Essay on Liberia consolidated by Henry Robert Burke
Henry Robert Burke
103-C Muskingum Terrace
Marietta, OH 45750
April 9, 2004
Text is taken from a newspaper article in The Newark, (Ohio) Advocate, April 22, 1984 and from United States Library of Congress documents.
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 Edward.
Biographers have written that Edward Roye became a barber, which was an acceptable occupation for a black man at that time. Around 1832 Edward Roye left his hometown of Newark and enrolled at Ohio University in Athens. In 1836 he went to Chillicothe where he taught school and later moved to Terre Haute, Ind., where he opened that city's first bathhouse/barbershop next door to the best hotel.
Nancy Roye died and was buried in the Sixth Street cemetery in Newark in 1840. The American Colonization Society, founded in 1817 was still encouraging “Free Blacks” to emigrate to Liberia in West Africa. Whether due to changing in climate of the 1840's or to the scene that he had witnessed around the Square during his childhood, Edward Roye decided to leave the United States. On May 1, 1846, Roye sailed from New York and one month later landed in Monrovia, capital of Liberia.
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 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 to England negotiated with London banks. The results proved ruinous! The 7 percent interest terms on the loans were too severe. Roye had hastily agreed to the terms without consulting the legislature. Liberia actually received about $90,000, while bonds were issued for $400,000. The loan affair caused a great deal of resentment against Roye, and when he returned home he was accused of embezzlement. He then tried to extend his two-year term as president by edict and the people rose up against him.
In October 1871, Edward J. Roye was deposed from office. He was scheduled for trial, but on Feb. 12, 1872, he managed to escape during the night. It is believed that he drowned while trying to swim to an English ship anchored in Monrovia harbor.
Many years later the nation of Liberia took another look at Edward J. Roye, their fifth president. A building housing what was the True Wig Party headquarters was named in his honor, as well as a ship, a town, and several schools. Was he a villain or a victim of poor political planning? Did he seek his own prosperity over that of the common citizens of Liberia? Edward James Roye has been referred to as the "ninth and forgotten president from Ohio." In a land far away from the Ohio, he is known by some as the "Lincoln of Liberia."
A Brief History of Liberia and The American Colonization Society
The roots of the colonization movement date back to various plans first proposed in the eighteenth century. From the start, colonization of free blacks in Africa was an issue on which both whites and blacks were divided. There was some limited support among free blacks for emigration to Africa, because they believed that black Americans would never receive justice in the United States, yet some blacks believed African-Americans should remain in the United States to fight against slavery and gain their full legal rights as American citizens.
Paul Cuffee (1759-1817), a successful Quaker ship owner of African- American and Native American ancestry, advocated settling freed American slaves in Africa. He gained support from the British government, some free black leaders in the United States, and some members of the U.S. Congress. The plan was to take American black emigrants to the British colony of Sierra Leone. Cuffee intended to make one voyage per year, taking settlers and bringing back cargo.
In 1816, at his own expense, Captain Cuffee took thirty-eight American blacks to Freetown, Sierra Leone, but his death in 1817 ended further ventures. However, Cuffee had reached a large audience with his colonization plan and thus laid the groundwork for The American Colonization Society.
The American Colonization Society (ACS) was formed in 1817 to send free African-Americans to Africa as an alternative to remaining in the United States. In 1822, the society established on the west coast of Africa a colony that in 1847 became the independent nation of Liberia. By 1867, the society had sent more than 13,000 black American emigrants to Liberia .
Congress had made the importation of slaves into the United States illegal in 1808. In 1819, Congress passed an "Act in addition to the acts prohibiting the Slave Trade." This act authorized the president to send naval squadrons to African waters to apprehend illegal slave traders and appropriated $100,000 to resettle recaptured slaves in Africa. At various times, the ACS entered into agreements with the U.S. government to settle these rescued victims of the slave trade in Liberia. By 1867, more than 5,700 people had gone to Liberia under this program.
Some whites and blacks saw colonization as a way of ridding the nation of blacks, while some believed black Americans would be happier in Africa, where they could live free of racial discrimination. This group also believed black American colonists could play a central role in Christianizing and civilizing Africa.
