From Barbados to Liberia: A deep look into the first Barbadian settlement in Liberia

It was Edward Wilmot Blyden in consultation with President Daniel Bashiel Warner who developed the plan to encourage emigration to Liberia from the West Indies. Blyden was Secretary of State. He organised a Commission to the West Indies in 1862 to encourage West Indians to return to the Fatherland and to the first free black republic as Liberians identified their new homeland. Blyden had gone back to his birthplace, St. Thomas, and launched a circular appeal throughout the islands. Soon, he was receiving hundreds of letters enquiring about Liberia, the conditions there, the logistics of emigrating etc. President Warner desired to move this interest to action and on March 1, 1864 he issued a proclamation which said in part:

WHEREAS, by an Act of the Legislature of the Republic of Liberia of February 16, 1864, entitled, An Act authorising the President to adopt measures to encourage emigration to Liberia from the West Indian Islands the President is authorized to enter into arrangements to increase the population of Liberia by renewing the invitation extended in 1862 to persons of African descent in West Indian Islands, to come and settle in Liberia, and by aiding worthy and industrious persons in the same islands to emigrate.

And Whereas, abundant and satisfactory evidence has been received by me from the various islands of the West Indies of a general desire among the descendants of Africa to emigrate to Liberia.
Now therefore, I, Daniel Bashiel Warner, President of the Republic of Liberia, do hereby declare and proclaim to the descendants of Africa throughout the West Indies, who may be desirous to return to their fatherland and assist in the building up of an African Nationality, that the Government and people of this Republic are anxious to welcome them to these shores. A grant of twenty-five acres of fresh, fertile land will be made by the Government to each family and of ten acres to each individual.

Persons of all classes and pursuits are invited, Mechanics and Merchants, School Teachers, Physicians, Ministers, Farmers, Laborers, etc. etc. (sic). The demand in this new and growing country for persons skilled in all the professions and in every branch of industry is unlimited.

BRETHRAN OF THE ANTILLES! We are one in origin and destiny. We have the same history of centuries of suffering, of tribulation and woe. The time seems to have come in the Providence of God, when this oppressed people, wherever they may be found in their exile, should seek together and co-operate for the establishing in the land of their Fathers a home and a Nationality. The Republic of Liberia, whose independence is acknowledged by all the leading nations of the world, seems to be the most suitable starting point from which the returning exiles may begin to take possession of and civilise this long-neglected land, and thus aid in restoring to this ancient cradle of civilisation her pristine glory. Given under my hand at the City of Monrovia the first day of March, in
the year of our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Sixty Four and of the Republic the Seventeenth.

At the same time he instructed Blyden to address a letter to the American Colonisation Society, requesting the employment, for two or three years, of the service of the Societyship, the M.C. Stevens to bring, at least twice a year, emigrants and passengers from the West Indies to Liberia, as long as she shall not actively be employed in transporting emigrants from the United States. The Liberian Consul in New York, John Pinney, was advised to immediately begin negotiations with the ACS, including charges for providing this service.

The phrase desirous of returning to their Fatherland and assist in building up an African Nationality as well as the last paragraph of the proclamation are clear statements which demonstrate the ideological basis of early Pan-Africanism and that the President and others in Liberia viewed the independent state of Liberia as an example of what could be achieved by other Africans once their sense of identity was expanded beyond their ethnicity. This conception could only have come from the experiences of Africans in the Diaspora and as a result of the experience of slavery in the Atlantic world where the policy of the slave owning states and colonies was to denude African slaves of their ethnic and cultural identities. The common experience over the centuries had created a new identity as Africans. This was complex, as we will explore, for the creolisation process had also created in many a sense of being Barbadians, and for many from the US of being African-American. However, the concept of being African had taken root.

President Warner’s words would ring very positive in many Barbadian ears. This was their sense of their destiny. People such as Samuel Jackman Prescod, London Bourne, Thomas Cummins, William Simeon Wilkey, James T.Wiles and Anthony Barclay Jr. had been promoting this identity and this cause for several years, as was concretised in the resolutions passed by the Barbados African Colonisation Society on the 23rd of February, 1850 . The Times followed the Liberian President’s proclamation with an article on Liberia tracing the history of the Republic and recommended it far in advance of any other settlement for the coloured peoples who are solicited as emigrants.

President Warner’s Proclamation provided land in Liberia and money for the ACS to put the voyages together. Liberia could not have afforded passage money for all who wanted to emigrate. There would have to be some negotiating between the ACS and the Barbadian emigrant groups. In a letter to the ACS, Anthony Barclay told the Society that the Barbadians desirous of emigrating were respectable but poor.

