Saturday, November 26, 2011


The eighteenth president of Liberia was also a brilliant poet who wrote THE LONE STAR FOREVER  at nineteen years old. Here is another gem from the pen of Edwin Barclay.

African American Perspectives: Pamphlets from the Daniel A.P.Murray Collection, 1818-1907

 by Edwin J. Barclay.Deep in the heart's unfathom'd caves.
Where tumults ocean ceaseless roars,
Where pleasure oft high revell holds.
Whence hearts most weak, are thence made bold,
Besides a sympathetic thought.
For those who have their finis found,
And they are sacred, hallowed thoughts.
Which come of life's enchanted march;
Bespoiling[?] naught, by naught bespoiled,
Cleansing the mind and giving joy.
To those whom Fortune favors well.


And when toward the close of life.
With slacken'd footsteps on we tread,
Toward the region of the dead.
Should we not sacred hold those thoughts.
Which from our past experience rise?
And granting this, should we not have
In early life, some sympathy
For those who near their goal have gone?
Yet, can there be an end for those.
Whom Heaven's mighty king did frame?
An end! can there exist an end
to pre-decreed eternity?
Most surely not, for as we gaze
Far into space, we can descern
No risen no end of the unknown.
-One which to grasp, and then proclaim
In loud stentorian voice and clear:-
"O hear ye men! your God is found.
Behold him! the Unknown, Unseen.
Unserved, Unworshiped, and Unpraised!


Behold Him! Come and fallye down,
Before His throne and give Him praise!"
Nor can we with our mortal eyes.
Behold Him in some far-off land,
Where seeing Him we strive to rush,
And reach the shining silv'ry shore,
Thro' whose most verdant fields do flow,
Rivers of brilliant precious ore.
Nay! we must cease to breathe this foul,
-This murdering mortal air, and seek
Us for the end for which we must.
This life forego. Yet is there such
An end more wanted than this life?
Perchance there be no end in death;
What land is seen when Death his blade
Both sheath? I hear of heaven's land
Whose streets of glittering gold are made,
Whose agate places receive
The passing rays of brilliant light,
From vast Celestia's countless suns.


But can there any such exist,-
A land material, and blest
With endless day, and is not hot
From having ceaseless luminance?
Whose inmates naught but love enhance,
And where they feed on honeyed milk;
Where all is pleasure and content;
Where night is alien, and light
Unfolds his brilliant rays, and reigns
Eternal Monarch of the days!
And if there doth exist this land.
Who guides us by the hand, and heads
Us to its shores of indolence?
And where doth band the troops he leads
Into this place? But cease thee Muse!
Where soarest thou?. Unto what plains
Have you now flown? Dost thou not know
If thou ascendest into tho vast
Etherial heights, into this earth

Thou will return in fury at


Your fruitless search, for some unknown,
-Some unexisting land;-a land
Which is a recompense to those,
Whose mortal life has virtuous been
Nay! nay! thou canst not find this shore,
Whose joys, the fevered brains of some.
Present to man. These pleasant blinds
And fancies are but symbols of
The non-existing heavenly life.
Which man suppose truely is.
And as they argue warmly, this
Most pleasing fancy, which some wild,
Enthusiastic, misled child
Of darkness teaches them: Thou must
Return and by your failure show
To them, what vast and grave mistakes
They oftimes make do not misjudge
O men! these pleasing visions which
Have been designed, but to compell
Obedience to that natural force


Which caused our complex being, to be.
But rather ye should strive to live,
A life of virture and of love.
Regardless of what good ye do,
Yet, mindful of your evil acts;
For both are counted in the day,
Wherein we crave that pleasant sleep.
-That endless slumber of the dead.
And when on earth ye daily wend
Your footsteps with Time's fleeting wings
This, ever hold within your minds:-
That conscience does not die, but lives
Eternally; yea, while this frame,
Has wasted [all its?] mortal force,
And lay out in the burying ground,
A bleached and useless [mond?] of clay.

From the Barclay Padmore Wiles Families website

Saturday, November 12, 2011


President Tolbert with muslim community leaders

It is not very difficult to see why the National Unification programme succeeded. The enthusiastic response and cooperation of the chiefs and people, the infusion of foreign capital from the mining and rubber concessions, the country's impressive growth rate, improved credit rating and increased production output, the Free Port, free trade agreements with Ivory Coast and Guinea, foreign assistance from America, Israel and other countries, peace and stability, all contributed to its success. The question of why its architect succeeded where his predecessors failed requires deeper analysis. Tubman's sheer force of personality was a factor, his almost uncanny ability to either achieve consensus or bypass official opposition and take his case directly to the people, to suppress dissent while at the same time endearing the populace to himself, were gifts of a grand master of political strategy, without a doubt. His ability to compress a complex vision of economic development and national unification into simple two-prong five year development plans is impressive even to his critics. Still, one might wonder, why him? Equally visionary leaders such as William David Coleman, Edward James Roye, Arthur Barclay, and Edward Wilmot Blyden had all attempted the same grand vision and failed, Roye losing his life and Coleman resigning in despair. Blyden all but gave up on the country and moved to Sierra Leone where he died. What was so special about Vat Tubman? Why did he have his hand so much more "on the pulse of this country," as Archbishop Michael Francis put it? Most scholars point to his increasingly dictatorial control of the Legislature, and the one-party, so-say-one-so-say-all nature of that body. It wasn't all that difficult to push through legislation in a virtual one-party state, they argue. Maintaining an elaborate intelligence network of PRO (Public Relations Officers) spies also would enable anyone to have his hand on the pulse of the country.