Beginning in the 1830s, the society was harshly attacked by abolitionists, who tried to discredit colonization as a slaveholder's scheme. And, after the Civil War, when many blacks wanted to go to Liberia, financial support for colonization had waned. During its later years the society focused on educational and missionary efforts in Liberia rather than emigration.
By the 1840s, Liberia had become a financial burden on the ACS. In addition, Liberia faced political threats, chiefly from Britain, because it was neither a sovereign power nor a bona fide colony of any sovereign nation. Because the United States refused to claim sovereignty over Liberia, in 1846 the ACS ordered the Liberians to proclaim their independence. This map of the newly independent country shows the dates that the various territories were acquired. Settlements were located primarily along the coast and the many rivers leading inland. Inset maps highlight important areas of the country.
Joseph Jenkins Roberts (1809-1876), a wealthy Monrovia merchant who had emigrated in 1829 from Petersburg, Virginia, became the first black ACS governor of Liberia in 1841. In 1848, he was elected the first president of an independent Liberia. He achieved international recognition for the new country before leaving the presidency in 1856. After many years as president of Liberia College, Roberts again served as Liberian president from 1872-1876. Jane Waring Roberts, (b. 1818), the daughter of a Baptist minister who came to Liberia in 1824, became Roberts's second wife in 1836.
In many respects, emigrants to Liberia re-created an American society there. The colonists spoke English and retained American manners, dress, and housing styles. Affluent citizens constructed two-story houses composed of a stone basement and a wood-framed body with a portico on both the front and rear, a style copied from buildings in the southern American states from which most of the emigrants came. Liberia's president lived in a handsome stone mansion that resembled a southern plantation house.
Like the United States, Liberia used dollars and cents as its units of currency. Reflecting the many inhabitants engaged in agriculture, early Liberian currency pictured farmers and farm animals. Later currency included a ship and palm trees like those on the national seal. During the 1830s, the Maryland Colonization Society, which had broken away from the ACS, ran its own colony call "Maryland in Liberia" and issued its own currency. The colony joined the Republic of Liberia in 1857.
Cape Palmas, founded in 1834, was the original settlement of the Maryland Colonization Society, which purchased the peninsula with muskets, powder, cloth, pots, beads, and other items of trade. The peninsula became the site of three missions, established to Christianize and civilize the native Africans. Known as "Mount Vaughan," the Episcopal mission educated many members of Liberia's indigenous tribes.
Before the Civil War, Robert E. Lee freed most of his slaves and offered to pay expenses for those who wanted to go to Liberia. In November 1853, Lee's former slaves William and Rosabella Burke and their four children sailed on the Banshee, which left Baltimore with 261 emigrants. A person of superior intelligence and drive, Burke studied Latin and Greek at a newly established seminary in Monrovia and became a Presbyterian minister in 1857. He helped educate his own children and other members of his community and took several native children into his home. The Burkes's letters describing their lives in Liberia show that they relied on the Lees to convey messages to and from relatives still in Virginia, and the letters also reflect affection for their former masters.
Despite the hardships of being a colonist, William Burke was enthusiastic about his new life. After five years in Liberia he wrote that "Persons coming to Africa should expect to go through many hardships, such as are common to the first settlement in any new country. I expected it, and was not disappointed or discouraged at any thing I met with; and so far from being dissatisfied with the country, I bless the Lord that ever my lot was cast in this part of the earth. The Lord has blessed me abundantly since my residence in Africa, for which I feel that I can never be sufficiently thankful."
Letters from the Burkes to Mary Custis Lee, wife of Robert E. Lee, were published in the 1859 edition of The African Repository with Mrs. Lee's permission. This letter from Mrs. Burke to Mrs. Lee demonstrates personal warmth between the two women. Mrs. Burke shows concern for Mrs. Lee's health, tells Mrs. Lee about her children, and asks about the Lee children. The "little Martha" referred to was Martha Custis Lee Burke, born in Liberia and named for one of the Lee family. Repeating her husband's enthusiasm for their new life, Rosabella Burke says, "I love Africa and would not exchange it for America."