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Stockton Expedition 1821

In 1816, Henry Clay and other leading colonizationist formed the American Colonization Society [ACS]. Prominent Americans such as Henry Clay, John Randolph of Roanoke, and Justice Bushrod Washington were members of the American Colonization Society during its early years. Many free African-Americans, however, including those who had supported Paul Cuffee's efforts, were wary of this new organization.

The American Colonization Society sent its first group of immigrants to Sherbro Island in Sierra Leone in 1820. The island's swampy, unhealthy conditions resulted in a high death rate among the settlers as well as the society's representatives. The British governor allowed the immigrants to relocate to a safer area temporarily while the ACS worked to save its colonization project from complete disaster. Faced with a series of failures and mounting cost, the ACS turned to the United States Government for help.

President Monroe ordered Captain Robert Field Stockton of the United States Navy to the West Coast of Africa. In December 1821, Captain Stockton arrived in Sierra Leone in his newly commissioned vessel, The Alligator, and proceeded to Cape Montserrado with Dr. Eli Ayres, the American Colonisation Society agent. Ayres sought to purchase land farther north up the coast from Sierra Leone. With the aid Stockton, Ayres cruised the coastal waters west of Grand Bassa seeking out appropriate lands for the colony.

Stockton took charge of the negotiations with leaders of the Dey and Bassa peoples who lived in the area of Cape Mesurado. At first, the local leaders were reluctant to surrender their peoples' land to the strangers. King Peter accused the Americans of slaving, and his delegation opted to call off the ceremony because they did not trust the Americans and their cargo - freed slaves. But Stockton forced King Peter -- some accounts say at gun-point -- and other indigenous rulers of the cape, at the barrel of a gun, to sign a treaty which ceded land from the indigenous people to the African-American settlers. On 15 December 1821 Stockton forcefully persuaded King Peter to part with a "36 mile long and 3 mile wide" strip of coastal land for trade goods, supplies, weapons, and rum worth approximately $300.

Ayres and Stockton signed agreements with King Peter, King George, King Zoda, King Long Peter, King Governor and King Jimmy- "...Dozoa Island and also all that portion of land bounded north and west by the Atlantic Ocean, an on the south and east by a line drawn in a south-east direction from the north of Mesurado River......" Thus was born the state of Liberia. Ayres and Stockton traded various items for this purchase, including tobacco, muskets, beads, gunpowder, iron, pots, hats, coats, pipes, shoes, canes, etc.

The purchase soon came under a cloud when the African chiefs pointed out that the treaty was worthless since land cannot be bought and sold. After the departure of Captain Stockton, the Dey, Golah,and Vai warriors formed an alliance and attempted to forcibly evict the Americans. On hearing about the imminent threat to their existence, Dr. Eli Ayres appealed for help from King Sabsu, (He was also called, King Sao, King Boatswain; his real name was "Sao", the "bsu" was the way his people pronounced "boatswain") of Bopulu, the most dominant indigenous leader in the region. During the 1822 crisis, King Sabsu arrived on the coast with a massive force, and warned the Dey, Golah, and Vai kings, that he would behead anyone who interfered with the Americans. Disease and mosquitoes further complicated the process but on 25 April 1822 the first Afro-Americans set foot on the soil of Liberia.

Robert Field Stockton was born in Princeton, New Jersey, on 20 August 1795. He was appointed a Midshipman in the U.S. Navy at the age of sixteen, serving at sea and ashore during the War of 1812. After that conflict, Lieutenant Stockton was assigned to ships operating in the Mediterranean, in the Caribbean and off the coast of West Africa. While on the latter station, he helped negotiate a treaty that led to the founding of the state of Liberia. During the later 1820s and into the 1830s, he primarily devoted his attention to business affairs in New Jersey.

In 1838, Stockton resumed active Naval service as a Captain. He served in the European area, but took leave in 1840 to undertake political work. Offered the post of Secretary of the Navy by President John Tyler in 1841, he declined the offer, but worked successfully to gain support for the construction of an advanced steam warship with a battery of very heavy guns. This ship became USS Princeton (1843-1849), the Navy's first screw-propelled steamer, whose construction he oversaw and which he commanded when she was completed in 1843. Captain Stockton was absolved of responsibility for the February 1844 explosion of a gun on board the ship that killed two cabinet officers and several others. With the temporary title of Commodore, Stockton commanded Naval forces in the Eastern Pacific, and was instrumental in taking California from Mexico in 1846-47.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:35:27 Zulu