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[Detail] Map of Liberia. Lith. by E. Weber & Co., 1845.

Collection Overview

Maps of Liberia, 1830-1870, a subset of Maps, includes maps from the American Colonization Society (ACS) that was organized in 1817 to resettle free black Americans in West Africa. These maps show early settlements in Liberia, political subdivisions, and some of the lots that were assigned to settlers. Other maps in the collection show areas of Liberia that were given to settlers by indigenous Liberian chiefs. One map in the collection is thought to have been created by the black American explorer Benjamin Anderson.

Special Features

These online exhibits provide context and additional information about this collection.

Historical Eras

These historical era(s) are best represented in the collection although they may not be all-encompassing.

  • Expansion and Reform, 1801-1861
  • The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1877

Related Collections and Exhibits

These collections and exhibits contain thematically-related primary and secondary sources. Also browse the Collection Finder for more related material on the American Memory Web site.

Other Resources

Recommended additional sources of information.

Search Tips

Specific guidance for searching this collection

Search for Liberia maps using the keyword search, keeping the selection set on "Search American Colonization Society Collection ONLY". (Otherwise, you will search all the map collections.)

You can find maps by browsing the Subject Index, Contributors Index, or Geographic Location list of maps.

For help with general search strategies, see Finding Items in American Memory.

U.S. History

Maps of Liberia, 1830-1870 traces the history of Liberia through twenty maps of the American Colonization Society, organized in 1817 to resettle free black Americans in West Africa. Through interpretation and analysis of these maps students can study colonization societies, African Americans' search for equality, colonization and nation building, and the effects of the American Civil War and Reconstruction.

1) Colonization Societies

As an alternative to living in America, some whites believed it would be better if free black Americans lived elsewhere. They founded colonization societies to assist in relocating free blacks to Africa. The American Colonization Society, founded in 1817, established a colony in Liberia on the west coast of Africa. By 1867, the society had sent 13,000 emigrants to Liberia. Some slave states formed colonization societies, as well. Several merged with the American Colonization Society in 1838 to form the Commonwealth of Liberia.

The maps in this collection are from the American Colonization Society collection. Students can use Maps of Liberia to learn more about these societies and their goals and techniques for assisting free African Americans to emigrate. Have students search the collection on colonization society to retrieve all 20 maps in this collection. As an introduction to the collection, have students answer these basic questions, referring to the maps.

  • How did emigrants travel to Liberia?
  • What borders Liberia?
  • What are the names of settlements in Liberia?
  • What land formations - mountains, rivers, etc. - are within Liberia?

To gain more of a perspective about the American Colonization Society, students can browse the exhibit The African-American Mosaic section entitled Colonization and search on American Colonization Society in African-American Perspectives, 1818-1907, From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1824-1909 and Daguerreotypes.

2) Black Americans' Search For Equality

Map of Liberia, 1845

Map of Liberia, 1845. This map was prepared for an American Colonization Society book by ACS agent Jehudi Ashmun.

Maps of Liberia provides students an opportunity to learn more about African Americans' quest for equality. The movement to colonize Liberia was seen by many as a chance to escape the inequalities institutionalized in the United States by law and social custom. Through its system of slavery and constitutional denial of black Americans' rights as citizens, even free black Americans did not live as equals to others. To learn more about the African-American experience in the United States at this time, have students browse the collections African-American Mosaic, African American Odyssey.

By searching on American Colonization Society in African-American Perspectives, 1818-1907 and From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1824-1909 students can retrieve accounts of how African Americans lived in Liberia. To what extent did living in Liberia provide black Americans freedom or equality? If you had been a free African American in the United States with an opportunity to move to Liberia, would you have? Why or why not?

Students can browse Maps of Liberia by Subject Index to look for the places in Africa discussed in the American Colonization Society documents.

3) Colonization and Nation Building

Much of the history of Western civilization can be told as a series of stories of colonization. Colonists influenced the new found lands' economic systems, governments, and culture. In some cases, as in the United States and Liberia, the colonists eventually called for independence in their new homes and formed new nations. Using Maps of Liberia, students can learn more about the process of colonization and nation building.

Students can browse Maps of Liberia by Subject Index using the maps to identify

  • Hardships faced by colonists in terms of climate and hostile neighbors
  • Place names chosen to reflect those places left behind
  • Land acquired by colonists
  • Boundaries set by colonists

By searching on American Colonization Society in From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1824-1909 students can find accounts of nation building in Liberia. Have students read the example below to surmise the Society's perspective on "Americo-Liberians'" self-assertion.