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Mounting Excitement

After President Warner’s Proclamation, there was growing excitement in Barbados among a fairly large number of people on the prospects of going to Liberia. Similar to the way rumours spread in the latter years of slavery that Emancipation had come, rumours began spreading about the arrival of ships to take people to Liberia. Word spread among one emigration society that the first group of emigrants would be taken to Liberia by the American Colonisation Society’s ship on the first day of December 1864. People left their tenantries in the countryside and came to town expecting the imminent arrival of the ship. Others sold their houses and property and awaited the arrival eagerly. They were to be bitterly disappointed. The ACS , low on funds and the M.C. Stevens in a state of disrepair, had sold the ship. No ship arrived on the first of December. Not surprisingly, there was a good deal of panic and confusion: these people had sold all they owned, they had no where to go. Government stepped in and utilising its contacts with emigration agents for other West Indian territories offered to pay the passage of anyone who agreed to emigrate to other West Indian islands. About 300 persons went to Jamaica, another 300 to British Honduras and many more to Trinidad, British Guiana and other West Indian islands. Anthony Barclay in a letter to the ACS described the situation in the following manner:

This is a circumstance which I cannot otherwise than deplore.They, however, excused themselves under the plea of necessity which I designate as a want of firmness through which I fear they have been most awfully disappointed. But, be that as it may, they are not to be regarded as the leaders of a movement of such great importance. They were only an isolated few, in a country district whose movements were not known to the townsfolk until it was too late to avert the evil, and as such, their failure ought not in justice to be visited  on another and more steady people who have long laboured for,and still desire to emigrate to Africa and nowhere else. Despite the disappointment and the fear that many might have felt that maybe their dream would not come true, still they waited and continued to communicate with the ACS. Their wait was not in vain.

In February 1865, the The Times notified Barbadians that:

Mr. Joseph A. Atwell the accredited local agent for the American Colonization Society issues an appeal for financial support in aid of emigration from Barbados to Liberia a scheme so benevolent to an island so overpopulated as Barbados. A proclamation issued by the President of Liberia inviting emigrants from the West Indies to Liberia having reached Barbados, about 50 families have made preparations to go. Funds are needed to charter a ship to take them. However, there were few sources willing to put up the money needed to finance the moving process for over 300 people. Both the Government and the Established Church were hostile. After years of attempting to suppress the emigration of largely skilled sugar workers, from going to Trinidad and Guyana, the economy and population pressures had finally changed the oligarchy’s mind on emigration. However, they were not prepared to financially support the emigration of what we would term to stir up trouble in Africa. Despite their concerns about a population problem white Barbadian leaders did not take the position of the American leaders in the US who created the ACS as a means to solve what they considered the race problem.

After meetings and consultations, Joseph Atwell, the agent of the ACS, was asked to travel to Philadelphia to persuade the Society to transport the group to Liberia. He was successful in his mission and the Philadelphia Branch of the ACS, largely through the patronage of its President, John P. Crozier, brother of a well-known pioneer of Liberia, Dr. Samuel A. Crozier, agreed to donate US $10,000 to the emigration from Barbados. This resolution was then passed on to the Executive Committee of the Society. On the 1st of February 1865, the Committee directed the Reverend William McLain, D.D., Financial Secretary of the American Colonisation Society to go to Barbados and delegated to him the necessary power to put the expedition together. Interestingly, the Philadelphia branch was able to get this resolution passed largely as a result of a precedent which occurred during the Civil War in 1862. In April of that year, President Abraham Lincoln emancipated the slaves in the District of Columbia and provided US $100,000 to support the voluntary emigration of freed persons to Haiti and Liberia. This was the primary source of funds the Philadelphia branch of the ACS was able to tap to send the Barbadians to Liberia.

Meanwhile, during the Philadelphia negotiations, several families had decided that they could wait no longer. There was no assurance that Atwell would be successful. Sixteen members of the same emigrant society responsible for the earlier rumours, were able to get passage on a ship chartered by the British Government to transport Recaptured Africans from her colonies in the West Indies to Sierra Leone. They left on February 14th 1865 under the leadership of their Chairman, John W. Worrell and their Vice-Chairman, C.H. Lawrence. It was announced in The Times, shortly thereafter, on February 28, 1865 that Mr. Atwell had confirmed that the Philadelphia branch of the ACS had granted US$10,000 to Barbadian emigration and that: A ship will be engaged in Philadelphia in which Dr.McClean will proceed to Barbados to superintend the Embarkation of as many as the amount will colonise in Liberia.

