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  • Writer's pictureHistoric Columbus

Emigration to Liberia (Part III): The Emigrants, 1867 - 1868

SOURCE: Emigration to Liberia from the Chattahoochee Valley of Georgia and Alabama, 1853 – 1903 by Matthew F.K. McDaniel. 2013.


Developing a collective portrait of who left the Chattahoochee Valley for Liberia is challenging. Although the American Colonization Society (ACS) recorded significant demographic details on the more numerous 1867 and 1868 emigrants, this data is not comprehensive and may contain significant inconsistencies or errors. Emigrants from other years numbered in the single digits and were not well documented. Some show up in the historical record without names. However, enough demographic data was recorded by the ACS that developing a statistical portrait of the Chattahoochee Valley emigrants yields some significant clues to who they were and why they left.

The ACS recorded its most detailed demographic data on emigrants just after the Civil War and published it in its African Repository and Colonial Journal. The society gathered this information at the time of departure, recording emigrant names and ages. The emigrants also reported their occupations, education, and religious denomination. From this data, Peter Murdza compiled and published an inventory, Immigrants to Liberia: 1865 to 1904, an Alphabetical Listing. From this data and the order in which persons were listed in the Repository, Murdza extrapolated additional information, such as the family organization of emigrants. However, he admits – as with all of the published ACS data and its interpretation – the possibility of error exists. He points to the potential for internal inconsistencies by ACS compilers at the time of the voyages, particularly in terms of the criteria used to record education and religious affiliation. Furthermore, blank spaces in the emigrant rolls require further extrapolation to create useful data, particularly in the cases of women and children’s religious affiliation. Information regarding family groups tended to be listed alongside the apparent head of household. Some blank spaces in the rolls create “null” values within the data as opposed to those values that can be extrapolated from blank spaces due to patterns within the overall data, such as consistently not attributing any occupation to women or any persons under the age of 18.

General analysis of the records of the 1867 and 1868 Chattahoochee Valley emigrants point to two simple truths: their emigration was a series of family migrations, and because those families often included children, a young migration. Examination of the ACS records indicates that 81.5 percent of persons were part of a family group, and that 49.8 percent of the total emigrants were 17 years old or younger. 31 percent of all emigrants were ten years of age or younger. Although overall ages ranged from only a few months to 87, the average age of all emigrants was only 21.4 years of age. While the Chattahoochee Valley emigrants were relatively young, the adult parents and single men and women who would be the backbone of all the efforts in the new country were, of course, well represented. Overall, 232 persons (47.7 percent) were between the ages of 18 and 60, with 178 persons (36.6 percent) between the prime working and parenting ages of 18 and 40. Thus 86.4 percent of all emigrants were under the age of 40.

Only twelve people were over the age of 60 that emigrated to Liberia from the Chattahoochee Valley. Perhaps, given the known frontier conditions in the developing country and the unpromising information provided by the local press, the fact that any at all chose to make the journey is significant. Of the twelve, five were in their 60s, six were in their 70s, and Micajah Frazier, the oldest emigrant, was 87. Furthermore, all six male emigrants in this age group gave an occupation: four farmers, a preacher, and a blacksmith. Micajah Frazier was listed as a farmer. Such older persons may have had enough of life as it was, may have felt a calling to do their part to start a new country for themselves and their families, or may have wanted to help disperse Christianity to the “heathen” African as the ACS promoted. Others may have simply wanted to stay with families and acted according to their families’ desires. All but two of the older emigrants left for Liberia as a part of a family group. All six males in this age group were described as fathers, two of whom were the apparent heads of large family groups of 15 or more that included grandchildren. Two other men brough smaller families but came without wives. Micajah Frazier came only with his 18-year-old grandson, Henderson. 72-year-old Arthur Shivers, a Baptist preacher, brought only his 71-year-old wife, Celia. The females over 60 ranged in age from 62 to 71, and included three mothers, a sister, and two women to with no family affiliation described, possibly indicating that 62-year-old Mimi Jackson and 70-year-old Martha Adams embarked for Liberia independently.

Certainly, making the decision to depart for Liberia was an act of courage at any age, given the uncertainties of a nineteenth-century trans-Atlantic voyage, the prospect of “African fever,” and the hardships of frontier life in a strange land. But to do so at an advanced age was quite remarkable. So, while the Chattahoochee Valley emigrants were, on the whole, a young group, they left the United States in the Golconda with the experience and wisdom of age on board. The male to female ratios is almost exactly the same for each year – 131 males departed each year, whereas 111 females departed in 1867 and 109 in 1868. The fact that the prime parenting age group, 18 to 40, was almost balanced by gender in an emigration movement heavily populated by children is indicative of the familial nature of the Chattahoochee Valley emigration and the importance of mothers in those family units. Among the heads of families, the age of women and men were roughly the same; however, the emigrants who traveled alone represented a significantly different group. These solo travelers came from a different demographic. Among them, males tended to be young, with an average age of 24, whereas females tended to be older, with an average age of 50.5. Young men were more likely to strike out on their own, perhaps indicating that the age-old trend of young men seeking their fortunes was, to some extent, reflected in the Chattahoochee Valley emigrant group. Older, independent women who emigrated may have relied upon their experience, their survival of slavery, and perhaps their faith as sources of confidence.