With a government modeled after our own, with rulers chosen, and well chosen too, thus far, by themselves, with a soil to which they are akin, capable of self-support, self-government and self-defense, the people of Liberia are slowly developing a distinct nationality. No longer mere emigrants from the United States experimenting doubtfully, they are Liberians, Americo-Liberians as their phrase is, looking forward to a future of their own. Fast losing our traditions, they aim at becoming historical themselves. Meanwhile, with steady purpose, they pursue quietly and honorably the course of their destiny.

From page 5 of African colonization--its principles and aims. An address delivered by John H. B. Latrobe, president of the American Colonization Society, January 18, 1859.

  • What does Latrobe identify as the main characteristics of a "distinct nationality"?
  • Can you think of any other characteristics based on the maps or inference and imagination?

4) The American Civil War and Reconstruction

Maps of Liberia can provide students with insight into the experience of black Americans living in the United States after the Civil War. Although many factors contributed to the outbreak of the American Civil War, most remember the war as a struggle over slavery. The Union victory allowed President Lincoln to emancipate slaves and Congress to ratify the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. However, laws could not instantaneously revise culture. African Americans continued to lack equality.

As this 1870 map indicates, black Americans continued to emigrate to Liberia after the Civil War, reflecting the lack of opportunities and hope for the future in the United States.

Critical Thinking

Maps of Liberia, 1830-1870 provides the basis for several projects that foster historical thinking skills. Tracking the development of Liberia with the maps, students can practice chronological thinking, while through role play they can develop their historical comprehension and skills of analysis and interpretation. By debating how to influence change, students can improve their ability to analyze issues and make decisions. And by researching the history of the Liberian government, students can improve their historic research skills.

Chronological Thinking

Maps of Liberia affords students the opportunity to track through maps the development of a nation. Students can begin by reading the special presentation History of Liberia: A Time Line. Then have students search the collection on Liberia looking at maps in chronological order. Students can look for evidence in the maps of change over time representing the growth and maturation of what would become the country of Liberia.

By comparing the oldest maps in the collection to the most recent ones, students can answer these and other questions:

  • What new lands did the colonists acquire over time?
  • What new settlement areas were started by the colonists? Did all the original settlements still exist by the time the last map was created?
  • What evidence is there of an increased population?
  • What political boundaries were established over time?
  • What new information did the settlers have about the quality of the land to grow crops?
  • What nautical information did they gain?

Historical Comprehension

The first colonists traveling to Liberia knew very little about the land they were settling. Colonists who followed later had the benefit of the knowledge and experiences of these pioneers. To gain a comprehension of colonists' experiences, students can assume the role of someone traveling to Liberia in the 1830s. Students can use this 1830 map of Liberia or search the collection on Liberia, looking at maps created by the 1830s. These maps will show the students what the colonists may have learned about Liberia prior to leaving America.

Have students use the map to answer the following questions:

  • What can you determine about the climate from the map?
  • Were there native peoples living in Liberia?
  • What rivers run through the land?
  • What information does the text at the top of the map provide? How much land does it say is under the jurisdiction of the American Colonization Society?

For more insight into what a person might know before leaving for Liberia, students can also browse the exhibit The African-American Mosaic section entitled Colonization and search on American Colonization Society in African-American Perspectives, 1818-1907 and From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1824-1909.

Historical Analysis and Interpretation

Map of Liberia, West Africa. 183-?

Map of Liberia, West Africa. 183-?.

In this exercise, students will learn to analyze and interpret the settlement patterns depicted on a map and to determine the possible accuracy of the maps. Prior to looking at the maps, have students complete the following activity to gain perspective on settlement patterns and mapping. Students can first consider the factors that might influence their own decisions of where to settle a new land.

  • What adverse conditions would they avoid?
  • What natural resources and landscape features would they look for?
  • Remind the students that the colonists were arriving by ship from the sea. How might their means of travel affect the location of settlements?

Next, present students with a sketched map of Liberia identifying only geographic features and the location of neighboring peoples, indicating if they are friendly or not. Use the early map of Liberia below as a base map by tracing the features other than the location of settlements.