Dr. Mc Lain arrived in Barbados on the 11th of March 1865 and was met by a large deputation of the emigrant organisations. The day before, March 10th, The Times reported that The Fatherland Union, the organisation which London Bourne supported and served as Treasurer, was reconstituting itself as an official affiliate of the American Colonisation Society, and was named the Barbadian Colonisation Society. Mr. Anthony Barclay was named as Chairman. The newspaper recorded that there were three objects of the Society: 1) to select a certain number of impoverished coloured families from the middle class, of suitable ability and character, to assist in civilisation; 2) to obtain the necessary funds for emigrating; 3) to secure a suitable locality for them to settle down in Liberia

Dr. Mc Lain reported that upon arrival he found that there were hundreds that were anxious to come to Liberia and that the selection process would be difficult. In order to accommodate as many people as possible for the $10,000 it was agreed that the money would be used for the passage rather than hold back some of the funds for a settling in process after they arrived in Liberia. While this was all well and good, they still did not have a ship to transport the prospective migrants: none suitable was in port nor was one expected. But Barbados was a major entrepot and ships constantly came to the island looking for cargo and passengers. So these Christian people prayed and kept the faith. They were derided by the press and Bishop Parry- yet, their prayers were answered when on the 25th of March an excellent British brigantine, appeared on the horizon and anchored, looking for business. It was alleged that the brig had recently served in Africa seizing slaves from slave ships off the coast of Africa . Now, she would be engaged in returning Africans from Barbados to the Fatherland.

Events moved rather swiftly after this point. The Times printed a Publication of the Rules for the Emigrants to Liberia to be Observed aboard the ship Cora presently bound for Liberia. This was followed on March 31st of a report on A Memo of Expenses From the Reverend Mc Clean in fitting up the brigantine. Total expenses amounted to US $7,110.23 of which only $500 was raised here. Appreciation is expressed of the kind liberality of the American Colonization Society in sending such assistance to our people here. Provision was made for the accommodation of 320 people for a passage of sixty days and for at least the same period upon arrival in Monrovia. The ship set sail on April 5, 1865. With much excitement the emigrants filled the lighters and went on board.

The embarkation of the Emigrants for Liberia on the Cora, under Captain Henderson, took place on Wednesday the 5th instant. At an early hour the wharf was thronged with spectators. At 4p.m. the farewell service open to everyone, commenced on board. Every available means of transport was crowded with visitors who thronged the Cora until 6:30p.m. and later. On board the crowd was so great that Revd. Dr. Mc Clain was unable to call the list of emigrants.
It is said that many more passengers that were refused a passage threatened to stowaway.

However, just before they were to depart, orders came from Government House that she was not to leave until a commission ordered by the Governor had surveyed her and until the inspection by the Harbour Master and the Comptroller of Customs was completed. This delayed the departure until approximately 5p.m. the next evening. This last little twist on the part of the authorities no doubt made the passengers even happier that they were leaving Her Majesty’s jurisdiction.

Interestingly, after they were cleared for departure and actually left, the next day it was discovered that there were more passengers than the 320 berths. At roll call there were 333 persons on board; and the Captain landed 346 persons in Monrovia!  Fortunately, the passage was uneventful, they made good time, no one was sick or died- highly unusual- They arrived in Monrovia on May 10th 1865. The Times joyfully recorded the arrival and the first days of the emigrants landing in Liberia in two articles. The first dated the 6 June 1865 recorded: The first trip of emigrants from Barbados to prosperous, happy Liberia, a great Christian Republic, in their dear Mother- Country, Africa, has been eminently successful.The Divine protection and blessing, which have been so graciously manifested to this first troop of emigrants from hence to Liberia, we must consider as an answer to the many fervent prayers to the Almighty, which ascended up on their behalf the very week they quitted us. Besides the special service at the James Street Chapel, the Sunday before (April 2nd) and the service on board the Cora the afternoon of the 5th, many persons after quitting the vessel that last evening resorted to the James Street Chapel, and united there in fervent
prayer for the health and safety of the passengers. And drew, and fully indeed have those prayers been answered by Him who hears and answers faithful prayer.

This paean was followed by a letter recorded by the African Repository of the ACS dated the 13th of May 1865:
Liberia, May 13th, 1865

My Dear Mr. B.:

I feel much pleasure in conveying these few lines to you. We arrived at Monrovia on the 10th of the above month, after 34 days passage. We would have reached here sooner, but we met with nearly eight days calm. We waited upon His Excellency, the President, and were so kindly received that we (the Committee) had the honor of taking a glass of wine with His Excellency in the State Hall. Liberia is a great place. I shall soon be able to write and tell you all about this great Continent. We are very comfortable, etc.; except a slight cold, all are well. The President has directed that our lands of 25 acres shall be laid off on Monday 16th on the Careyburg Road, about 20 miles from Monrovia, which is the best locality for us. A special service was called for on Sunday, the 14th, at the Parish Church, by Professor Crummell, which was handsomely responded to. You will excuse me until I can write to you more fully.

Yours sincerely, John R.

Most likely this letter was written by John R. Padmore to London Bourne who was Treasurer of the Society and at nearly 70 years, the only officer of the Society who did not emigrate, but whose daughter, Sarah Ann and her husband, Anthony Barclay, and eleven children led the vanguard of what they all hoped would be many sailing expeditions to Liberia. This was the culmination of years of dialogue, searching and researching. For those left behind in Barbados who had been working for a number of years toward this momentous event were undoubtedly deeply moved by receipt of the first letter. In fact, there were several articles in The Times which highlighted the fact that there were still numerous families who still desired to emigrate to Liberia.