But the simple fact of where Tubman came from is never given much consideration, or totally overlooked by the scholars. Having Maryland County at his back changed everything. It accounted for why his programs succeeded as well as his longevity in office. Since the 1910 war, power had been gradually shifting toward that long shut-out portion of the coast. The two vice presidents of the CDB King administration both came from Cape Palmas, Henry Too Wesley for the first term and Allen N. Yancy for the second. Exactly why Wesley was shunted aside in favor of Allen Yancy in 1927 will require more research, but Yancy seemed totally convinced that he would succeed King as President. It certainly leads one to speculate as to what back room power sharing deals were consummated in order to settle the 1910 conflict.

Certainly Edwin Barclay could have easily hand-picked any of a dozen other people to succeed him. Why Tubman, a Monrovia outsider with a reputation for unpredictability who made the True Whig Party conservatives uncomfortable? Was Cape Palmas promised the presidency to get the Grebos to put down their arms? It's interesting that they never did take up arms again after 1910, no matter what Allen Yancy did in Cape Palmas, from murder to strong arming others for their property to commandeering conscripted road labor for his own use, to forcing young interior men into baracoons for shipment to Fernando Po against their will. It does seem curious that a group that took up arms about every two years over land, trade, even women, allowed Allen Yancy to operate with complete impunity in Cape Palmas. Even President King seemed afraid of Yancy, refusing to take any action even when informed of murder, not to mention the fact that King himself never profited from the Fernando Po racket. Why would he allow Yancy to endanger his administration when he stood to gain nothing from the criminal enterprise?

Charles S. Johnson, who met and interviewed Yancy in Cape Palmas while on the League of Nations Commission, also wondered why and how Yancy rose so high so fast without any qualifications, and got away with so much. But even Johnson missed the significance of the fact that Yancy was married into an influential Grebo family and reportedly involved with the secret societies. Or that P. Gbe Wolo, legal advisor to the King administration, was the son of the Grand Cess Paramount Chief. The complicity of Grebo leadership in Fernando Po would explain a lot. The threat of another Grebo war would explain why King was afraid to move against him. It would also explain why Tubman lasted so long in office, assasination attempts, coup plots, political wizardry and security network not withstanding. That the Grebos saw Tubman as one of their own is beyond dispute. Anyone who saw the thousands of Grebo and Kru war dancers at Tubman's funeral, holding aloft placards reading "Africa has lost a great leader," could not have failed to be impressed with the fact that Maryland County was solidly behind their son.

Where the Unification programme failed on the other hand, was not in intent, as most scholars maintain, but in design and implementation. The critics argue that Tubman basically created a facade of unity while keeping in place the mechanism that allowed his Americo-Liberian upper class to maintain power. That their insistence on westernization as the criteria for assimilation was counterproductive to unification, and that while the Programme encouraged intermarriage as a furtherance of unification, intermarriage invariably meant absorption into "settler culture." The critics overlook the fact that intermarriage is usually between people of the same class, lifestyle and philosophy. It is difficult to imagine what kind of "mechanism" would keep power in the hands of Americo-Liberians if the Unification Programme was allowed to run its full course. As it was, two-thirds of the government was of pure indigenous ancestry by the late Seventies, including the National True Whig Party Chairman, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Director of the Budget, etc. And that's where the confusion between ethnicity and class came into play. Tubman, an avowed capitalist, probably never intended to erase the divisions between the classes, which is what the critics seem to have expected the Unification Programme to do.

As for the requirement of westernization for assimilation, one wonders how else a sense of national identity would be forged from a cornucopia of related but very diverse cultures and ancient animosities. An African-American scholar takes the opposite view, arguing that the National Unification Programme was actually premature:

"The American settler community ought never to have brought the aboriginal peoples into Liberian society without having them first fully assimilated into Western culture. Having NCOs, and other soldiers in the Army with dual loyalties is not cohesive to say the least. Clausewitz claimed national identity is central to national survival."

To succeed the programme had to be continous, long term, and incremental. It could only succeed ultimately if it addressed economic inequality as well as ethnic disparities. Only thus could the expectations it raised be met and not become a powder keg. While it united the country, the perception remained, real or imagined, that power remained in the hands of the American settler upper class. That perception was stronger among the younger generation of the Seventies than the previous one, because, unlike their parents, they did not remember the days before the Unification Programme, the Frontier Force soldiers running amok, the beatings, chainings and torture for failure to pay the hut tax, the forced labor and unwritten rules of where the "uncivilized" could or couldn't go, the feeling of being colonial subjects rather than citizens. All they knew was that times were hard, getting harder, and the big shots seemed totally indifferent to their hardships. They didn't know that most of those big shots were assimilated indigenous people with western names or products of the ward system, many direct beneficiaries of the Unification Programme. It might not even have mattered whether Tubman's successor was Americo-Liberian or indigenous as long as the real divisions in society, economic disparities, remained unaddressed.

