The Price of Liberty: African Americans and the Making of Liberia

The Price of Liberty: African Americans and the Making of Liberia

The Price of Liberty: African Americans and the Making of Liberia

The Price of Liberty: African Americans and the Making of Liberia

Synopsis

In nineteenth-century America, the belief that blacks and whites could not live in social harmony and political equality in the same country led to a movement to relocate African Americans to Liberia, a West African colony established by the United States government and the American Colonization Society in 1822. In The Price of Liberty, Claude Clegg accounts for 2,030 North Carolina blacks who left the state and took up residence in Liberia between 1825 and 1893. By examining both the American and African sides of this experience, Clegg produces a textured account of an important chapter in the historical evolution of the Atlantic world.



For almost a century, Liberian emigration connected African Americans to the broader cultures, commerce, communication networks, and epidemiological patterns of the Afro-Atlantic region. But for many individuals, dreams of a Pan-African utopia in Liberia were tempered by complicated relationships with the Africans, whom they dispossessed of land. Liberia soon became a politically unstable mix of newcomers, indigenous peoples, and "recaptured" Africans from westbound slave ships. Ultimately, Clegg argues, in the process of forging the world's second black-ruled republic, the emigrants constructed a settler society marred by many of the same exclusionary, oppressive characteristics common to modern colonial regimes.

Excerpt

When Charity Hunter and her three children ventured from North Carolina to Norfolk, Virginia, during the winter of 1825, the port was a colonialera town on the brink of dramatic changes. Well situated with deep harbors and natural shelter from Atlantic winds, Norfolk offered sites and experiences that would have fascinated the young mother and her small family. Though her place of origin in North Carolina is unknown, Charity likely would have marveled at the sheer size of Norfolk, which was more than twice as populous as the largest town of her home state. Over the next decade, the port would become even more distinctive in character with the opening of the United States naval dry dock at Gosport and the concomitant expansion of both residential and commercial sectors. Hotels, churches, taverns, banks, steam mills, and tanyards would line its paved streets, and timber and naval stores from North Carolina would supply its burgeoning shipbuilding industry. Characteristic of its modernizing tendencies, a railway would eventually connect Norfolk to Wilmington and Raleigh in the south, and regular steamboat circuits increasingly integrated the port into the commercial worlds of Baltimore, New York, and Boston to the north. In many ways, Norfolk in the 1820s was more progressive and urban than anything that Charity would have been used to, assuming she had lived her twenty-two years solely in North Carolina. Her young children—ages six, four, and two—would have been even more intrigued by the bustling port and the restless waters flowing through its veins.

For all its structural maturation and maritime energies, the Norfolk that the Hunters encountered in 1825 was still very much a southern town, configured with institutions, demographics, and mores typical of other urban areas of the region. The family of four had recently been freed from bondage by a Mr. Hunter of North Carolina, and thus Charity was almost certainly cognizant of how the worlds of slavery and freedom intersected and diverged in the ebb and flow of life in Norfolk. As passengers bound for the young colony of Liberia in West Africa, aboard a brig ironically named the Hunter . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.