Did African Americans Enslave Liberian Africans?

Executive Summary

  • African Americans that moved to Liberia moved there to get away from slavery.
  • It is curious that these individuals imposed a slave or near slave system on the natives.


Liberia provides a fascinating story of how ex-slaves behave after being freed if allowed to enslave others. It is a story of a group of American blacks (or Americo-Liberians) that vehemently called out the history of slavery and racism in the US. However, at nearly the first opportunity, once they were in the position to do so, enslaved Africans in Liberia created a two-tier society where they were on top and exploited the indigenous African Liberians.

Our References for This Article

If at any time you want to see our references for this article and also other related articles, see this link.

The Origins of Liberia

The beginnings of Liberia are explained in the following quotation.

Liberia began as a settlement of the American Colonization Society (ACS), who believed black people would face better chances for freedom and prosperity in Africa than in the United States. – Wikipedia

IN 1821, a ship arrived at a place near where my hotel now stood (Monrovia lies on the Atlantic, on a peninsula), bringing an agent of the American Colonisation Society, Robert Stockton. Stockton, holding a pistol to the head of the local tribal chief, King Peter, forced him to sell – for six muskets and one trunk of beads – the land upon which the US organisation planned to settle freed slaves (mainly from the cotton plantations of Virginia, Georgia, Maryland). Stockton’s organisation was of a liberal and charitable character. Its activists believed that the best reparation for the injuries of slavery would be the return of former slaves to the land of their ancestors – to Africa. – The Guardian

The Need for Liberian Americans to Differentiate Themselves From What They Viewed as What Referred to as “Savage Africans”

The two groups usually lived far from each other, and their contacts were infrequent and sporadic. The new masters kept to the coast and to the settlements they built there, of which Monrovia is the largest. The newcomers, unable to set themselves apart from the locals by skin colour or physical type, tried to underline their difference and superiority in some other way. In the frightfully hot and humid climate, men walked about in morning coats, bowler hats and white gloves. Women wore stiff crinolines, heavy wigs, and hats decorated with artificial flowers. – The Guardian

The following photo illustrates this.

What is curious is that African Americans did not dress like this in the US at the time. Even the two young boys have formal hats. The people standing behind them are their servants of slaves. This is very similar to the Spanish in the New World. People of minor status back in Spain would often dress and behave in a way that gave the impression they were part of the Spanish nobility. 

How Liberia Was Purchased

In 1822 the American Colonization Society began sending black volunteers to the Pepper Coast, the closest point of Africa and therefore the least expensive to reach, to establish a colony for freed blacks. By 1867 the ACS (and state-related chapters) had assisted in the migration of more than 13,000 blacks to Liberia.[17] These free African-Americans and their descendants married within their community and came to identify as Americo-Liberians. Many were of mixed race and educated in American culture; they did not identify with the indigenous natives of the tribes they encountered. They intermarried largely within the colonial community, developing an ethnic group that had a cultural tradition infused with American notions of political republicanism and Protestant Christianity. – Wikipedia

The Treatment of the Native Population by the Americo-Liberians

The Americo-Liberian settlers did not relate well to the indigenous peoples they encountered, especially those in communities of the more isolated “bush“. The colonial settlements were raided by the Kru and Grebo from their inland chiefdoms. Americo-Liberians developed as a small elite that held on to political power, and indigenous tribesmen were excluded from birthright citizenship in their own land until 1904, in an echo of the United States’ treatment of Native Americans.[10]

the Americo-Liberians replicated the only society most of them knew: the racist culture of the American South. Believing themselves different from and culturally and educationally superior to the indigenous peoples, the Americo-Liberians developed as an elite minority that held on to political power. They treated the natives the way American whites had treated them: as inferiors. The natives could not vote and could not speak unless spoken to. Just as American Blacks were prohibited from marrying or having sexual relationships with white women, the natives could not marry Americo-Liberian women.

The Americo-Liberian minority, many of whom were mixed-race African Americans, treated the native majority as White Americans had treated them: they were viewed as “racially” inferior and were denied the right to vote. To avoid “racial” contamination, the Americo-Liberians married within themselves. They, but not the natives, received financial support from supporters in the United States. They established plantations and businesses, and were generally richer than the indigenous people of Liberia, exercising overwhelming political power. – Wikipedia

And this quote.

they held American cultural, religious, and social values. Like many Americans of the period, the Americo-Liberians held a firm belief in the religious superiority of Christianity, and indigenous animism and culture became systematically oppressed. – Wikipedia

Unwillingness to Share Resources With Africans

[T]he fact is that for 133 years, a settler elite—a black-settler elite—which made up no more than 4 percent of Liberia’s population, had monopolized all political power and controlled access to the country’s resources. Its methods and its attitudes made those of the later-arriving white-settler elite in Rhodesia seem mild by comparison. – The Atlantic

Ex-Slaves that Enslaved the Native Population

The African Americans began their settlement opposing slavery, and this was a point of contention in their battles with the native population (for which slavery was the norm).

This is described in the following quotation.

What really pitted settlers against native again went unspoken: the slave trade, a business for the natives, was an abomination to the settlers, who were determined to wipe it out as soon as they had the means to do so. For those who had escaped slavery in America, it was something more; it was a responsibility and duty to the millions of their brethren in slavery back home.

However, once firmly in control of the new Liberian land, this position did not hold.