In its emigrant rolls, the ACS documented occupations for men only. The omission of occupations for women may suggest that the ACS expected women to continue in, or revert to, domestic roles in Liberia. Jenni Parker, an 1868 emigrant was documented, like all other women, as having no occupation, however, she was a seamstress. Approximately two-thirds of men listed with occupations were farmers, perhaps not a surprising fact given that, despite the cluster of factories at the falls of the Chattahoochee in Columbus, the area surrounding that town and Eufaula was a robust cotton producing region. One-third of the men did not have exclusively farming occupations and reflected the labor pool that the urban areas of Columbus and Eufaula could provide. Nine carpenters and eight blacksmiths were counted, as well as five preachers, three shoemakers, three brick workers, three laborers, two gardeners, two barbers, a bridgebuilder, an engineer, a cook, a miller, and a painter. The education level emigrants had obtained was also recorded by the ACS and was considered integral to achieving lasting success in Liberia. The ACS standards for determining “education,” whether an emigrant could read and write, were probably left up to the individual ACS representatives to interpret and record as the emigrants boarded the ship; thus, the accuracy of the data and the proficiency of the “educated” Chattahoochee Valley emigrants are uncertain. The acceptance that such data represents some level of education, if not proficiency, provides an opportunity to develop some idea of the educational level of emigrants at the time of departure.

On the whole, and not surprising given their only recent emancipation from a system where the education of the enslaved was illegal, the 1867 and 1868 Chattahoochee Valley emigrants were not a well-educated group, only 22.8 percent being able to at least read. Of course, 30.9 percent of all emigrants were ten years of age or younger, so perhaps the fact that two in that young age group were identified as being able to read is significant. When removing the under ten age group, the literacy rate increases to 32.4 percent. Notably, the 11 – 17 age group was the most literate by percentage, perhaps an indication of post-Civil War efforts by the Freedmen’s Bureau and Northern missionaries to educate the children of freed slaves. Religious mission was a concern integral to the ACS’s hopes in Liberia, and, as noted previously, five preachers, three Baptist and two Methodist, emigrated from the Chattahoochee Valley. The ACS recorded the religious affiliations of adult emigrants, but many adults had only a blank space under “Religion.” No information was recorded for children. Of the 244 adult emigrants, 95 (38.9 percent) were listed as Methodists and 82 (33.6 percent) as Baptists. A single Presbyterian, Wingo McAllister, who was a miller, made the journey to Liberia. Females were slightly more likely to have a religious affiliation than males.

Unfortunately, the data the ACS recorded for the 1867 and 1868 Chattahoochee Valley emigrants is difficult to compare to census data of the era. In the 1860 U.S. Census, only 173 free “colored” persons were recorded in Muscogee County, of which Columbus was the seat; thus, few Blacks had any demographic details preserved. The 7,445 enslaved people in the county were counted but not documented in any detail. However, comparing the data does reveal at least a few former free Blacks of the ante-bellum era chose to emigrate after the Civil War. Arthur and Celia Shivers (who were referenced earlier as two of the older travelers) appeared in the 1860 Census as free colored persons in the Upper District of Muscogee County. The couple departed for Liberia in November 1867. Arthur was also a Baptist preacher. About five percent of the Black population of post-war Columbus, (men and women, young and old) chose to cast their lot by boarding a ship, crossing an ocean, and trying to build their own country, rather than stay in the one that had so recently enslaved them. They were fairly educated compared to those travelling from other southern states, and they were driven.

The earlier American colonists and settlers transplanted to Liberia much of the economic and cultural system that had discriminated against them or enslaved them in the United State in the early to mid-nineteenth century. They imported the plantation system they knew from the United States, and some of Liberia’s city merchants were also absentee landlords of coffee, sugar, and rice plantations, where lower strata Blacks, including poor settlers, worked in a familiar station. The earlier Americo-Liberians also established social strata in which newcomers, such as the Chattahoochee Valley emigrants, were generally relegated to the bottom. Towns resembled American villages, and well-to-do families built homes that resembled those in the American South. They dressed like Americans and, preferring imported foods to indigenous varieties, still ate like Americans. Determining what became of the Chattahoochee Valley emigrants who entered this Black-led, American-style world in tropical West Africa proves the most elusive task when telling their story since the evidence is limited. The information that has survived does provide a glimpse of what the emigrants found when they arrived in Liberia and how they fared over the years. Most of this evidence survives in a handful of letters written by emigrants and published in the ACS’s Repository and in local newspapers. Next Week: We will finish the emigration story with what is known about Liberia and the country that was created. Please join us!

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