While abolitionists wanted an immediate and unconditional end to slavery, the American Colonization Society (ACS) supported gradual emancipation combined with resettling freed slaves in Africa. This appealed to slave owners who feared rebellions; white farmers and laborers worried that free black labor would depress wages; religious leaders who wanted to missionize Africa; and those who believed freed slaves would never be treated fairly in America. The ACS founded the West African colony of Liberia in 1822 and resettled more than 13,000 freed American slaves there.
3¢ Landing of the First Colonists, Liberia, 1949
Signed by their designer, the noted illustrator Arthur Szyk, these stamps romanticize the arrival of the first African Americans at Liberia in 1821. Most of the 164 emigrants on board the ship Nautilus (visible in the background) were from North Carolina and were under eighteen years old. Within a year, 25% died from malaria.
Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions stampless folded letter, August 5, 1846
They are all fond of the name of Harrison—that of their first owners in Virginia, for whom…they cherish a tender regard. For this reason they desire to retain that name. Our missionary therefore will henceforth be known as Ellis Harrison…
Reverend Charles A. Stillman, a minister in Alabama, reports in his letter that local colonizationists have purchased a slave family’s freedom for $2500 in order to send them to Liberia as missionaries.
Liberian stampless folded letter, c. 1852
The writer, James M. Priest, was born a slave in Kentucky. Freed by his owner to become a missionary in Liberia, he later served as the fledgling country’s vice president and a justice of its supreme court. His letter entered the U.S. aboard a ship that landed at Baltimore.
James M. Priest daguerreotype portrait by Augustus Washington, c. 1856-1860
Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division