American Colonization Society

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USBH Heritage Exchange Slavery Projects Team

This page is dedicated to all those, free-born and enslaved, who hoped for freedom from oppression and a chance at a new life.

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The American Colonization Society (ACS) was established between 1816 - 1817 by Robert Finley, an American clergyman and educator, and Samuel John Mills, a preacher and missionary. The purpose of the society was to relocate free American blacks to a colony in West Africa. 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. [1] For some time the ACS was thought to be in line with abolitionist goals, though later it was clear that it was in fact antithetical to those goals. Some abolitionists believed that the chances for freedom and prosperity in Africa would be higher than in the United States, and if there were a colony available to them where they could be resettled, abolitionists hoped to gain more manumissions of slaves and eventually end the institution.

There were several factors that led to the establishment of the American Colonization Society. The number of free people of color grew following the Revolutionary War. The Haitian Revolution and the emergence of an independent Haiti created an atmosphere of fear in the white population of the United States. In August 1791, enslaved and free people of color across the colony of Saint Domingue fomented a revolt and seized control of the colony from the colonial power of France. Declaring independence on January 1, 1804, the new republic of Haiti became the world’s first Black republic and the first independent nation in the Caribbean.[2] The Haitian Revolution is also the only successful attempt where enslaved people liberated themselves from a colonial power in the western hemisphere. Consequently, slave owners in the United States grew increasingly concerned that free people of color might encourage and/or help the enslaved to revolt.

Paul Cuffee 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, free black leaders in the United States, and members of Congress for a plan to take emigrants to the British colony of Sierra Leone. Cuffee intended to make one voyage per year, taking settlers and bringing back valuable cargoes. 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 pro-colonization arguments and laid the groundwork for later organizations such as the American Colonization Society.[3]


Influential Members

A friend of Henry Clay, Adam Beatty, Sr. was a member of the American Colonization Society and conditionally emancipated his slaves in a codicil to his will in 1857 offering to fund their trip to Liberia should they agree. (See the link to the will in the sources below).[5]

Another influential member was the Penitentiary of Virginia. It participated in the transport of condemned slaves to Liberia. [6]In the website cited, the Biographical Information about the Penitentiary is described:

"During the antebellum period the General Assembly passed increasingly restrictive laws in response to white fears of slave crime and insurrection. Procedures were established to compensate slaveholders for the loss of their property when slaves ran away or were imprisoned or executed. Some condemned slaves were transported beyond the state's boundaries, frequently to Africa.

"Free blacks, too, were subjected to harsh laws intended to persuade or compel them to leave Virginia. Special taxes were assessed against them, emigration to Liberia was promoted, and reenslavement for debt or crime was threatened constantly. Some free blacks did leave, but most stayed despite the restrictions."

"Capital cases involving slaves and free blacks were tried before special sessions of local courts and included murder, attempted murder, and burglary. If a slave was condemned, his value to his owner was estimated and certified to the auditor of public accounts for payment. Alternatives to execution included sale or expulsion from the state by order of the governor. Often brief transcripts of trial records were sent to Richmond with the slave's valuation, especially if reprieve and transportation to Africa were under consideration."

The Mayflower of Liberia

The Ship Elizabeth's Company was the first ship chartered by the American Colonization Society which sailed in Feb 1820 with support from the US Government, and sent 88 free blacks to Liberia.

State Colonization Societies

The creation of many more colonization societies followed despite the many difficulties and large number of casualties.

The following, mostly northern, states had organized their own societies and they attended the Annual Meeting of the ACS in 1835. New Hamphire, Samuel Bell; Vermont, Benjamin Swift and William Slade; Massachusetts, Edward Everett; Connecticut, Henry Hudson; New York, David M Reese, William Stone; New Jersey, Theodore Frelinghuysen; Pennsylvania, Rev. John Breckenridge; Delaware, Arnold Naudain; Ohio, Thomas Ewing; Virginia, Chief Justice Marshall, John Tyler; Kentucky Colonization Society, Henry Clay; Indiana, William Hendricks, John Tipton; District of Columbia, George Washington Parke Custis; Maryland Colonization Society and the Mississippi Colonization Society.[7][8] Some of Colorado's African American community created the Colorado African Colonization Company to support those wishing to leave and settle in Liberia. On 1 Aug 1902 the membership held a celebration of the 54th anniversary of the establishment of Liberia as a colony. Forty-five members were preparing to leave.[9]

