The Colony of Liberia
On 11 March 1850 the General Assembly passed an act "making
appropriations for the removal of free persons of color."
Plan of the town of Monrovia. Virginia Historical Society
In 1816 a group of prominent political leaders, seeking to end slavery, began urging the emancipation of slaves
on the condition that they emigrate to Africa. They formed the American Colonization Society (ACS), and six
years later the society established the colony of Liberia on the west coast of Africa. By 1867, the ACS had
sponsored more than 13,000 emigrants.
The colonization movement received strong support in Virginia, and many of the emigrants who left
America for Liberia came from the Old Dominion. Lott Cary, one of the founders of Liberia, was born
a slave in Charles City County, and Joseph Jenkins Roberts, who grew up in a free black family in Petersburg,
became the first elected president of the new republic in 1848. The capital was named Monrovia in honor
of President James Monroe.
Though abolitionists criticized the ACS as a slaveholder's scheme, local branches sprang up across
Virginia, and for many years the members tried to persuade the legislature to appropriate funds to send
colonists to Liberia. They succeeded in 1850 when the General Assembly set aside $30,000 annually
for five years to support emigration. The funding came too late, however, to meet the soaring costs
of transporting emigrants and supplying the colony.
Emigration slowed dramatically after the Civil War, as many newly freed slaves and free-born African
Americans chose to remain in their native land rather than start a new life in Africa. By the twentieth century,
emigration had nearly ceased, and ACS funds were channeled toward educational and missionary efforts. The
American Colonization Society was disbanded in 1963.
Virginia Historical Society | Online exhibitions | Search