It probably wouldn't have made a difference if William R. Tolbert had continued and expanded the Unification Programme, which he did in a way, with more of a focus on raising living standards than his boss of nineteen years. It could be that the Unification Programme had outlived its effectiveness, or had served its purpose. Liberia, and Africa, had changed too much in the post-World War II years. Too many false perceptions had been created, too many expectations raised that couldn't possibly be fulfilled, not even by "the Solomon of Africa," as one Tubman administration official called the Old Man. In that sense, perhaps the Unification Programme was not so much a victim of failure as it was of its own success.


WILLIAM V. S. TUBMAN PAPERS, Executive Branch Administrative Files/Department of Internal Affairs


Tubman birthday celebration, Gbarnga, Nov. 29, 1967



Dunn, Beyan, Burrowes, HISTORICAL DICTIONARY OF LIBERIA, 2nd Edition


Tubman and his vice President Tolbert at a National Unification Council.

The following year 1945 saw the President visiting the Eastern Province, where Executive Councils were held in Tchien (now Zwedru) from April 3rd to the 22nd, in Webbo from the 29th to May 5th, and then in Harper, and in Barclayville, Kru Coast Territory. In reporting to the National Legislature, the President alluded with satisfaction to the settlement by the Interior Department of the twenty-year old land dispute between the Gbandi and the Kissi peoples of the Western Province, and with displeasure to what he termed "certain transcendentalists and some foreign influences that continue to promote the idea of clan, tribe and element feeling, that the authority and conduct of government will evolve to one element or clan to the exclusion of others." Any such idea was preposterous and unpatriotic, he said, because:

"...The office and purpose of the founding of this republic was to offer a home for all the sons of Africa-those who were originally here, those who came here, and those who shall come hereafter. It is therefore our bounden duty and service to effectuate the aims and purposes for which this nation was instituted, regarding everyone as a Liberian without regard to tribe, clan or ancestry."

He mentioned specifically his presence at the closing exercises of Bromley Mission, run by the Episcopal Church, where he said the members of the graduating class were catalogued as Miss 'A,' Vai, Miss 'B', Grebo, Miss 'C', Liberian. This was basically averse to government's policy of unification, he said, and if it was any indication of the kind of teaching being done in the classroom, it must be immediately halted, or government would employ measures to enforce a halt, "to the extent of demanding a change in personnel at such institutions, or even inhibiting all such institutions."

In May, 1954, the first National Unification Council was convened in Harper, and attended by delegates from all counties, districts, provinces and territories. The President outlined the aims and objectives of the Unification Policy and the chiefs presented an open letter reaffirming their loyalty to the government and dedication to its Unification Policy. Letters poured in from all over the country confirming the sentiments of the chiefs and officials. In his annual message to the legislature in November 1958, the President observed that for the fourteen years since the launching of the Unification Programme, there had been peace, tranquility, national cooperation and solidarity throughout the nation, and no rebellion, uprising or war, against the government or between the tribes. The single exception he reported was a boundary dispute between the Yederobo and Nyanbo peoples of Maryland County in which a citizen of Yederobo was killed. Tubman traveled to Maryland, investigated, found the Nyanbo to be the aggressors, and convened a council of chiefs to recommend penalties under Grebo customary law. After the traditional ceremonies for the restoration of peace, friendly relations resumed between the two peoples. The President attributed the peace and stability to the administrative reforms instituted in the provinces, alluding to the infrastructural and economic development taking place as a result of the interior being opened up, and the enthusistic response to and participation of the people in, these development activities. Tubman recommended that monuments be erected on Providence Island in honor of the first settlers, and of King Peter and the other chiefs that welcomed them. He also defended the controversial Matilda Newport holiday, maintaining that there would be no Liberia if not for her actions in defense of the colony.

The second National Unification Council was held in Sanniquellie in 1959, from February 5th to the 9th. The theme of the Council was Integration of Elements in Liberia, and it was attended by over three thousand chiefs, officials, delegates and foreign guests, including special representatives of the President of Guinea, Sekou Toure. At the conference, President Tubman made a promise to the people of the provinces that if they continued on the road to development, he would work to raise the provinces to county level. This was crucial in order to equalize legislative representation and budgetary allocations, ensure a more equitable distribution of resources and development, and institute the final phase of National Unification.

In 1960 the President proposed a Special Commission "to examine, study and survey the present political subdivisions of the country." He recommended that the law establishing the forty mile county jurisdiction limit be repealed and the county jurisdiction extended to the limit of the country's territory. After annexing portions of the provinces to the counties, he recommended, the remaining territories of the three provinces would be raised to county level. This rearrangement was essential, the President told the Legislature, because the hinterland administration as it existed was patterned after the colonial system, and had to be abolished.