Ask the class to assume the role of colonists on a ship traveling across the ocean to a foreign land. They have only this map and must decide where to land their ship and where to build their first settlement. Have them represent their decisions on the map. They should draw in their travel route, location of settlements, what buildings they will construct at those sites and what trails or roadways they might build.

Pause in the process here to discuss mapping accuracy with the students by asking these questions:

  • In reality, how might their travel route vary from the one they have drawn?
  • How easy might it be to remember, document, and describe the travel route to others?
  • When they wrote in their settlement locations, how precise were they? Did they draw to scale? Did they indicate the scale on the map?
  • How much accuracy did they use in drawing their land travel routes?
  • Of course, the students are not actually in Liberia to gather all the needed data to be extremely accurate. If they had been there between 1830 and 1870, what tools would have been available for data collection? What information would they collect? How accurate could they assume it would be?

Now show students the original map with the settlement locations. They will first be interested in noting if they chose to settle the same areas as the colonists. Do the settlements appear to have been influenced by the same factors the students considered? Are there additional factors not considered by the students?

Then students can interpret the accuracy of the maps based on their responses to the questions above. Have them analyze the information provided on the map by looking for such things as a legend and scale. If these are not provided, what might the student assume about the map's accuracy? Based on their responses to the questions above, how likely is it that the map has inaccuracies? What might they be? How does this affect the way you read the map? If one doubted the accuracy of a map, one could compare it to others. Have students compare their map to others in the collection. What are the similarities and differences? If there are differences among the maps, how can we determine which is most accurate?

Historical Issue-Analysis and Decision-Making

If you believe a system is flawed, do you fight within the system to change it or do you leave the system and start another, creating the ideal you had envisioned? This debate is at the heart of the movement to colonize Liberia.

Assign students one of these groups to represent:

  • African Americans in the South or North, freed or enslaved
  • Whites in the South or North
  • Senator from New York
  • Senator from South Carolina
  • British merchant in Africa

Create a scenario in which the year is 1865 and $100,000 is available from the federal government to invest in aiding African Americans. The class must debate how to use the money. Based on the roles they were assigned, they can choose a side in the debate, either for or against the colonization of Liberia by African Americans. Students can then form alliances with others who have similar goals or views as their own. Students who are undecided will moderate the debate.

Allow each group in the debate to prepare and present a statement in support of their decision. To assist in their presentations, have students read the arguments of others by searching on Liberia and American Colonization Society in African-American Perspectives, 1818-1907 and From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1824-1909.

Students can also use the maps in the collection to substantiate their arguments. Can they point to success in the colonization effort that would warrant more resources? Or do they see failure that would discourage wasting federal funds by assisting the colonists?

Allow each group time to form a rebuttal and to present it to the class. Afterwards, the undecided students can ask questions of the debating parties towards forming their own opinions. Following the debate, take a vote to see how the class believes the money should be spent based on the options suggested by the class. Have the class come out of character and discuss what their experiences were in debating this issue. What frustrations did they encounter? How did their opinions change from what they believed before the debate?

After the debate, students can use Maps of Liberia to consider the historical record and analyze the decisions people made. How would students judge the success of the efforts for equality for African Americans? To inform their analysis, students can Browse the collection Geographic Location. Do the maps depict thriving communities? By 1867, 13,000 emigrants had arrived in Liberia through he efforts of the American Colonization Society. Are these numbers adequate measures of success? What was the experience of African Americans remaining in the United States? Students can browse these collections for perspective:

Based on their research into these collections, have students discuss how they might modify their original decision as to how to spend the federal money.

Historical Research Capabilities

Coupling Maps of Liberia with research of the governing bodies of Liberia will provide students an opportunity to develop their historic research capabilities. Have students create a timeline of the governing bodies of Liberia using the special presentation History of Liberia: A Time Line and books such as those listed in the selected reading list.

The 1853 map of Liberia below indicates when parcels of lands were purchased to expand Liberia. Using this map and outside resources, students can identify who ruled over which lands at different times in the history of Liberia. Which leader saw the greatest growth in Liberia? What factors contributed to this growth? Have students consider both domestic and foreign factors such as land acquisition policies and the American Civil War.

Arts & Humanities

Maps of Liberia, 1830-1870 affords students the opportunity to practice and develop their language arts skills. Through interviews with recent immigrants and mock interviews while role playing, students will develop skills in writing thoughtful, insightful surveys. By creating advertising copy for maps, students can develop their persuasive writing skills and practice targeting audiences. In writing a story of emigration, students can practice and develop their skills of writing from various points of view. In addition, students can chart a journey using the maps and then write stories or journal entries documenting that trip. Students also can write speeches that reflect their opinion on colonizing Liberia.

