A Shippensburg, Pa. newspaper on emigration of liberated slaves to Liberia (1856)

Posted on September 9, 2016 by


As some may recall, last summer, I started transcribing a pamphlet from the American Colonization Society (ACS). It wasn’t because I just then discovered the story of the ACS, but rather, I became intrigued with the activity of the ACS in the Shenandoah Valley. Additionally, my decision to transcribe the pamphlet was based on 1) the fact that it was published in the Shenandoah Valley, and 2) the thought that, well… how could anybody who wholeheartedly supported slavery sign their name to a document with such anti-slavery rhetoric? For that matter, I can’t help but find it interesting that Francis Scott Key was very involved in the ACS. Despite all the hub-bub about the National Anthem being pro-slavery, how then does all of this actually line up with all the recent negative interpretations of Key when his association with the ACS reflects something different regarding his thinking on slavery? How, for example, could Key align himself with an organization which proclaimed… “we deprecate the horrors of slavery”, or… “that slavery is an evil no one can deny”.

While I discontinued the transcription, I’m not quite done with it all, but I’m not quite certain where I’ll take it next. Since then, I added a few new volumes to my library which, I think, will help to further illuminate the story of the ACS in the Shenandoah Valley.

As it so happens, just the other day, while perusing old newspapers for my OTD series, I came across a long clip dated July 11, 1856, from The Shippensburg News (Shippensburg, Pa.). While there is no mention of the activity in the Shenandoah Valley, I still thought it worthwhile to transcribe and share.

It’s important, when reading this, to read in the context of what they thought at the time (not to mention, this comes from a newspaper from central Pa.), and not so much considered through the “filter” of our modern “lenses”. Also, in that this appeared in a central Pennsylvania paper, I find it interesting to consider the general attitude expressed considering the Cumberland Valley was also an avenue for escaped slaves… and even those who had taken refuge and taken up residence in places like nearby Mercersburg (which, by the way, was a source for recruits for the 54th and 55th Massachusetts). Also, at this late date (1856), the ACS had declined in activity and membership. Lastly, I couldn’t help but notice the comment about comparing the emigration to Liberia to the immigration of the Irish to America.

 The Emigration to Liberia.

The emigration to Liberia, under the auspices of the Colonization Society, is annually increasing in numbers and in the character and means of the emigrants. The ship Elvina Owen recently sailed for Liberia with three hundred and twenty-one emigrants, accompanied by Rev. John Seys, special agent of the American Colonization Society. Forty-three of them were from Virginia, liberated by the will of a Mr. Kelly and by him furnished with $15,000. Nine were free blacks, two from Litchfield, Conn, four from Maryland, two from Columbus, Geo., four from Augusta, Geo., and one from Raleigh, N.C. Twelve were from Halifax, N.C., liberated by the will of Mr. Simmons (?), twenty-nine from Kentucky, liberated by the will of Mr. Graves, and by him furnished $14,800; thirty-eight from Kentucky, liberated by sundry persons; seven from Missouri, liberated by Mr. Fullerson; seven from Gallatin, Tenn., liberated by Mr. Barr; five from Tuscaloosa ,Ala., liberated by Lincoln Clark; five from Augusta, Geo., liberated by the will of Mr. Martin; thirty-four from Winchester, Tenn., liberated by Mrs. Sharpe; fourteen from Columbus, Miss., liberated by Mrs. Holderness; one from Adairsville, Geo., bought himself; three from Augusta, Geo., liberated by Mrs. Marks; nineteen from Rocky Plains, Georgia, liberated by David Floyd; one from Columbia, Tenn., liberated by Judge Kennedy; and forty-one from Gwinnet county, Ga., liberated by the will of George M. Walters. It will be seen that of this large cargo of emigrants, nearly all were slaves, freed voluntarily by their owners, and in two cases, furnished generously with money, to the aggregate amount of nearly thirty thousand dollars. This tells of the existence of a sentiment at the South in favor of the emancipation of slaves and their transportation to Liberia. There can be no doubt that if greater facilities for passage to Africa were afforded, thousands of blacks would thus be annually shipped from this country to civilize Africa. As it is the number of applicants for passage always largely exceeds the accommodations on Shipboard. The Colonization Society would charter more vessels if they had the means. But unfortunately they have not. It is strange that private enterprise in our Atlantic cities does not establish regular lines of communication between Liberia and the United States. Such an enterprise would probably be followed by an emigration spirit among the better class of free blacks. – Doubtless, at some future day, the young republic on the African coast will have attained such importance as to be looked to with hope by the free blacks of the United States. Then, perhaps, we may witness some such exodus as that of the Irish to America. All that is requisite to produce such a condition of things, is for Liberia to go on and show her ability to succeed. The success of those who go there, will soon produce a change in those who remain at home. The progress of the emigration has hitherto been so slow and discouraging that some have considered it as altogether a hopeless and useless enterprise. But it has long been a favorite theme among certain politicians. Daniel Webster, is one of his great speeches in Congress, proposed a scheme for devoting a portion of the public lands to the effectuation of this exodus. Henry Clay also advocated the establishment of a line of steamships by the U.S. government, to ply regularly between Liberia and one of our ports, for the transportation of the mails, the development of a legal trade with the African coast, and the encouragement of black emigration.

Had this been done long ago, the effect on the prospects of Liberia would have been important. It has been shown that the accommodations for the emigrants on their arrival are insufficient, and that, under any circumstances, it is better to send emigrants at once to the interior, where in the mountain regions they may escape the acclimating fever which is so much dreaded on the coast. To remedy this, explorations are now about to be made for suitable interior locations, where it is believed that emigrants may entirely escape the dangers of sickness on the sea coast or in the low lands. Several educated and intelligent emigrants from the free States give the most encouraging accounts of the country, and of the advantages it presents to emigrants.