At the 1963 National Unification Council in Kolahun, Western Province, the National Commission to resurvey the country presented its report. After assessment of progress made in development over the previous five years based on reports from government agencies, provincial and tribal administrators, Tubman announced his expectation that this would be the last Unification Council where the country was divided by county and hinterland jurisdiction. At the Council, attended by three thousand plus delegates, the President recognized the indispensable services of the Paramount Chiefs in promoting the objectives of the Unification Program, singling out for special recognition Paramount Chiefs Arkoi Tellewoyan and Tamba Tailor of the Western Province, Jimmy Dahn and Johnny Voker of the Central Province, and a host of other tribal leaders who were working tirelessly to effect the unification of the country. Operation Production, a national campaign to boost agricultural output and self-sufficiency, was launched. Counties would compete for the highest output and the fruits of the campaign would be exhibited at an Operation Production Fair during the next Unification Council where the winners of the competition would be honored. The council ended with a mass demonstration of the people of the Western Province in support of the Unification Programme.

The legislative acts creating four new counties were passed in 1962. Special elections were held in May 1964 for senators and representatives from the new counties, and superintendents and other officials appointed. Independence Day 1964 fell on a Sunday. On Monday the 27th, officials of the four new counties of Lofa (Western Province), Nimba (Central Province), Bong (Central Province), and Grand Gedeh (Eastern Province) were inducted into office. It was an especially electrifying Twenty-Six Day celebration, filled with excitement, optimism and a sense of great accomplishment for the nation as a whole.

The fourth National Unification Council and Operation Production Fair was held at the newly constructed Buchanan Fairgrounds in Grand Bassa County, in December 1966. In the spanking new thousand-seat, circular-shaped central pavilion, a standing-room-only crowd of thousands gathered, delegates, officials, ordinary citizens and foreign guests. Progress since the last Unification Council was assessed, and Operation Production prizes were handed out, Lofa County taking the grand prize of ten thousand dollars for the highest output of agricultural produce, especially rice.This lavish celebration was to be the last National Unification Council as it turned out. President Tubman died in 1971, when the next one was scheduled.


 The Centennial Memorial Monument celebrates the unity of the indigenous, recaptive, and American/Caribbean immigrant peoples of Liberia. The Centennial Memorial Pavilion was constructed in 1947.

What motivated Tubman is often attributed to political expediency, a desire to consolidate power for himself by cultivating an interior base of influence, the close scrutiny of Britain, France and the United States in the wake of the 1930s labor scandal, and the growing decolonization and independence movement on the African continent. There were also however, personal reasons, chief among them being where Tubman came from, which also might account for why he succeeded where all his predecessors failed.

Tubman was born and raised in Harper, Maryland County, which had a large "civilized Grebo" population very active in government, legal, academic and civic affairs. Cape Palmas was very different from Monrovia or Grand Bassa, from where all other presidents came, in that despite the frequent wars with traditional Grebo leadership over trade and land, there was much more cultural interaction on an equal basis, between the immigrant and indigenous populations. Where most other presidents had grown up in an environment more or less insulated from indigenous cultural influences, Tubman was raised in a cross-cultural matrix where his childhood friends and schoolmates were Grebo. He described himself as "the convivial cannibal from the downcoast hinterlands," in essence proclaiming his difference from presidents before him.

During the 1875 Grebo war, Tubman's father, Rev. Alexander Tubman, was in the Liberian force defeated at the battle of Wrukehn by the combined forces of Rocktown, Middletown, Garaway, Cavalla and the Grebo Reunited Kingdom. His life was saved by a Grebo warrior who was a friend of his before the war, Dyne Weah. Weah directed the elder Tubman to safety as other members of his retreating force were slaughtered, including his brother, William S. Tubman II, and another brother, John Hilary Tubman, was seriously wounded. The future president made a promise to his father that he would work to end the constant wars between the immigrant and Grebo people, and to bring them closer together. In fact, the endless battles between Grebo kingdoms and the Liberian government belied a closeness of the two peoples on a personal level that was far more intimate than in any other region of the country. Tubman's cousin, future Vice President Allen Yancy, was married to Judge Seton's daughter, Gertrude Seton, spoke fluent Grebo, and declared neutrality in the 1910 Grebo war. Other Grebo families like the Brownells, Nebos, Bryants, Wesleys, Badios, and Wolos, were also intermarried or closely allied politically with American settler families. The Cape Palmas man, exemplified by William V. S. Tubman, Nete-Sie Brownell, Henry Too Wesley, A. Dash Wilson and P. Gbe Wolo, was in many ways the embodiment of the national unity that was so elusive, so seemingly unobtainable.