Barbadian Settlement in Liberia

After the company arrived in Monrovia they remained a few days, and then were sent up to the, centre run by the American Colonization Society. It was approximately twenty miles from Monrovia and close to the St. Paul River, an area considered very promising for settlement. In fact, there were a number of settlements in the area where Americans from various states had established communities, such as Bensonville, Careysburg, Johnsonville and White Plains, all named after individual leaders of various companies or areas where they originated from the US. At this point in their journey many people became ill and died of the fever along the way, but the majority of the group which set out together from Barbados arrived together at the Receptacle:

Shocking news has been received from Liberia via England of the deaths of no less than 20 of the 347  emigrants on the Cora which appear to have occurred in a short space of time after the first news in May which
was received in June. Under the leadership of Anthony Barclay and James T. Wiles they began the process of carving out a community which they named Crozierville after the ACS benefactors from Philadelphia who were so influential in putting the emigration venture together. They quickly erected a church, which they named Christ Church as many of the emigrants came from that parish. Like other pioneers they were surrounded by dense and seemingly impenetrable forest, wild animals which they had heard of, but never seen, and a sense of the unknown. Yet, from all accounts the majority set themselves to the tasks of establishing a community, putting down roots and a desire to work with the indigenous people, who initially were nowhere to be seen.

Not everyone wanted to live the difficult life of carving out a community surrounded by an African rainforest, particularly those people who either did not have agricultural skills or had no desire to remain in a very difficult hinterland . Some people, such as the Wiles returned to Monrovia, some of the Barclays and others went to Bassa and others to Cape Palmas. Reports from Liberia to the American Colonization Society from Government and from the ACS itself were all very favourable. President Warner’s letter to the ACS dated 13 May, 1865 stated:

The people just landed seem, upon the whole, to be a well selected company, and may be regarded as a valuable acquisition to our young Republic. To your large experience of the kind of material required here for the up-bringing of this off-spring, and the further development of our country and the character of the people in it, and your sagacity of selecting those materials, is due to the very respectable and promising immigration with which we have just been favoured.

President Warner in another letter written on the 21 of August, 1865 states, these people are of industrious habits, pious, seemingly, withal.

Social Composition of the Emigrants

According to the manifest of the Cora the occupations of the Barbadians were principally agricultural and artisanal. Seventeen men were listed as planters and seven as farmers. We do not know how much land these persons would have owned in Barbados or whether the farmers were small farmers or agricultural labourers. Most likely, they were from the small farmer strata, which, of course, often supplemented their income by working on the estates, especially during crop. There were several sugar boilers and a sugar clarifier as well as a distiller and a millwright. Artisan occupations included three blacksmiths, two coopers, one tanner, three masons, six carpenters, two joiners and two cabinet makers. Rounding out useful occupations for the new community were a number of tailors and seamstresses and a boot maker, a plumber, a baker, a butcher, and a shipwright and a couple of traders, one of which was a woman. There was also a printer and a reporter listed.

The reason that the numbers of persons listed with occupations is so small is because there was an extraordinary number of children and youth under the age of 18. This was an emigration group of families, there were over 50 families and approximately 22 single persons on board. The number of children totalled 231 out of the 346 passengers. Among the women, most were wives and did not list an occupation, but a number of others did. Most notably, were the women of the Anthony Barclay family; the matriarch Sarah Ann was listed as a confectioner, and all of their children over eighteen had professions: Antoinette Hope Barclay: school mistress; Mary Augusta Barclay : confectioner; Elizabeth Ann Barclay: school teacher; Malvina Barclay: fancy worker ; Anthony Barclay Jr.: merchant’s clerk; Sarah Helena Barclay: music teacher; Ernest Barclay: coppersmith. They appeared to be the most highly educated family, Anthony Barclay listed his occupation as Penman. The age cohorts of the adult emigrants was varied and propitious for the endeavour they were undertaking:

Adult Age Groups

20-29: 58
30-39: 63
40-49: 24
over 50: 14

The over 50 age group included three persons who were over 60, one was a woman, Catherine McLean. The oldest emigrant was 65 year old Holborn Jessamy. The age cohorts deviate somewhat from the standard patterns of migrants; they are a bit older on the one hand, and on the other, the fact that over half of the migrants were children under the age of 18 is significant.

We know that mortality rates were initially high, but it is virtually impossible to trace all the Cora migrants to their death . The few genealogical charts I have of several families clearly show that family genealogy studies have not been able to track a significant number of deaths. The American Colonization Society kept information flowing on the country as a whole but did not track the individual lives of Barbadian immigrants. Further problems in this regard are the results of the destruction of thousands of records, both official and personal, during the civil wars of the 1980’s and 1990’s.

