Beginning in 1816, the American Colonization Society (ACS), supported by such leading Americans as Senators Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe, worked toward the creation of a colony in Africa for free blacks and manumitted slaves, along the lines of an earlier British effort at Sierra Leone. Implementation of the joint venture began after the U. S. Congress granted $100,000 for the repatriation to Africa of persons brought to America following the "official" American abolition of the slave trade. Between 1822 and 1867, the ACS succeeded in assisting the repatriation to Liberia of 19,000 black people, among them 4,540 freeborn, 7,000 manumitted slaves and more than 5,700 recaptured from slaving vessels.
The ACS "experiment" itself was of historic significance. A group whose ancestors had been exiled from Africa had now returned to the land of their roots, to a country populated by many other African peoples. For repatriates, their return had been motivated in part by the desire for liberty, defined largely as the opportunity to enjoy what they had been denied in America, particularly property ownership and their own institutions. The implantation of the black repatriates on this coast coincided with a pattern that had been charted by groups like the Vai before them and that would be followed after by some Mandingo, as an initial group of traders and missionaries were later joined by other kinfolk. Their path was paved in part by the prestige already enjoyed by their religion and their larger trade networks.
The first settlement by black New World repatriates in the area now known as Liberia was at Cape Mesurado, which was ceded in 1821 to agents of the American Colonization Society by the leaders of several ethnic groups then living in the area, specifically the Dei, Gola and Bassa. That settlement evolved into what is now Monrovia, the capital city. Some of the institutions created by immigrants, like their families and religious ceremonies, were part African, providing a further basis for articulation with indigenous Africans. Others, like the political construction of the Liberian state, were fundamentally informed by the diaspora background of the repatriates. Still others, such as the press and features of the bureaucratic state, were without significant antecedents in repatriate and indigenous cultures and, initially at least, would be operated by self-conscious recourse to explicitly articulated rules. The administrative division of the modern Liberian state has evolved over more than a century and a half of existence from dispersed indigenous communities, coastal settlement/hinterland regions, through counties/ provinces, to the present 13 counties.
Reprinted from Historical Dictionary of Liberia: 2nd Edition By D. Elwood Dunn, Amos J. Beyan & Carl Patrick Burrowes. Scarecrow Press, 2001.Used by Permission