Tubman was at seventeen, the leader of the True Whig Party Youth Wing which often challenged the ultraconservative TWP elements, and after legal apprenticeship, was admitted to the Maryland County Bar at twenty-two years old. He was elected Maryland County Senator at twenty-eight, the youngest in Liberian history, and immediately established a record as a fighter for the rights of the unassimilated indigenous masses. He lost his senate seat in the wake of the Fernando Po labor scandal, as he was the attorney of record for his cousin Allen Yancy's Maryland County Recruiting Company, one of the firms charged with exporting forced labor to the Spanish islands. He was serving as Associate Justice when he was nominated by the True Whig Party to succeed Edwin J. Barclay as president in 1942. In a speech before the Liberian Senate, the candidate hinted at the monumental changes he would initiate if elected when he said:

"We therefore recognize, and would stand for the demonstration of the indivisibility and coherent strength of the nation as the Supreme issue of these days in which the whole world faces the cries of manifold and radical changes...We would engage therefore, to strive with all our might to agglutinate and unify our populations and political adherents composing the body politic; and with election over, Liberia would be a place for all Liberians alike who would respond to this sentiment."
New circumstances were demanding an end to the isolationism and conservatism that maintained two separate societies, one westernized and enfranchised, the other decidedly not. Labor needs were transforming the landscape as Firestone hired thousands from the provinces for work on its plantations, and the United States Army recruited hundreds more for the construction of airfields, roads, and the 25th Station Hospital in anticipation of wounded soldiers from the North African theater of operations. Besides workers from the provinces, Firestone attracted people from neighboring countries. No longer could the "uncivilized" be confined to the bush. Circumstances were forcing the people to come together. Sorely needed then was a plan of action to serve as a guiding hand for this forced integration.
In his inaugural address in January, 1944, the new president declared:

"Americo-Liberianism must be obliterated and forgotten, and that rather all of us must register a new era of a philosophy of justice, fair and equal opportunities for all alike throughout the country, regardless of tribe, clan, element, creed, or economic status...Let us resolve henceforth, for ourselves here present as well as for our constituents and our posterity, to make our country a united nation with liberty and justice for all under God's command."
Tubman revealed a two-prong plan of action in his first Annual Message to the Legislature on November 1, 1944. His primary focus as president would be on (1) Education and economic development, and (2) The attraction to and participation in government of the unassimilated indigenous masses.

In order to effect the second part, he proposed sweeping changes including compulsory education, closer study of African cultural institutions, provincial representation in the Legislature, allocation of a percentage of hut taxes to the areas where they were collected, freedom of travel throughout the hinterland, stricter control of the Frontier Force and clearly defined limits of its authority, a "special grade of men " as provincial and district commissioners, and suffrage for all males above twenty-one who paid hut tax. The latter proposal would be put to a national referendum after passage in the House and Senate.

"These national policies," the President said, "cannot remain mere national intent, but must be given effectual demonstration. This necessarily will involve skill, labor and finance. It will obviously require time to put into practical operation, but we must begin at once with the means and resources at our disposal...We cannot build a powerful and progressive nation if we are divided in our efforts of national reconstruction."
The act granting suffrage to male tax-paying residents of the provinces and representation in the Legislature was passed in 1945 and ratified by the majority of the people in a national referendum, despite opposition from conservative TWP elements who protested that the time was not yet ripe for such representation. The President felt vindicated by the overwhelming approval of the people, and of international leaders including US President Harry Truman who termed it a "broadening of the basis of Liberian democracy." In welcoming the new representatives to the House Chambers, Tubman said:

"I for my part have always felt that taxation without representation was oppressive and tyrannical. It is therefore with the maximum degree of pleasure and gratification that I extend to these honorable gentlemen congratulations, and express the belief that their presence in the Council of State is the dawn of a new unification and agglutination of the different elements that make up the body politic."
When the TWP news organ the Liberian Age subtly criticized the seating of "unlettered, uncivilized and gowned men" in the House of Representatives, Tubman responded by donning a traditional gown and cap at major official functions. Other officials followed suit, and traditional ceremonial garb soon became standard attire at official functions alongside the more formal top hat, frock coat and white tie. If these dramatic changes provoked discomfort and unease from some in Monrovia and other cities, the newly enfranchised people of the provinces greeted them with great enthusiasm, optimism and overwhelming support for the President.

Tubman toured the Central and Western Provinces from May to July, and convened Executive Councils with the chiefs, headmen, commissioners, superintendents and the people. The first Executive Council was held in Saniquellie, capital of the Central Province and lasted a little over two weeks. The next one was in Zorzor, seat of the Western Province, lasted about the same duration, and the third was in Kakata-Salala District. Paramount chiefs from other parts of the country accompanied the President, for the benefit of contact, he said, and in furtherance of the government's policy of unification.
Tubman heard complaints and grievances directly from the chiefs and their people, addressed them on the spot or directed the appropriate government agency to do so. The chiefs unanimously expressed satisfaction with the councils and pledged renewed loyalty to the state.



President Tubman hosted annual Executive Councils all over the country and the larger "Unification Council" every five years, beginning in 1954 in Harper.