However, the significant roles played by the paramount families- the Barclay, Wiles, Padmore, Grimes, Thorpes and Weekes families- does allow us to track their upward mobility and significance. Following their lives also allows us to analyse the impact of the community as a whole because, for the most part, until very recently, they tended, although not exclusively, to socialise and marry within the Barbadian community.

Religion also is a factor that sets the Barbadians apart from the Americans. Although the Passenger List of the Cora lists most passengers as Protestant, a fairly large number are listed as Episcopalian, Wesleyan and Moravian. The majority appears to have been Episcopalian or Anglican as termed in the West Indies. The Americans for the most part, were not high church. In the US Episcopalians tended to be upper class whites, particularly in the South. Most Americans would have been Baptists, African Methodist Episcopal (AME) or other predominantly Black sects.

Their strict Victorian values and a keen thirst for education were cultural factors of the Barbadians that not only nurtured the identity of the community, but were key factors in their meteoric rise in their new country. Their educational level was commented on from very early in their arrival: The Reverend Alexander Crummell delivered an address to the American Colonization Society in Philadelphia in June 1868. The Philadelphia Ledger recorded excerpts from his speech:

Most of these people were Episcopalians, well-trained hand craftsmen, skilled sugar-makers, intelligent, spirited, well-educated persons.

A few years later, the editorial of a September 1873 issue of the Liberian newspaper, New Era waxed enthusiastically on the virtues of the Barbadian immigrants:

We visited the settlement of Crozierville.The Barbadians are known to be the most intelligent and well educated company of emigrants that ever came to Liberia, and equally industrious. There were but few of their number that could not read, write and cipher when they arrived in the Country. Many of these people
were first class mechanics, some farmers, some teachers, and some small traders etc. They seem to have been trained to promptness in the discharge of both public and private duties.

The Rise of the Barbadians

We have information on the early years of the Barbadian settlement largely from letters which were sent from Liberia to The Times newspaper in Barbados. The majority of the letters were from Crozierville from the group formed there called the  Barbados Company of Liberia. There were many such companies in Liberia. The American settlers tended to form themselves into organisations composed of people who came from the various states or counties in the U.S. such as The Maryland Company. Not, surprisingly, the early years were difficult and there were disagreements and dissatisfaction on the part of the settlers. There were several letters sent to the The Times that the emigration had been a failure. But this was followed by several others which disputed this. In one letter in the The Times dated February 23, 1868, an anonymous correspondent refutes statements made by other correspondents that the venture was a failure. He attributes the disgruntlement to those passengers who were not selected to go to Liberia but were among the 33 who were stowaways. It will be recalled that there was a selection process that sought to send only the most committed families.. The correspondent argues that these persons were not prepared to engage in the sort of work entailed in the settlement of a new country of abode.

In the November 3rd 1865 edition of The Times the Editor was anxious to refute all disparagement of the Colonisation Society, and the idea that their project was a failure. He quotes from a letter from a colonist which was verified by a gentleman recently returned from Liberia. The letter states that of the 346 persons who emigrated 260 are settled at Crozierville and are doing well. In a Times excerpt published in the Barbados Museum journal we find that donations from Barbadians are continuing to go to Crozierville and are much appreciated. Further information is given on the status of the immigrants: After the difficulties of the first year, a number of these have gone to Sierra Leone. A few families remain in Monrovia and a few at Bassa. The writers of the letter, who are settled at Crozierville
in the parish of Christ Church, deem themselves the most successful of all due to their hard work and initiative. They are getting on very well and have started a Society called the Barbados Liberian Agricultural Society and are about to ship their produce from four acres of arrowroot and 10 acres of ginger to the U.S.A. They ask that this satisfactory condition should be published, as they consider they are better off than many people in Barbados, being 25 independent families with about 66 acres of land under good cultivation. The signatures of 10 men of the company are affixed so that their relatives in Barbados can know that theyare alive and well. Signed, Joseph T. Gibson, Acting Secretary

In another letter which was given to the newspaper from a subscriber in St. Peter it was reported that some of the settlers had insisted on remaining in Monrovia and not taking advantage of what the President of the country had offered them at Crozierville. According to the Editor of The Times when their ready cash was exhausted they became a pest to the President and a nuisance to the other inhabitants of Monrovia.

However, within a generation the Barbadians would make Monrovia their town as they rose to positions of prestige and power. Yet, Crozierville would remain the roots of the Barbadian community. The first school teacher of the Christ Church School in Crozierville was John Isaac Thorpe, who was also chosen by the people to be the first Chairman of The Barbados Company on the death of Anthony Barclay. Barclay’s death was reported in The Times edition of 16 May 1866. On the occasion of the centenary celebration of the founding of the town, on 10 May 1965, the Hon. Burleigh Holder pointed out in his speech, A History of Crozierville that on that date a direct descendant of John Isaac Thorpe, Mr. Napoleon B. Thorpe, his great-grandson, was serving as the Commissioner for the Township.

