From Slaves to Rulers: The Great Divide between Americo- Liberians and West Africans in 1830s Liberia

Student Author(s)

Kortny Milhollin

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Lauren Janes

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This paper will explain the social divide that occurred during the early establishment of Liberia in the 1830s, mainly as a result of the ideology of the Americo-Liberian settlers. I analyze the letters of an Americo-Liberian family, the Skipwiths, which reveal the establishment of a social hierarchy in Liberia in the mid-nineteenth century. Because these Americo-Liberians had known only the political and social structure of the United States, the area they settled seemed to model the antebellum South in the sense that a great cultural divide was created between the Americo-Liberians and the native West Africans, just as there was a divide between the whites and the blacks in America. The free blacks who came to Liberia from America in the early-to-mid nineteenth century did everything they could to distance themselves culturally from the native West Africans. This cultural distance was accomplished by Americo-Liberians keeping their American manners and customs in Africa and importing American and European goods for their use, while refusing to assimilate with the native West Africans. This is especially important in understanding how the Americo- Liberians thought themselves superior to the native West Africans, which ultimately created a social and cultural divide between the two groups.

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