The American Colonization Society (ACS) was formed in 1817 to send free African-Americans to Africa as an alternative to emancipation in the US. The first colonists were sent to Africa in 1820 and resided at Sierra Leone. In 1822, the Society established a colony on the west coast of Africa that, in 1847, became the independent nation of Liberia. Beginning in the 1830s, the Society was harshly attacked by abolitionists, who tried to discredit colonization as a slaveholder's scheme. View an example of such criticism, voiced by William Lloyd Garrison in 1832, in this excerpt from "Thoughts on African Colonization."
Selling life memberships was a standard fund-raising practice of benevolent societies and, at thirty dollars each, the memberships were a popular gift for ministers. In 1825, one of the agents who sold the certificates in New England estimated that "not less than $50,000 have in this way been poured into the treasury of the Lord." In March 1825, the ACS began a quarterly, The African Repository and Colonial Journal, edited by Ralph Randolph Gurley who headed the Society until 1844. The quarterly promoted both colonization and Liberia. Among the items printed were articles about Africa, letters of praise, dispatches stressing prosperity and growth of the colony, information about emigrants, and lists of donors.
By the 1840s, Liberia had become a financial burden on the American Colonization Society. 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, the ACS ordered the Liberians to proclaim their independence in 1846. For many years, the ACS tried to persuade the United States Congress to appropriate funds to send colonists to Liberia. Although the campaign ultimately failed, the society did succeed in its appeals to some state legislatures. In 1850, Virginia set aside $30,000 annually for five years to aid and support emigration. During the 1850s, the Society also received several thousand dollars from the New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Maryland legislatures. By 1867, the Society had sent more than 13,000 emigrants to Liberia. 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. In 1913, and at its dissolution in 1964, the Society donated its records to the Library of Congress.
Information about the foundation of the Society, its role in establishing Liberia, efforts to manage and defend the colony, fundraising issues, recruitment of settlers, and the way in which black settlers built and led the new nation. Most of the documents found here are letters between Liberia and representatives of the Society. Many cover fundraising issues relating to support and education in the newly-formed country. Some genealogical gems include letters received by the Society in response to a special circular appealing for funds to send the slaves liberated by Rev. T. D. Herndon of Virginia to Liberia. You will also find news clippings and related manuscripts.
A two-page letter from Thomas S. Grimke of Charleston, South Carolina, dated December 16, 1831, is shown here. Mr. Grimke was known as a tireless advocate of emancipation, along with his sisters Sarah and Angelina. He died in 1832.
The third image shows a letter, dated December 15, 1831, from the Colonization Society of the State of Connecticut, referencing a draft of $1,400 for the ACS.
Receipts, account books, ledgers, statements and miscellaneous papers of a purely financial nature.
Annual reports, proceedings and minutes of annual meetings, meetings of the board of directors and the executive committee, membership and donation records, and papers concerning the African Repository.
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A PDF version of The Register of Papers in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress for the American Colonization Society, is available at the Center for Research Libraries, through this link.
A Census of the Colony of Liberia, taken in 1843, appears in the congressional reports Serial Sets (Serial Set 458, U.S. Congress, Senate Document 150, 2nd Session, 28th Congress). The 1843 Census of the Colony was printed as part of a report on Admiral Perry's African expedition to examine conditions on the African coast.
The Data & Information Services Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison, provides links to the Rolls of Emigrants to Liberia, 1820 -1843, and the Liberian Census Data, 1843.
A three-volume series published by US-based Liberian Studies Association listing emigrants to Liberia for separate periods of time. Schick compiled the list for 1820 to 1843, Brown covered 1843 to 1865, and Murzuda 1865 to 1904.
Map study could reveal new data about settlement patterns, land ownership, and community development in Liberia. An 1853 map of Liberia is available in the Library of Congress Geography and Map division. Work on the photographs could lead to identification of more of the individuals, locations, and events depicted.
Maps of Liberia is a special section of the Library of Congress website. The online presentation includes "a map prepared for a book first published in the 1820's by ACS agent Jehudi Ashmun, a map showing the areas in Liberia that were ceded to the Society by indigenous chiefs, and a detailed map dated 1869 by a man thought to be the black American explorer Benjamin Anderson."
The records shown here are scanned from the Library of Congress microfilm publication, The American Colonization Society A Register of Its Records in the Library of Congress.
A major portion of the records of the American Colonization Society was presented to the Library of Congress by the Society in 1913. In 1922 and 1953, the records were augmented by material obtained by the Library from other sources; and in 1964-65, an officer acting on behalf of the Society gave to the Library the remainder of available records, chiefly those dating from 1913 to 1964, the year the Society was legally dissolved.
The American Colonization Society records are provided to Fold3 by the Center for Research Libraries.
About the contributor
Kenyatta D. Berry is a genealogist, businesswoman, and lawyer with more than ten years experience in research focusing on African American and Virginia genealogy. She has been quoted in JET magazine and was a guest on Satellite radio The Power! Kenyatta is the founder of Azani Media, a privately-held company that provides consumers with access to information that connects generations, strengthens family bonds, and improves life experiences. Azani Media is a network of more than twenty websites dedicated to genealogy and family health history.