The Liberia option, 1834

Dublin Core


The Liberia option, 1834


Emancipation; Slavery; Jesuit-Missions-19th Century-Colonization


Will Erkead reports to Fr. William McSherry in 1834 on the possibility of freeing the Maryland Province slaves and sending them to Liberia under the auspices of the Maryland Colonization Society.

For more on the possibility of sending the slaves to Liberia, see Murphy, Jesuit Slaveholding in Maryland, 193-4.


Maryland Province Archives


Georgetown Slavery Archive




Tom Foley, Adam Rothman


Georgetown University Library









Text Item Type Metadata


Balt Oct 17th 1834  [In blue] Liberia

Revd. & Dear Sir:

Pursuant to your request and my promise, I have made such enquiries relative to the new Colony at Cape Palmas, as I supposed important to the objects you have in view.  Twenty miles square were purchased by the agent of the Maryland Col. [Colonization] Soc. [Society] at that place.  The tract includes their native towns and some cleared fields, which are respectively reserved to the natives.  The purchase was made, in accordance with the principles laid down by our board, without the use of spirituous liquor of any kind; & the stores of rum &c [etc] which had been taken, to be used in the last resort to prevent this failure of the expedition, in case the Africans should prove obstinate in a refusal to treat without liquor, were thrown into the sea; a sufficiency for medical purposes only being reserved.  The effect of this example we are assured has been so great, that a trader recently arrived on the coast who attempted the old resort to rum, was told by the natives that “the Americans said rum made a bad palaver” & found them impracticable--The colonists, as I think I informed you, are all enlisted on the principle of total abstinence from ardent spirits; and traffic in it is prohibited.  The country is represented as fertile--and abounding in excellent water.  In fact, this is the grain coast; and the colony at Monrovia (or Liberia) is dependent on Cape Palmas for grain.  The climate is more salubrious than that of Liberia; there being none of the pestilential mango

[p. 2]

swamps which border the Messurado [Mesurado] river & the Junk, and with the exhalations from their sluggish waters poison the air at the place last named.  We have accumulated testimony that whites have lived on shore at Cape Palmas for many months without being sick.  The most conclusive evidence on this point is derived from the fact that of between 50 & 60 settlers at Cape Palmas, under the auspices of our Society, but one has died; & that was a woman labouring under chronic disease. It is proper to qualify this statement, however, by the remark that but 20 of the settlers were emigrants from Maryland direct, the remainder having been taken up at Liberia, where our vessel stopped on her way out, & thus being acclimated to Africa.  Our last advices were after the government house & dwellings for the settlers had been set up, their land cleared, & the cassada crop planted, & the whole party had passed through their seasoning fever, which bore a milder type than at Liberia; owing it is probable to the absence of those prolific sources of disease the mango swamps.  The relations between the settlers & natives had continued thus far pacific.  The latter are described as more intelligent & cunning than their neighbors, owing doubtless to their coast having been more resorted to by foreign traders than other parts.  The best comment I can offer on the whole evidence disclosed by our correspondence is found in the fact that “the American Board of Foreign Missions,” one of whose preachers went out with our expedition, have, on his representations, determined to make our colony their principal establishment in Africa, and that gentleman is about to return thither.  Those persons expect to extend their doctrines which they call “gospel truth” over the continent through this inlet.

[p. 3]

I have given you a brief outline of the state of the colony--as to the kind reception of a Catholic expedition I can hardly doubt.  I attended at a late meeting of the board, &, without entering into particulars, stated generally that a large Catholic proprietor of slaves was making enquiries, with a view to their emancipation if their physical condition could be considered comfortable in Africa, & provision might be made without restriction for their enjoyment of the ordinances of the Religion.  I merely hinted that this might prove a good lead to many Catholic slaveholders, who viewed the evils of a slave population precisely as ourselves, but could not consistently send them away from their churches.  I was met by a very frank & cordial avowal by many members of the board (no one dissenting) that the Catholic Blacks were emphatically the best part of the Coloured population; & would make the best settlers &c [etc]--and that every facility would be given &c [etc]--Perhaps I have tinged this account too much “couleur de Rose” - but I have endeavored to confine myself to facts.  In conclusion, I do not hesitate to reiterate my opinion often expressed that though our Society may not prove the efficacious cause of removing the blacks from America, yet that a vast deal of good will be accomplished by it, if it proves, as I think it will, the feasibility of the black man’s emigration to the land of his fathers; when the irresistible progress of events, at this side of the water, shall urge his departure on him as a measure of self preservation--

I have the honor to be

very respectfully yours

Will Erkead   

Original Format

Manuscript letter



Maryland Province Archives, “The Liberia option, 1834,” Georgetown Slavery Archive, accessed July 16, 2024,