 "The Liberian nation is to be made up of the Negro civilized to some extent in the United States and repatriated, and of the aboriginal tribes. At present it is composed of a small number of civilized and a large number of aboriginal communities in varying degrees of dependence. The problem is how to blend these into a national organism, an organic unity." -ARTHUR BARCLAY, 1904 

The problem of how to integrate the disparate elements that made up Liberia into a national organic whole, had faced the first African republic from its inception. Numerous factors were responsible for the state of separation that obtained at the time Barclay made the above statement, between the "civilized," mostly coastal population and the unassimilated interior people. Among these were the obvious cultural differences, some pockets of hostility on both sides, financial constraints, competition for trade, strong prejudice on the part of some settlers, lack of will to engage the other side, etc. But the biggest obstacle to any form of national cohesion was ignorance, of the country's topography, people, and their cultures. The interior beyond the forty mile coastal strip ceded to the American Colonization Society was a vast, impenetrable unknown. The Liberians simply didn't know who or what was in the dense rainforests beyond their coastal settlements.

And some had no interest in ever going beyond that forty mile territorial limit, content to remain insulated from the indigenous cultures around them, limiting contact with the upcountry people to trade and perhaps labor needs. Circumstances, however demanded that the Liberians assert authority over the surrounding territory, in order to protect their sovereignty from their powerful colonial neighbors, France and Britain, and to put an end to internecine warfare between indigenous nations that disrupted Liberian trade and endangered its security. As their jurisdiction thus expanded through treaties with indigenous nations, contact increased with the interior people, along with rumors of vast reserves of mineral and natural wealth hidden in the forests and mountains. Then of course there was the "civilizing mission" element of the whole Liberian venture in the first place. If these riches were to be developed and exploited for the benefit of Liberians, and if Liberia's "civilizing" and Christianizing mission was to be fulfilled, closer alliances would have to be forged with the peoples of the interior. There was also the element of Pan-Africanism, the vision of Liberia given voice by Edward Wilmot Blyden and others, that necessitated a union and a merger of the "civilized" and unassimilated peoples.

Assimilation had in fact begun right from the earliest days of the colony, with indigenous people living in and around the American settlements, attending church, going to school, living with settler families, and inter-marrying with them. A description of the colony in the 1830s gave a demographic breakdown of the "civilized" population as 50-50 indigenous and immigrant.

Moreover, there were already "civilized" people living in the area long before any settlers arrived, mostly around the Maryland settlements. Many of the Grebo and Kru were educated, affluent, and lived in separate communities, virtually a distinct tribe from the unwesternized Grebo and Kru. The Kru, Grebo and to a lesser extent the Vai, had all had long exposure to European or Mediterranean trade, and were no strangers to western civilization. These people naturally assimilated easily and rapidly into the settler population, together with elements of the Bassa and other coastal groups, and the recaptives off the interdicted slave ships. This assimilated population was referred to collectively as "civilized," "Kwee," `"Congo," or "Americo-Liberian," whether or not they had any ancestral ties to America.

Of the vast unassimilated and unwesternized interior populations, University of Chicago Anthropologist Frederick Starr had this to say in his 1913 unpublished work, LIBERIA: DESCRIPTION, HISTORY, PROBLEMS:

"Then there are the pagan tribes of the interior. They are a more serious proposition for the Liberian than the Mohammedans and Kru. They live in little towns under the control of petty chiefs ; most of them speak only a native language; there is no unity among them; not only are there jealousies between the tribes, but there are suspicions between the villages of one tribe and speech; they live in native houses, wear little clothing, have simple needs; they are ununited and know nothing of the outside world; they know little of France or England, scarcely know what the Liberian Government means or wants ; they are satisfied and only wish to be left alone."

Contact with these lesser known peoples of the interior did not always involve war or land and trade disputes. Hidden in the history are accounts of purely human interactions that would characterize relations between any groups of people anywhere, but that are especially illuminating in regards to a rich history usually reduced to the oversimplified Americo-Liberian vs. Native narrative. Among these is the story of seven young settler children taken captive by the Dey people after the 1822 battle of Crown Hill. Jehudi Ashmun gave this account of that episode:

". . . redeeming trait . . . in their treatment of these helpless and tender captives. It was the first object of the captors to place them under the maternal care of several aged women, who, in Africa, as in most countries, are proverbially tender and indulgent. These protectresses had them clad in their usual habits and at an early period of the truce, sent to the colony to inquire the proper kinds of food, and modes of preparing it, to which the youngest had been accustomed. The affections of their little charges were so perfectly won in the four months of their captivity as to oblige their own parents, at the end of that time, literally to tear away from their keepers several of the youngest amidst the most affectionate demonstrations of mutual attachment. This event did not occur until the 12th of March, when their gratuitous redemption was voted almost unanimously in a large council of native chiefs."

Another young settler captive was future President Stephen Allen Benson, who also developed bonds of close friendship with his Dey and Gola captors. As president in 1858, he dispatched the two man team of George L. Seymour and Samuel J. Ash on an expeditionary trip into the interior. They explored the Kpelle country north and east of the St. Paul River and reached far into the Lorma country in the northwest, providing for the first time detailed information about the interior and the Lorma, Mandingo and other northwestern peoples, establishing the Lorma country as the source of much of the produce that reached the coast, including palm oil, pottery, tobacco, salt and country cloths, but also as a major slave trading center. The explorers were forced to return to Monrovia after they were attacked by hostile warriors and almost killed.

