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

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.