From the letters published by The Times we learn that there was considerable communication between the settlers in Liberia and Barbados. They had not gone across the Atlantic and disappeared into the rain forest. Support for the settlers continued for the first few years from Barbados and there were often fund raising events held which were quite the social occasion. One such event advertised in The Times on 9 January 1867 was a soiree to be held:

at Marshall’s Hall to aid Barbados Emigrants in Liberia, sponsored by the Committee of The Barbados Company of Liberia and others soliciting the support of the Philanthropists. Several gentlemen will speak and a Band will be in attendance. Tickets can be purchased at the book establishment of Joshua Grimes Esq. 9 High Street and at the store of J.H. Shannon, Esq. No.1 Middle Street.

Joshua Grimes was the father of Henry Waldron Grimes. As stated earlier, the Grimes family would become one of the new elite of Liberia and intermarry with the Barclay and Wiles families. It is also interesting to note that settlers travelled back and forth from Liberia to Barbados. I do not yet know the route they travelled nor will it be easy to ascertain how many of the settlers returned to Barbados permanently. We do know there were a few. We also know that although there were a large number of persons who wanted to emigrate and continued to inquire about emigration, no other contingent sponsored by any society, such as the American Colonisation Society, was put together. However, individuals did make their way to Liberia. The Grimes were not on the Cora nor was John H. Cox who became one of the officers of both The Barbados Company for Liberia and of the District of Crozierville. Cox is credited with introducing the breadfruit to Liberia which quickly spread throughout the country.

I have not yet been successful in finding many personal letters between family members. One, which is very interesting, is to a person whose family became one of the first families of the Barbadian elite. It is also interesting because it gives us an insight into cultural identity and the aspirations of these migrants. The letter was written by James Thomas Wiles to his son, Richard Jones Wiles. James Thomas Wiles was born in 1831 in Bridgetown. He, along with Anthony Barclay was leader of the Barbadian emigration group. He was the Corresponding Secretary of the Barbados Company for Liberia. The Wiles family comprised his wife, Mary, nee Sarjeant and their children: Laura Editha, Florence Irene, William Stanley, Richard Jones, Blanche Henrietta and twins, Ellen Alberto and Helen Beatrice. He was 34 years old when he emigrated. We do not know when he returned to Barbados but he died when he was 66 years old on February 6, 1897 and was buried in Westbury Cemetery.

In the letter James Wiles sends a Power of Attorney to Richard and to a Mr. Grimes empowering them to act on his behalf in the disposal of property in Monrovia and the renting of other premises. He gives his son instructions relating to property business and indicates that he does not expect to live much longer. He asks his son to send him some Liberian coffee:

“Try to collect some coffee from those Arthington people and send for me. I long to taste a little Liberian coffee You could ship to Edward Bros. or your own agent asking them to ship to my address and it would come safe. You will have to double bag it so as to save it better. He also asks his son to remember to send him postage stamps I have been asking for them for 4 years. He then chides his son on his command of English and encourages him to improve himself: Your spelling is very bad, try to improve it now. Mr. Roberts said that when he was conferring degrees on some of the students of Liberia College that he was 35 years of age before he really began to study anything; and said that it was never too late to begin to improve the mind and in keeping with that it is just your time to begin-go on my son and try to make yourself a pillar of the State. I may not live to see that but my spirit will hover around you and
your brother until the trumpet will sound. I have mentioned to Mr. Grimes my wishes and doubt not that he will give you his attention if you show any willingness.

The great emphasis placed on education and the driving ambition to succeed which were very characteristic of Afro-Barbadians travelled well to Liberia. By the time he left Liberia the father had purchased two houses in Monrovia and a number of lots. His son Richard Jones, also born in Barbados, did well and produced a Speaker of the House, Richard S. Wiles. Richard S. Wiles married Florence Mai Grimes who was among the first women to graduate from the University of Liberia in 1905. Florence Mai Grimes was the sister of Louis Arthur Grimes who served as Attorney General and Chief Justice of Liberia. He was a renowned jurist and legal scholar. Florence and Louis Grimes were the children of Ella Barclay, the sister of Arthur Barclay who became President of Liberia in 1904. Ella and Arthur were born in Barbados and were the children of the matriarch and patriarch of the emigrant group Sarah Ann Bourne Barclay and Anthony Barclay.

We can look at the Wiles and Barclays as the origin of the Barbadian dynasty that within two generations moved into the American ruling elite and ultimately dominated. Although the Bajans to a large extent practiced endogamy, they also married into indigenous groups as well as into the Americans. It is interesting, that despite their distinctiveness, there has been no written history of them as a group. The most I have been able to find is that the majority of them were associated with the New Whig Party which was largely made up of the darker skinned Americans and that they were more liberal in their politics than the mulatto group.

