1841 - Theodore Canot, Captain and Slave Trader
A Promising Colony
It is not my intention to tire the reader with an account of Liberia, for I presume that few are unacquainted with the thriving condition of those philanthropic lodgments, which hem the western coast of Africa for near eight hundred miles.
In my former visits to Monrovia, I had been regarded as a dangerous intruder, who was to be kept for ever under the vigilant eyes of government officials. When my character as an established slaver was clearly ascertained, the port was interdicted to my vessels, and my appearance in the town itself prohibited. Now, however, when I came as a fugitive from violence, and with the acknowledged relinquishment of my ancient traffic, every hand was extended in friendship and commiseration. The governor and council allowed the landing of my rescued slave-goods on deposit, while the only two servants who continued faithful were secured to me as apprentices by the court.
Scarcely more than two months ago, the people of this quiet village were disturbed from sleep by the roll of drums beating for recruits to march against "the slaver Canot;" to-day I dine with the chief of the colony and am welcomed as a brother! This is another of those remarkable vicissitudes that abound in this work, and which the critics, in all likelihood, may consider too often repeated. To my mind, however, it is only another illustration of the probability of the odd and the strangeness of truth!
I had no difficulty in finding all sorts of workmen in Monrovia, for the colonists brought with them all the mechanical ingenuity and thrift that characterize the American people. In four months, with the assistance of a few carpenters, sawyers and blacksmiths, I built a charming little craft of twenty-five tons, which, in honor of my British protector, I dubbed the "Termagant." I notice the construction of this vessel, merely to show that the colony and its people were long ago capable of producing every thing that may be required by a commercial state in the tropics. When my cutter touched the water, she was indebted to foreign countries for nothing but her copper, chains and sails, every thing else being the product of Africa and colonial labor. Had nature bestowed a better harbor on the Mesurado river, and afforded a safer entrance for large vessels, Monrovia would now be second only to Sierra Leone. Following the beautiful border of the Saint Paul's, a few miles from Monrovia the eye rests on extensive plains teeming with luxurious vegetation. The amplest proof has been given of the soil's fertility in the production of coffee, sugar, cotton and rice. I have frequently seen cane fourteen feet high, and as thick as any I ever met with in the Indies. Coffee-trees grow much larger than on this side of the Atlantic; single trees often yielding sixteen pounds, which is about seven more than the average product in the West Indies. Throughout the entire jurisdiction between Cape Mount and Cape Palmas, to the St. Andrew's, the soil is equally prolific. Oranges, lemons, cocoanuts, pine-apples, mangoes, plums, granadillas, sour and sweet sop, plantains, bananas, guyavas, tamarinds, ginger, sweet potatoes, yams, cassava, and corn, are found in abundance; while the industry of American settlers has lately added the bread-fruit, rose apple, patanga, cantelope, water-melon, aguacate and mulberry. Garden culture produces every thing that may be desired at the most luxurious table.
Much has been said of the "pestilential climate of Africa," and the certain doom of those who venture within the spell of its miasma. I dare not deny that the coast is scourged by dangerous maladies, and that nearly all who take up their abode in the colonies are obliged to undergo the ordeal of a fever which assails them with more or less virulence, according to the health, constitution, or condition of the patient. Yet I think, if the colonization records are read with a candid spirit, they will satisfy unprejudiced persons that the mortality of emigrants has diminished nearly one half, in consequence of the sanitary care exercised by the colonial authorities during the period of acclimation. The colonies are now amply supplied with lodgings for new comers, where every thing demanded for comfort, cure, or alleviation, is at hand in abundance. Colored physicians, who studied their art in America, have acquainted themselves with the local distempers, and proved their skill by successful practice. Nor is there now the difficulty or expense which, twelve years ago, before the destruction of the neighboring slave marts, made it almost impossible to furnish convalescents with that delicate nourishment which was needed to re-establish their vigor.
It may not be amiss if I venture to hope that these colonial experiments, which have been fostered for the civilization of Africa as well as for the amelioration of the American negro's lot, will continue to receive the support of all good men. Some persons assert that the race is incapable of self-government beyond the tribal state, and then only through fear; while others allege, that no matter what care may be bestowed on African intellect, it is unable to produce or sustain the highest results of modern civilization. It would not be proper for any one to speak oracularly on this mooted point; yet, in justice to the negroes who never left their forests, as well as to those who have imbibed, for more than a generation, the civilization of Europe or America, I may unhesitatingly say, that the colonial trial has thus far been highly promising. I have often been present at difficult councils and "palavers" among the wild tribes, when questions arose which demanded a calm and skilful judgment, and in almost every instance, the decision was characterized by remarkable good sense and equity. In most of the colonies the men who are intrusted with local control, a few years since were either slaves in America, or employed in menial tasks which it was almost hopeless they could escape. Liberia, at present, may boast of several individuals, who, but for their caste, might adorn society; while they who have personally known Roberts, Lewis, Benedict, J. B. McGill, Teage, Benson of Grand Bassa, and Dr. McGill of Cape Palmas, can bear testimony that nature has endowed numbers of the colored race with the best qualities of humanity.
Nevertheless, the prosperity, endurance and influence of the colonies, are still problems. I am anxious to see the second generation of the colonists in Africa. I wish to know what will be the force and development of the negro mind on its native soil,--civilized, but cut off from all instruction, influence, or association with the white mind. I desire to understand, precisely, whether the negro's faculties are original or imitative, and consequently, whether he can stand alone in absolute independence, or is only respectable when reflecting a civilization that is cast on him by others.
If the descendants of the present colonists, increased by an immense immigration of all classes and qualities during the next twenty-five years, shall sustain the young nation with that industrial energy and political dignity that mark its population in our day, we shall hail the realized fact with infinite delight. We will rejoice, not only because the emancipated negro may thenceforth possess a realm wherein his rights shall be sacred, but because the civilization with which the colonies must border the African continent, will, year by year, sink deeper and deeper into the heart of the interior, till barbarism and Islamism will fade before the light of Christianity.
But the test and trial have yet to come. The colonist of our time is an exotic under glass, - full, as yet, of sap and stamina drawn from his native America, but nursed with care and exhibited as the efflorescence of modern philanthropy. Let us hope that this wholesome guardianship will not be too soon or suddenly withdrawn by the parent societies; but that, while the state of pupilage shall not be continued till the immigrants and their children are emasculated by lengthened dependence, it will be upheld until the republic shall exhibit such signs of manhood as cannot deceive the least hopeful.
Captain Canot; Or, Twenty Years of an African Slaver; Being an Account of his Career on the Coast, in the Interior, on Shipboard, and in the West Indies
Written out and Edited from the Captain's Journals, Memoranda and Conversations, by Branzt Mayer
New York/London 1854