To this end, the government in Monrovia allocated to each tribe (there are 16 of them) a territory where they were allowed to live – not unlike the typical “homelands” created for Africans decades later by the white racists from Pretoria. All who spoke out against this were severely punished. The chiefs of unsubmissive tribes were eliminated on the spot, the rebellious population murdered or imprisoned, its villages destroyed, its crops set afire. – The Guardian

These expeditions and local wars had a single overriding goal: to capture slaves. The Americo-Liberians needed labourers. And indeed, they started using slaves on their farms and in their businesses as early as the second half of the 19th century. They also sold them to other countries. In the late 1920s, the world press disclosed the existence of this trade, plied officially by the Liberian government. The League of Nations intervened. The then president, Charles King, was forced to resign. But the practice continued by stealth. – The Guardian

As with any slave society, the slavery of the natives reduced the opportunities for work for the new arrivals from the US. This is explained in the following quotation.

As Peyton Skipwith wrote in his first letter home, “Those [settlers] that are well off do hav the natives as Slavs and poor people that come from America have no chance to make aliving for the natives do all the work.” Hostile observers, like the abolitionist William Nesbit, threw around the dreaded “s word” with abandon. “Every colonist keeps native slaves (or as they term them servants) about him, varying in number from one to fifteen, according to the circumstances of the master.” One thing we do know: natives were never legally recognized as slaves, as that would have been a violation of every constitution written for the colony – Another America

The African American View of the Natives

Like many settlers, Skipwith’s attitude toward the natives consisted of equal parts fear, anger, contempt, and paternalistic concern. He looked down on the Africans as lazy and duplicitous. When put to work, they had to be watched or they would slack off. They had no respect for property. In one letter, Skipwith lumped the natives together with monkeys as crop thieves. – Another America

This is true of many letters sent home from American Liberians to their relatives in the US. Many of the letters include comments where the American Liberians refer to the Africans as monkeys and monkeys who should be enslaved. They also state that there is no way they could be “related to these monkeys.”

Comparing Liberia Versus South Africa

As early as the middle of the 19th century, long before apartheid was instituted in southern Africa by the Afrikaners, it had been invented and made fresh by the rulers of Liberia – descendants of black slaves. – The Guardian

The Results of the Liberian Experiment

I began thinking of Liberia as a noble experiment that had ended awfully. Freed slaves, given the chance to govern themselves, had turned out to be no better than the white imperialists who had descended upon Africa around the same time. If there was any lesson to be taken from Liberian history, it was a general one about human nature: an oppressed people could readily become oppressors.

Hidebound by their Americaness and surroundedand outnumbered by natives, they could never reconcile their idealism with their pursuit of power and wealth. – Another America

This video shows the history and failure of Liberia. 

Did the Liberian Americans Ever Actually Oppose Slavery as a General Principle?

This all calls into question how much the African Americans that moved to Liberia opposed the practice of slavery versus opposing slavery solely for themselves. They themselves were aggressively opposed to being slaves but took slaves when given the opportunity. This is a common relationship found in many areas of the world. Asians, Arabs, Africans, and many others don’t oppose slavery in principle but only oppose slavery for themselves or their group. Slavery is widely accepted to this day in India; as an example; the widespread acceptance of slavery or slave-like conditions in Islamic countries is covered in the article Did Slavery Ever Stop in Arab Countries?

The Thought Experiment for US Blacks

Most blacks in the US continually focus on the issue of slavery. However, they have not been tested whether they would also take slaves if given the opportunity.


One might ask why this story has so little coverage, even though it is so important to explaining how American blacks would likely behave if given the opportunity to enslave Africans. A few answers might be…

  • It does not fit with the inaccurate narrative that Africans aggressively oppose slavery.
  • It calls into question how much those that state they opposed slavery actually did, or merely opposed being slaves.

The fact that the Liberia story is little covered or discussed fits into a long-term pattern of censoring information about slavery that contradicts the official and inaccurate storyline. This provides a skewed perspective and is a form of selective outrage. Through selectively reporting the pattern of slavery (where whites own blacks), the vast majority of worldwide slavery — both historically and even more so in modern times, creates a highly inaccurate picture of the topic of slavery. Blacks have officially positioned themselves as the heroes of slavery. However, the story does not fit with history. Blacks do not themselves want to be slaves, but there is little evidence that blacks do not want to be slave holders.

Blacks have rarely been in the position to enslave other races as their societies have been low in technological sophistication. This is why the Liberian case study — where blacks Americans used the advantages, technologies, and weapons they attained through living in a white country, against Africans at the first opportunity. Furthermore, Africans had an extensive slavery system in place already when the Europeans first came into contact with them. And black-on-black slavery persists in Africa today. Hotspots include Mali and Mauritania.

This is an excellent primer on the history of the Atlantic Slave Trade.

The Response From Some Blacks to the Article

We received feedback from some blacks that they did not like this article because it proposed that Africans were more in favor of slavery than whites.

Several blacks have reached out and have asked for this article to be taken down. I have asked them to provide evidence of factual errors in the article, but none of them replied. The idea they generally present is that taking down the article would make “blacks happier” and would make it appear as if blacks are somehow more innocent. When we asked why they are asking for information that is accurate to be taken down, we were told “it’s not about that” and “it’s not about accuracy.” And that we “would not understand.” And that it causes blacks pain or to be emotionally triggered to learn that American blacks quickly enslaved blacks when they arrived in Liberia.

There is also an undercurrent that slavery is no slavery unless the slave owner is white and the slave is black, which I explore in the article Is It Slavery if the Slave Owners is Not White.

How Much of the Problems With This Article Are Due to Race Scamming?

Many blacks want slavery to be characterized as entirely about whites being interested in taking slaves and Africans always opposed to slavery. This places blacks in the position of being entirely heroic, and it’s part of a pretext for scamming white societies to provide more benefits and allow more immigration or blacks to white countries. We cover this strategy by many blacks in the article How Making False and Selective Claims is Part of a Scam by Black Americans.

I cover another very important and telling topic regarding Liberia in the article How Corrupt Was The Liberian Government Set Up By Black Americans?