisition of land, the difficulties and broken dreams during the early settlement, and the encounters with the indigenous Grebo culture. …