Each succeeding administration stressed the necessity of incorporating the "aboriginal population" into the body politic, as did James Skivring Smith in 1871:

"We have been too exclusively employed of late in regarding the immigrant portion of our population, and not taking a more general and comprehensive view of the incorporation of our aboriginal population as a principal source of our national permanance. Our fathers laid the foundations of our national fabric, and we have to gather the materials to erect the superstructure from Musardu and the regions far beyond as well as across the Atlantic...We could penetrate into and open free communication with the far interior...We must, by well concerted action, convince our aboriginal brethren that we have the disposition and ability to make of them a great nation...We must assist them, win their confidence, and provide ways and means for their assimilation and incorporation among us."

But exactly how to accomplish this remained a subject of debate, trial and error, as ideas were thrown back and forth about trade depots on the interior highways, guaranteeing protection to trading companies and interior settlements, employing commissioners, subsidizing chiefs, even an interesting experiment in Murraysville, Sinoe County where Kru people were induced to adopt "civilized" ways, build a frame house, wear western clothing, plant coffee, pay poll tax and enlist in the militia. The project attracted very few of the proud and independent Kru.
James Spriggs Payne addressed the question in his annnual message of 1876:

"You have often had before you the subject of our aboriginal Liberians-the vastly preponderating portion of the population of this republic...anxious for their elevation into complete citizenship apparent as it is that this indigenous population is destined for no insignificant part in the maintenance of this government...this indigenous population with its many sterling qualities, will be an acquisition of great utility and power, and the problem has long occupied the minds of our best citizens, how to bring them in and assimilate them to our customs and institutions...I do not flatter myself that this problem can be solved at this date. There is a great deal to learn of aboriginal character, a great deal of unreasonable prejudice to conquer..."

In 1868, the surveyor Benjamin J. K. Anderson made a successful exploration of the interior, mapping the entire northwest area under Liberian territorial jurisdiction. Commissioned by President Daniel B. Warner and funded by American philantropists Caleb Swan and Henry Schieffelin, Anderson and his party left Monrovia in February 1868, traveled by boat six miles up the St. Paul River, and trekked through Dey, Gola, Kpelle, Lorma and Mandingo country to reach Musardu, capital of the Mandingo kingdom, now Musadugu in the Republic of Guinea, where he signed a treaty of mutual protection with the Mandingo King Ibrahima Sissi. Anderson made a second expedition between May and December 1874, entered into treaties of commerce and friendship with local leaders, settled ethnic disputes, and produced a comprehensive, published report on the interior in which he urged the government to establish an immediate and permanent presence.

The rumors and wild stories that had formed the bulk of knowledge of the interior were replaced with verified fact, documentation, maps, and actual demographic and ethnographic reports. The Anderson survey was a watershed, paving the way for a government with the will and the ability, to open up the interior. His recommendations, which included a chain of military posts and the education of sons of the leading chiefs, were implemented by President Hilary R. W. Johnson in the 1880s. Sons of chiefs were placed with leading families to be educated, Johnson personally hosting, rearing and educating many of them, including the father of Liberia's current president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. HRW Johnson's granddaughter, Rachel Johnson married the Vai King, Arthur Momolu Massaquoi in 1915.

President Arthur Barclay also acted on the findings of BJK Anderson, instituting his policy of "Direct Cooperation" with the Chiefs of the Interior, partly built on the unimplemented plan of his predecessor William D. Coleman, 'Interior Development and the Incorporation and Absorption of the Native Tribes into the Body Politic.'

Barclay called the first Council of Chiefs in Kakata in 1904, consulted them regularly, and increased government's role in the selection of paramount and clan chiefs. He began to break down the strict policy of separation between the coastal and interior peoples, but like William D. Coleman before him, he faced strong opposition from his constituents to his efforts at integration, especially in his attempts to address grievances among the Kru. He designated the Native districts "Townships," with the Chief in charge, commissioned by the President, and divided the interior into three provinces, the Western, Central and Eastern. He toured the country meeting with chiefs, and was visited regularly by them. He also maintained close relationships with officials "of aboriginal extraction," as he put it, who believed in and worked for the gradual amalgamation of the Americo-Liberian and Aboriginal elements, like Judge S. W. Seton of Maryland County, a "civilized Grebo" of the Nabo/Bigtown clan.

Succeeding presidents Daniel E. Howard, Charles D. B. King and Edwin J. Barclay all continued the policy of Direct Cooperation, Barclay maintaining the closest and most productive relationships with the chiefs, so much that his power base was mostly upcountry, giving him a buffer against more conservative political forces in the coastal cities. But all had only limited success at realizing the vision of integration, until the administration of William V. S. Tubman, who was elected in 1943.

Friday, November 11, 2011


1822 BATTLE OF CROWN HILL, November 11. Dey, Vai and Mamban warriors attack the Monrovia settlement. Liberians prevail. Peace mediated by King Sao and Captain Laing of the Royal Navy. Elijah Johnson led Liberian forces. Dey leader King Peter later becomes an important ally of the colony. Vais and Mamban also incorporated into Liberia.

