Free African Americans colonize Africa

As the 19th century went along, there were ever more African Americans that had their freedom. Some thought these folks were in a great position to set up an American colony in Africa. So slip on your smoking jacket, fill your pipe, take your first sip of your adult beverage, and sit back in your most comfortable chair. Welcome to todays offering from The Philatelist.

The stamp today is from 1921 Liberia. Liberia was one of the few countries of Africa that was not a colony of a European power. One might then hope that the stamp offerings would as such be a interesting local view of the Africa at the time. Instead we are faced with a very American style portrait of the President of Liberia. You see Liberia had a caste system in place where the tiny minority of people that could trace their lineage to America held all the political power. They retained American ways and this reflected in the no doubt American printed stamps. In this issue there were some African scenes and animals, but only the ones at silly high denominations, for stamp collectors.

Todays stamp is issue A76, a five cent stamp issued by Liberia in 1921. The stamp features President Daniel Howard. President Howard had left office in 1920 and lived until 1935. I can only think that the American printers did not know he was no longer President. By 1923 there was a stamp issue with the then current President, so eventually they got caught up. According to the Scott catalog, the stamp is worth 25 cents whether it is mint or used. I mentioned above some of the high denomination stamps in this issue. They have fared better in the market. The $1 stamp featuring a bongo antelope is worth $20 mint. The $5 stamp featuring an elephant is worth $32.50 mint.

Liberia was the idea of Paul Cuffee, a free African American who owned a shipping company. He dreamed of sending ships full of freed slaves from America to the west coast of Africa where they would be free to build a new country. He believed that the Protestant religion and education of the freed slaves would serve them well. He forsaw his ships coming back to America full of Liberian goods to be sold in America. The first ship, named Mayflower of Liberia brought the first colonists in 1821.

The freed slaves did much to emulate what was learned in America. A constitution modeled an the American was enacted. The True Whig political party was modeled on the then USA Whig Party. Coffee plantations were formed. Even the architecture resembled America. Like the USA though, all of this only applied to Americo-Liberians. Indigenous tribes were not given any freedom and indeed where traded in contract labor schemes that resembled slavery in all but name.

Daniel Howard, the President on the stamp ruled during a troubled time in Liberia’s history. He faced an uprising from the Kru tribe of indigenous Africans. They had avoided slavery by developing a valuable skill of seamanship. Indeed they had taken to tattooing their foreheads to avoid being mistaken for slaves. They did not take well to being consigned to a lower caste in Liberia. The rebellion was only put down when an American Navy Cruiser the USS Chester appeared off the coast. It had been diverted to see that the Howard government did not fall.

World War I also occurred in Liberia while under President Howard.  He tried to remain neutral but the war cut off much of the trade that was so relied upon to service Liberia’s large debt. Desperate, Howard allowed the French to set up a telegraph station in Monrovia, the capital. The Germans protested and then attacked Monrovia from a U boat. This forced Howard to declare war on Germany and seize all German economic assets in the country. Liberia ratified the treaty of Versailles and joined The League of Nations

Howard served out two terms and left office in 1920. His successor was also a member of the True Whig party. Indeed that party ruled uninterrupted for over 100 years ending in 1980. His successor was even more unlucky than Howard. He was forced to step down after the League of Nations caught Liberia selling forced “contract” indigenous labor to Spanish colonists in the Spanish colony of Fernando Po.

Well my drink is empty and so it is time to open up the discussion in the below comment section. I wonder if the enterprise of Liberia would have gone better if enough freed blacks could have attracted to enable a population majority of the area. Had he lived, it was the policy of Abraham Lincoln to encourage freed slaves to Liberia. Come again tomorrow for another story that can be learned from stamp collecting.

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