Original Settlers of Liberia

  • Lott Cary was among the settlers who founded the town of Monrovia. He arrived with his family on 8 Mar 1821 on the Brig Nautilus. There he established a church and he served as the pastor of Providence Baptist Church and president of the Monrovia Baptist Missionary Society. He was elected in September 1826, to the Vice Agency of the Colony, and later served as the colony's acting governor from August 1828 to his death in November of that year.
  • Solomon Bayley - author and former slave arrived in 1831 on the Brig Doris’s Company with his family. See the Solomon Bailey Collection and letter dated Nov. 23, 1831
  • Peyton Skipwith- His owner, John Hartwell Cocke, sent Skipwith with his wife and six children to Liberia on the Ship Jupiter’s Company[10], where they arrived at Monrovia January 1, 1834 after a 56-day journey across the Atlantic Ocean. The Skipwith family wrote letters to Cocke for over thirty years; these letters are archived in the University of Virginia Library.
  • Anthony Bryant - Anthony Bryant was 70 years old in 1847 at the time he sailed with his wife and 4 children to Liberia in search of a safe place to live.[11]
  • Ann Sucky Faulcon was born enslaved in 1803. She lived and worked on John Hartwell Cocke II's Hopewell Plantation. According to the overseer, George Skipwith, she often vexed overseer Elam Tanner by her accusations and antics, but earned Cocke’s confidence so that he liberated her (to Liberia) in 1851. [12]
  • Emma White, the daughter of former slaves, was born in Kentucky. Emma was educated but did not find success in her new home, losing all of her money. In 1875 she moved to Opobo (today southern Nigeria) where she became a teacher.

Emigrants to Liberia and ACS Ships

A table of all the ships that sailed between 1820 & 1851 and the states they sailed from can be seen here: ACS Table of Emigrants

To see the passenger rolls and profiles for the ships:

To see the Censuses for Liberia, 1843:

To search for passengers that originated from Virginia:

Early Heads of Colony

Liberian Declaration of Independence

Joseph Jenkins Roberts was elected as the first (1848–1856) and seventh (1872–1876) President of Liberia after independence. He was the first man of African descent to govern the country, serving previously as governor from 1841 to 1848. Roberts was born free in Norfolk, Virginia on 15 Mar 1809. In 1829, Roberts having heard about the ACS, decided to join with his mother, siblings, wife, and child, a group of fellow Virginians leaving for Monrovia, Liberia. Another member of the ship Roberts was on was James Spriggs Payne, who became the 4th (1868 to 1870) and 8th (1876 to 1878) President of Liberia. [13]

William David Coleman, born in Fayette County, KY, was a slave who gained his freedom and then settled in Liberia, Africa. Coleman was Vice President of Liberia before becoming its 12th president (1896-1900). He first completed President J. J. Cheeseman's term and was then elected to the presidency.

Wikipedia: Americo-Liberian People "Americo-Liberians trace their ancestry to free-born and formerly enslaved African Americans who emigrated in the 19th century to become the founders of the state of Liberia. They identified themselves as Americo-Liberians."

Robert E. Lee

In November 1853, Robert E. Lee or George W. Parke Custis, manumitted several slaves from Arlington House, and offered to pay expenses for those who wanted to go to Liberia. Former slaves William and Rosabella Burke and their four children sailed on the Ship Banshee, which left Baltimore with 261 emigrants. [14] The Burkes were enslaved while they lived in Virginia, owned by the Custis and Lee families at Arlington House and Plantation, which was located just outside of Washington D.C. George Washington Parke Custis, the owner of the plantation, was an early supporter of the American Colonization Society. He offered freedom to the Burkes on the condition that they settle in Liberia.


Congress 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 a naval squadron 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 those rescued from the slave trade in Liberia.[15]


  2. Kona Shen, “The History of Haiti, 1492-1805,” Brown University Department of Africana Studies, October 27, 2015,
  3. A Black Colonizationist, Memoir of Captain Paul Cuffee, A Man of Colour: To Which is Subjoined The Epistle of the Society of Sierra Leone in African & etc., title page. York: W. Alexander, 1812 [1817] Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress
  7. The African Repository, February 1835, Vol. XI, No.2, p.33
  12. (On her Liberian experiences see Letters from Liberia [Miller, Dear Master, Pt. I]and her letters in the Cocke Papers).
  15. Manuscript Division:

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