1) Interviews

One could imagine that the colonists settling in Liberia arrived filled with hope, fear, and uncertainty in this new land. Towards comprehending the Liberian colonists' experiences and emotions, students can interview recent immigrants to America. Perhaps their classmates, parents, or grandparents immigrated. Students could instead interview someone who recently moved into their hometown from another part of the United States.

Have the students develop questions and then conduct the interview. Continuing the study of maps, students can ask the interviewee if they looked at maps of their future home. What did they look for on the map? Did the map prepare them for what they found when they arrived? What surprises did they encounter?

Having gathered these first-person accounts of immigration, students can return to their study of Liberia with new insight. Have students assume the roles of African Americans either in Liberia or planning to emigrate. They can look at maps of Liberia as the immigrants they recently interviewed may have done by browsing the collection by Geographic Location. First-person accounts are also available in the Personal Stories and ACS New Directions section of African-American Mosaic.

Students can then interview one another revising the questions as necessary from their previous interview. Their answers should reflect what they gleaned from the maps as well as the experiences of the recent immigrants they interviewed. They can write up their interviews imitating the styles seen in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940.

2) Persuasive Writing and Imagery

Students can use the maps in the collection to practice the art of persuasive writing. Instruct the students to assume the role of a member of the American Colonization Society with the responsibility of recruiting African Americans to emigrate to Liberia. The ACS has given them funds to reprint 100 copies of one map. They are also able to add text to the map.

Have the students browse the collection by Geographic Location to choose a map they find appealing. They can then write text to accompany the map. Have them consider which African Americans they are targeting in their campaign. What arguments will persuade this audience to leave for Liberia? Will formal or informal writing be most appropriate? (Remind students that most African Americans could not read and so the visual data in the map will be most important in communicating with them.) Students, too, should keep in mind that they are representing the American Colonization Society, which will be mindful of the image it portrays to the public, both its supporters and detractors. For guidance, students can read the writings of the American Colonization Society by searching on the organization's name in African-American Perspectives, 1818-1907 and From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1824-1909. Students can present their final project to the class, which can vote on the most persuasive map.

3) Point-of-View

Children who emigrated to Liberia with their parents would have had their own point-of-view about the idea to leave what had been their home. Students can write an essay or short story expressing the opinions and experiences of a young emigre to Liberia. Browsing the maps in the collection with the Subject Index, have students determine what the child would know about his future home? What would the child be concerned about having in his new home land? For example, places to play, other children to play with, safety from danger, the freedom to be with his family.

In addition, students should incorporate the child's perspective on his conditions in the United States. Is the girl or boy a child of a free or slave family? Does he or she believe leaving for this new land will meet the expectations he has heard people discuss? Would the child prefer to stay in America?

4) Travel Writing

Using the maps of Liberia students can create a travel itinerary in the nation. Have students browse the Subject Index to find a map that will inform their itinerary and can be used to illustrate a story about the trip. In writing the story, students can refer to place names, rivers, people encountered, and weather endured. They can note the elevations and the terrain they traveled. Students may also illustrate their stories with their own drawings based on the map and their imaginations.

To inform their writing, students can read travel stories in "California as I Saw It": First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900.

5) Speeches

A speech requires a special writing style. If the speaker is trying to convey a complicated point, he or she might have to use simple sentences, pace, and repetition to communicate their message. Students can use the maps to inspire a speech about why an African American should or should not relocate to Liberia. Have students browse the Subject Index to find a map that inspires them. They can then write a speech using data from the map as facts that substantiate their arguments. For examples, they may highlight the living conditions, who else is in the land, or what climate and resources one will find in Liberia.

Students may wish to read other people's speeches as guidance. They can search in African-American Perspectives, 1818-1907, and From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1824-1909 on American Colonization Society or sermon.

  • What feeling is conveyed by the language the speaker uses?
  • How does the speaker communicate his main points and keep his audience focused on the main points throughout the speech?
  • How long would it take to present the speech? Would an audience be patient sitting that long? How can the speaker maintain the audience's attention?

Having studied these points, students can incorporate their findings into their own writing. When finished, students can present their speeches to the class.