1824 BATTLE OF TRADE TOWN, April 10. Liberian militia under the command of Jehudi Ashmun and Elijah Johnson attack three Spanish and French slave fortresses at Trade Town at the mouth of the Cestos River. Small Liberian force, assisted by Bassa and Kru allies and US Navy vessels, defeated three hundred fifty warriors defending the slave factories. Eighty slaves were liberated. Captain Barbour of the Liberian militia distinguished himself in the battle.

1832 GOLA WAR. Attempts by the Liberians to stop conflict between the Gola and the Dey lead to this war. Liberian force, led by Captain Elijah Johnson, is victorious.

1838 2ND BATTLE OF TRADE TOWN. After slave traders resumed operations at the same site, Governor Thomas Buchanan of the Bassa Cove settlement recruited volunteers in Monrovia for an attack on the slave traders. About three times the number of volunteers he requested showed up and they sailed for the Bassa coast where they met a land force led by Elijah Johnson already engaged in battle. Slave traders are defeated.

1838 FISH WAR, September 1838. War began after Governor I. C. Finley of Mississippi in Africa (Sinoe settlements) was robbed and murdered by Krus at Bassa Cove. War lasted a year, with Liberians ultimately victorious.

1840 GOLA WAR. After the Gola decimated their enemies, the Dey, the remnant of the Dey people took refuge in the St. Paul River towns of Arthington and Millsburg. The Gola chief Gatumba came after them, found a number of them on the farm of Owen Harris in Millsburg, killed a few and attempted to carry off the rest into slavery. Owen Harris and three of his indigenous workers fought them off until the Liberian militia arrived and defeated the Golas, pursuing them to their fortified town and destroying it.

1856 GREBO WAR. Dispute over land around the Cape Palmas settlement led to prolonged battle between the Grebos and Maryland In Africa forces assisted by Liberian militia under President Joseph Jenkins Roberts. Maryland joined the Republic of Liberia as a direct consequence of this war, in 1857.

1875 GREBO WAR. Combined forces of Rocktown, Middletown, Cavalla, Garraway, and the Grebo Reunited Kingdom defeat Liberian army at the battle of Wrukehn. USS Alaska sent to aid Liberians. Hostilities cease after peace talks. Grebos win greater participation in Liberian government affairs.

1910 GREBO WAR. Fratricidal conflict among Grebos and Krus turn into rebellion against the Liberian government and its newly imposed hut tax. USS Birmingham dispatched to Cape Palmas. Peace restored after negotiated settlement.

1915 KRU COAST WAR. Hut tax, trade disputes, Frontier Force abuses, and control of migrant labor and ports lead to uprising by combined Kru kingdoms from Rivercess to Cape Palmas. USS Chester assists Liberia in reaching negotiated settlement. 72 Kru chiefs executed on orders of President Daniel E. Howard. He actually commuted thirty-two of the death sentences, but new orders reached Sinoe too late.

1918 WORLD WAR I. On August 4, 1917, Liberia followed the United States into the war, declaring its support for the Allies. Germans are deported, though they are the country's biggest trading partners. On April 10, 1918, a German submarine appeared off Monrovia and demanded the dismantling of the French cable station. Delegation led by Monrovia Mayor Thomas Faulkner boards German ship for talks, which fail. President Howard issues his famous and defiant "Bomb and be damned" declaration. The Germans flatten the cable station, killing four, and sink the "President Howard," only vessel of the Liberian Navy. Passing British warship frightens the submarine off.

1931 KRU COAST WAR. Recriminations against Kru chiefs who testified before the League of Nations Commission of Inquiry lead to uprising by Krus under Sasstown Paramount Chief Juah Nimley. Nimley defies government for five years before being captured and exiled to Monrovia.

1989-1997 NPFL (National Patriotic Fronnt of Liberia) incursion into Nimba County sets off eight years of most brutal conflict in West African history. ECOWAS peace keeping troops supplied by Nigeria, Ghana and other member states keep NPFL forces from overrunning Monrovia. Prince Johnson's Independent National Patriotic Front breaks off from NPFL, reach Bushrod Island, capture and execute President Samuel Doe. After several failed peace talks and violated truces, war ends with the election of warlord Charles Taylor as president.

2000-2003 LURD (Liberians United For Reconciliation And Democracy) launch war against Charles Taylor's government. In 2003, MODEL (Movement For Democracy In Liberia) joins the conflict. Charles Taylor is forced into exile and interim government leads Liberia until the election in 2005 of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Liberia honors its war dead on Decoration Day, March 11, enacted by the Legislature on Oct.24, 1916.

"Great God, if the humble and weak are as dear
To thy love as the proud, to thy children give ear!
Our brethren would drive us in deserts to roam;
Forgive them, O Father, and keep us at home.
Home, sweet home!
We have no other; this, this is our home." -From John B. Russwurm's FREEDOM'S JOURNAL,1832