This Day in History: Freed Black Slaves Set Sail on the ‘Mayflower of Liberia’

On Feb. 6, 1820, the Mayflower of Liberia journeyed to Africa


On Feb. 6, 1820, a group of more than 85 free men and women, former slaves in the United States, sailed from New York Harbor to the coast of West Africa. The Mayflower of Liberia was the first organized black emigration to return to Africa, headed to the colony of Sierra Leone, a country that welcomed fugitives and former slaves from America.

[Related: This Day in History: First Black Student Enrolls at University of Alabama]

Paul Cuffee, the sea captain, was also an entrepreneur and regarded as one of the wealthiest black Americans in that time period.

The U.S. Congress granted $100,000 to the American Colonization Society to support their mission and to set sail aboard the “Elizabeth,” also known as the “Mayflower of Liberia.” Upon arrival in March, the colonists reached a small island off the coast of Liberia. Sadly, over the course of the next year, the freedmen suffered, being stricken with malaria. They also faced conflict with the local people, who greeted the newcomers with suspicion. The Mayflower of Liberia brought more than 15,000 former slaves and other Americans of African descent rescued from illegal slave ships to later set sail and join the colony, which was officially named Liberia in 1824. Today, about 5% of Liberia’s population descends from American freedmen and women. In 2006 the first elected female head of state in African history, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, took office.

Follow updates on this series via social media using #BE28andGreat for the whole month of February.

One Response to This Day in History: Freed Black Slaves Set Sail on the ‘Mayflower of Liberia’

  1. Leroy Andry, Jr. says:

    My deepest interest and concern for wanting to truly understand the “African Diaspora” came at a time post returning from Nigeria. Once we (WAJUMBE CULTURAL ARTS CENTER) arrived in Lagos, Nigeria to officially begin the Cultural exchange, I must state with much gratitude how ‘Home’ really felt. It’s a good heartfelt feeling to be amongst your own Black brothers and sisters. Make the trip my brother. . . .enjoy that vacation dear sister, please!

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