The Electronic Text Center's Liberian Letters consists of two collections of letters written by former slaves from Virginia who settled in Liberia: Samson Ceasar's letters to David S. Haselden and Henry F. Westfall, 1834-1835 and Letters from the former slaves of Terrell, 1857-1866.
These former slaves travelled to Liberia with the assistance of the American Colonization Society, an organization formed in 1817 to help free blacks and emancipated slaves establish a new life in the recently-founded Liberia. The Society provided them with housing and food for six months while they built their own houses and planted their own crops. Due to shortages of supplies and tools, the new Liberians relied heavily on supplies from home. In all of these letters, correspondents request that food, clothing, and tools to be sent to them in Liberia--commonly requested items include pork, flour, sugar, seeds, tobacco, cotton, guns, and hand tools.
In Slaves No More: Letters from Liberia 1833-18691, Bell I. Wiley writes that the new Liberians had to contend with many hardships: lack of adequate food and shelter due to the mismanagement of the American Colonization Society, conflicts with natives, various diseases, overgrown land that was difficult to clear and cultivate, and the difficulty of establishing schools and churches (5-7). According to Wiley, however, "conditions improved as both officials and settlers acquired experience" (7):
The usual pattern of reaction was initial enthusiasm for the new land and the new life; then, as the novelty wore off and disease began to make its inroads, disillusionment and homesickness became prevalent. Many died during this time of trial. But of those who survived the first year in Africa, most succeeded in achieving a tolerable existence and a few found a degree of success and happiness exceeding anything known by their black friends and relatives in America. (Wiley 7)According to Wiley, disagreement among the colonists was relatively rare, though he does note that "one source of friction, according to an American physician who toured the settlements in 1858, was the assumption of an air of superiority on the part of emigrants from Virginia." According to the physician, some of the colonists 'complain of caste and say that the Virginians are most too high-headed and are all the time claiming that they are the quality of Liberia'" (6). Indeed, Samson Ceasar notes in his letter of June 2, 1834 that "There have come a great many from North Carolina who are dregs in this place."
The Liberian Letters provide a fascinating account of the hardships
and successes that the Liberian settlers experienced during their first
few years in their new home. Above all, they reveal much about the
relationship between ex-slaves and their former masters and about the
process of adjusting to a life of freedom in a new and strange land.
In the Electronic Text Center's Liberian Letters collection, we have provided faithful transcriptions of the original letters, modernized versions in which spelling and grammar are regularized, and large and small JPEG images of the original letters. In the modernized versions, names of the correspondants have been regularized according to Robert T. Brown's Alphabetical Listing of Immigrants to Liberia. Capitalization has not been standardized in the modernized versions, though in some cases it has been corrected if there were accompanying spelling or grammar errors that needed to be fixed.
The digital versions of the Liberian Letters were created and encoded by participants in David Seaman's Introduction to Electronic Texts and Images, Rare Book School courses 27 and 46, Summer 1998, and by Matthew Gibson, Lisa Spiro, Carolyn Fay, and Jennifer Easley of the Electronic Text Center. Jennifer and Carolyn's work has been supported by a grant from J. Wallace Sieg.
Final editing and annotating were done by Jennifer Easley of the Electronic Text Center.
The texts are encoded in SGML, according to the Text Encoding Initiative Guidelines, and are presented with an accompanying Encoded Archival Description (EAD) collection guide.
The manuscript pages were scanned at 24-bit color and 300 dpi by Felicia Johnson of the UVa Special Collections Department. They exist off-line as large archival TIFF format files.