Achieving State Power

The Hon. Burleigh Holder, the author of A History of Crozierville is the son-in-law of former President Tolbert who was assassinated by Sargeant Doe in the 1980 coup. In his address at the Centenary celebrations of the landing of the Barbadians he stated:

These were public spirited men, not vain, petty, or self-serving. They remembered the end for which they had been planted in this place in this great country was the promotion of civilization and the building of a precious nationality. Hence, they were concerned about that temper, character and spirit into which their generations might be educated.
They were anxious about encouraging the development of wholesome qualities in our population. They were eager to establish and cultivate righteous principles and just sentiments. The character of these people then, was for them the primary consideration They turned their minds to the education of their children and to the great and everlasting work of God and man in this country, on this continent and in this world. This was a company of good men and women, upright, gallant, brave, sagacious, adventurous, daring, industrious, intelligent, magnanimous, persevering, successful.

But the history is far more complex. Inspired as they were with ideals of returning to Africa and assisting the Fatherland-Motherland to advance technologically and be able to carve out an independence free from increasing European incursions, the realities of dealing with the machinations of the imperialist powers, the indigenous history and rivalry among various indigenous groups, let alone, dealing with those who totally disregarded any agreement that had been made with the United States, the divisions among the Americans based on colour and class and the inability to establish a financially solvent modern state, put those ideals severely to the test.

Although many historians have viewed Liberia as simply a puppet state, virtually a colony of the United States, many Liberians have viewed their role very differently. They saw themselves as the first free modern African state with a democratically elected system of Government modeled on the US and a beacon to other parts of Africa and to Africans in the Diaspora. From very early in its history only people of African descent could become citizens of Liberia. It was the destiny of the children of Sarah Ann Bourne Barclay and Anthony Barclay that their children would preside over the years of great importance to all of Africa, the years of what historians have come to call The Scramble for Africa. Although my research is exploratory and only in its first year and the route to understanding the dynamics are still very sketchy, it is acknowledged that the programmes and ideology of the ruling elite of that period were seminal in the development of the modern Liberian state.

The Presidency of Arthur Barclay (1904-1912 ) spans that time period. Arthur was the son of Sarah Ann Bourne and Anthony Barclay. Unfortunately, the matriarch, Sarah Ann did not live to see her son become President, but the various articles written about him are a credit to her upbringing. For example, in an article written by Alexander Crummell in 1894 for the ACS publication, Liberia, the background of the Barclays is explored. At that time Arthur was the Postmaster General of Liberia and was seen as an important political leader. As Crummell states in his article: Mr. Arthur Barclay, Postmaster General of Liberia, whose portrait we present to our readers in this issue of the Bulletin, is one of the rising men of that Republic. Crummell describes the family background and belief system that created Arthur Barclay in this manner:

Mr. Barclay came to Liberia in his boyhood, in 1869  being then about 12 years of age. He was one of the youngest members of a more than ordinary family, for no one could see and converse with the parents and with their sons and daughters, eight in all, without being struck with both their character and their intelligence.We put the word character first, for while indeed well freighted with knowledge, acquirements, and culture, they presented the
unusual peculiarity of being heavy weighted with the moral excellence as with the intelligent brightness of right-minded people. They were seen at once to be a group of thoughtful, self-restrained, upright and orderly people, and their life and character during their long residence in Liberia have fulfilled the bright promise of their first coming.

Crummell then gives credit to the success of the clan to the role played by the matriarch Sarah Ann Bourne Barclay:

The father of this family died in less than a year, but such as the strength of the motherhood in the bereaved widow
that his children, under her guidance and direction, have passed from youth into manhood and womanhood, honorable in character and useful and beneficent in life and conduct. They have risen, without any exceptions, to high positions in church and state, as teachers, merchants, lay readers, vestrymen, and statesmen.

He then turns again to Arthur and signals him out, alerting the audience to expect great things to come from this young man:

Mr. Barclay received his education as a boy in the schools of Monrovia; thence he passed to Liberia College, holding a
high position in his classes in both the languages and in mathematics. Since his graduation his acquirements, coupled with his manifest uprightness, have made him a necessary factor in the public affairs of the young nation, and he has held several political positions under the government, always acquitting himself with intelligence and honor.

It is remarkable to find time and again commentary on the character, skills and accomplishments of the Barclays. These children who migrated were from exceptional families. Both Sarah and Anthony grew up in elite activist households where public service was a way of life. They were also deeply religious households, particularly in the case of the London Bourne clan. London’s only sister Susannah had married Reverend Joseph Hamilton who was also active in the political and social issues of the day. As their families became the leaders in the emigration societies, sponsored discussions and other events on Africa, African civilisations, these children were imbued with the principles, ideological consciousness and commitment that would signal them out as leaders. The same can be said of the other families which have distinguished themselves so well and most of whom are now all related.

