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African-American Exploration in West Africa

Four Nineteenth-Century Diaries

Edited by James Fairhead, Tim Geysbeek, Svend E. Holsoe, and Melissa Leach

Publication Year: 2003

In the 1860s, as America waged civil war, several thousand African Americans sought greater freedom by emigrating to the fledgling nation of Liberia. While some argued that the new black republic represented disposal rather than emancipation, a few intrepid men set out to explore their African home. African-American Exploration in West Africa collects the travel diaries of James L. Sims, George L. Seymour, and Benjamin J. K. Anderson, who explored the territory that is now Liberia and Guinea between 1858 and 1874. These remarkable diaries reveal the wealth and beauty of Africa in striking descriptions of its geography, people, flora, and fauna. The dangers of the journeys surface, too -- Seymour was attacked and later died of his wounds, and his companion, Levin Ash, was captured and sold into slavery again. Challenging the notion that there were no black explorers in Africa, these diaries provide unique perspectives on 19th-century Liberian life and life in the interior of the continent before it was radically changed by European colonialism.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

List of Maps

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xii

As a collaborative effort over several years, this work has involved invaluable support from many individuals and institutions. Many people have assisted in locating materials or in pursuing dead ends. We are especially grateful to Peter Ferguson of the British Library for Development Studies (Sussex, U.K.) for tracking down newspaper...

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pp. 1-6

In 1858 America was brewing a civil war, and slavery was the issue. But by then, a few thousand Americans with some African ancestry, whether free or freed from slavery, had already gained greater freedom by sailing across the Atlantic to Africa. Here they had founded the fledgling and controversial nation they called Liberia. Yet...

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One. The Liberia of the Journeys

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pp. 7-30

By 1800 in the U.S., individual states, slaves, freed slaves, and the evangelicals, radicals, and sympathizers who supported abolitionism were promoting emancipation with increasing success. The emancipated organized for further emancipation. The radical thoughts which had inspired white Americans in revolution against their...

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Two. Journeys in the Interior

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pp. 31-91

Many authors have suggested that the Liberian settlers hardly traveled inland. Considered in this light, the accounts in this book would appear as exceptions in a country otherwise disinterested in—or incapable of—forging strong and enduring links with its hinterland. Yet the background to each of the major journeys, considered in the light...

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Three. James L. Sims, 1858

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pp. 93-123

The morning was a beautiful one, and as we wound our way along the narrow paths, birds of every plumage poured forth their sweetest notes, which were answered by the merry shouts of the natives, or a peal from their rude wooden horns. About ten o’clock, we arrived at a small collection of houses, known as Governor Tom’s town...

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Four. George L. Seymour, 1858

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pp. 124-155

More than a year ago, we published some interesting letters, dated at Paynesville, in the Pessay country, 100 miles east of Monrovia, written by George L. Seymour, Esq., a Liberian, whose zeal and enterprise had induced him to emigrate from the sea coast to the interior, and who made an earnest appeal to his colored friends in America...

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Five. Benjamin J. K. Anderson, 1868–69

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pp. 157-239

It had long been considered important by the friends of Liberia that an exploration should be made of the country east of the Republic. The only difficulty in the way was to find the proper man for the enterprise. President Warner had for a number of years been seeking for such a one, when the author of the accompanying narrative...

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Six. Benjamin J. K. Anderson, 1874

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pp. 240-278

“The interior of Liberia is still the least known part of Africa.”1 Liberians themselves have contributed little to our knowledge of their hinterland. In 1858, President Benson sent two Liberians, Seymour and Ash, into the interior and a description of their journey appeared in England in the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society...

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Seven. The Journeys and the Interior

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pp. 279-343

As the first descriptions of these regions of what are today Liberia and the Republic of Guinea, the diaries tell of populous and vibrant economies, thriving on the traffic between forest and savanna, coast and interior. The large fortified towns and their hamlets which are described; the peoples and their languages; their trade, farming, and...


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pp. 345-401


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pp. 403-450


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pp. 451-488

E-ISBN-13: 9780253110046
E-ISBN-10: 0253110041
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253341945

Page Count: 504
Illustrations: 39 b&w photos, 11 maps, 1 index
Publication Year: 2003

OCLC Number: 70747387
MUSE Marc Record: Download for African-American Exploration in West Africa

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Subject Headings

  • Guinea -- Discovery and exploration.
  • African Americans -- Liberia -- Diaries.
  • African Americans -- Liberia -- History -- 19th century.
  • Liberia -- Discovery and exploration.
  • African Americans -- Guinea -- Diaries.
  • African Americans -- Guinea -- History -- 19th century.
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