The following is a list of the persons who moved into key positions of authority who were either on the Cora or were direct descendents. The Barbadians produced two Presidents: Arthur Barclay and Edwin Barclay:

liberia 1.jpg edwin barclay Edwin Barclay

Five Secretaries of State: Ernest Barclay, Arthur Barclay, Edwin Barclay, Louis Arthur Grimes and Joseph Rudolph Grimes: two Secretaries of the Treasury: James T. Wiles and Arthur Barclay; two Attorney Generals: Henry Waldron Grimes and Louis Arthur Grimes; two Postmaster Generals: James T. Wiles, the first Postmaster General of Liberia and Arthur Barclay; one Secretary of War, George S. Padmore; One Secretary of the Interior, Richard N. Holder; two Secretaries of Education, George S. Padmore and Edwin Barclay; one Secretary of National Public Health Services, Edwin Murray Barclay; one Director of the National Planning Agency, James Milton Weeks, one Administrative Assistant to the President, Everett Jonathon Goodridge. In the Judiciary: Louis Arthur Grimes, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; in the Legislature: Richard S. Wiles, Speaker of the House of Representatives. In the field of education, it is noteworthy that the first Liberian President of the University of Liberia was Dr. Rocheforte L. Weeks.
The list also includes a host of Undersecretaries and Assistant Secretaries of Senators and Members of the House of Representatives, Associate Justices and a number of Ambassadors. Also included are many of the gospel, among
them the names of Clarke, Holder, Padmore, Porte and Weeks. In the army we can boast the names of Col. James B. Padmore, whose gallantry brought the Gola War in Crozierville to an end. George S. Padmore, who twice fought bravely in the Cape Palmas wars and on the second occasion in 1910 resigned his post as Secretary of War to head the military mission to that county.

When we recall that the state of Liberia had been in existence since 1815 and the numbers of African-American settlers in the country numbered around 13,000 in 1865, the upward mobility of this small group of people, in such a short period of time, was remarkable. Further, although educated in the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, and many of them obviously well read- especially the Barclays, Wiles and Grimes- nevertheless, perhaps with the exception of Sarah Ann Bourne, they were not wealthy, they did not have university degrees; none were professionals except the three Barclay women schoolteachers. They were principally artisans coopers, blacksmiths, sugar boilers, masons and other self-employed persons., predominantly from the middle strata of Barbadian society. Yet, within one generation they were able to become sufficiently upwardly mobile to enter the highest chambers of power on an individual basis. By the period of the second generation, they were able to entrench themselves into the upper class and form a significant power bloc.

In terms of the goals of the research for this paper, how did the Barbadian section of settlers see themselves, both as Barbadians and as Africans? Were the goals of evangelical Pan-Africanism that had brought them to Liberia still valid in their cosmology? Most of these questions are difficult to answer at this stage of the research. This is due primarily to the horrific loss of virtually all the archives and State papers of the Republic. To look for the answers one must travel to Washington D.C. and examine the records of the American Colonization Society, which includes missionary work, and the documents of the Republic of Liberia that the Library of Congress has in its repository.

However, in terms of research to this date, personal correspondence with the descendants of the Barbadian emigrants, records of speeches and commentaries such as have been presented in this paper allow us to make some tentative appraisals. First, in all of my conversations with the descendants their Barbadian heritage burned strong as a principal element of their identity. In the Liberian social stratification system the Barbadians continued to be perceived, and perceived themselves as a distinct social group.

Text is from Dr. Carla Karch of the Society of Caribbean Historians, and Barclay Family Vault photo is from HPSOl, Historical Preservation Society of Liberia, PHOTOS/ALBUMS/THE BARCLAYS.  Photo courtesy of the Barclay-Padmore-Wiles Families website.


Author: Admin

8 thoughts on “From Barbados to Liberia: A deep look into the first Barbadian settlement in Liberia

  1. A great piece of my Bajan history to know. The Padmores are a part of my Barbadian heritage and I am familiar with some Cummins, Grimes, and Prescods.

  2. Excellent read with a great historical insight. This article confirms and connects the missing links to some of the information i have craved to complete my journey in the search for my family history.However, it lacks any reference whatever to the existence,interaction,or contribution of the original inhabitants of the land ,the natives as they were refereed to .Other than a mere mention of ” Gola war or settled in Bassa,” those people had numerous confrontations and disagreements with the government . Let it be knowN some of those land offered to the new arrivals were forcefully and unjustly acquired by the government and subsequently transferred to them.Our people had native reserves rights but no official titles to those properties as a result of lack of education.they were cheated and misled into signing over 1000 of acres or in most cases, shot upon by the settles.

  3. What about the Liberian natives??
    How does one raise such a question without directly challenging this benevolent yet naif narrative put before us? If in fact any of these ‘settlers’ had returned to Africa with the mindset of being once again truly African, I’m for certain that this story would have been more a telling of a homecoming and less resembling the “Manifest Destiny” (The ebony, Liberian version 2.0).

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