VCDH Launches 'Virginia Emigrants to Liberia' Website
Oct. 1, 2008: Virginia Emigrants to Liberia, a new website directed by scholars affiliated with the Virginia Center for Digital History (VCDH) at the University of Virginia, opens a window into the lives of free black and enslaved Virginians, the trans-Atlantic world they inhabited, and the African nation they helped to found.
Between 1820 and 1865, some 3,700 African Americans left Virginia for Liberia, the West African settlement founded by the American Colonization Society (ACS). About one-quarter of these emigrants were free blacks, the rest newly manumitted slaves, most freed upon the condition of their voluntary resettlement in the ACS-governed colony (1820-1847) and independent black republic (1847-present) across the Atlantic. More than two hundred white Virginians emancipated slaves for emigration.
Through the Virginia Emigrants to Liberia website
, researchers can gather census-like information on individual emigrants from a searchable database, read stories about emigrants and emancipators, and easily access related online resources. The database enables historians and genealogists to collect and analyze data not usually available for enslaved people, such as surnames and family relationships, and connect people to localities on both continents.
The website features a variety of resources, the heart of which is a searchable database of emigrants and emancipators. The Emigrants table is searchable by first and last name, place of origin in Virginia, ship, emancipator, and destination in Liberia. It provides detailed shipboard census information often including full names, family relationships, occupation and literacy; data from the 1843 Liberian census; and additional information from ACS and First African Baptist Church (Richmond) records. The Emancipator table is searchable by surname, county, and year of emancipation.
Other resources on the website include ten stories of emigrants and emancipators, representing a range of experiences. For example, emigrant Hilary Teage wrote the Liberian Declaration of Independence in 1847 and Joseph Jenkins Roberts became the world’s first African American president. Harriet Graves Waring became a reluctant founding mother, and Augustus Curtis participated in the slave trade (Roberts avowed Curtis was the only African American who did so) and lived among the Vai people. Patrick Bullock and his family felt abandoned as they endured illness and starvation.
Broadly collaborative in design, the Virginia Emigrants to Liberia project builds on the painstaking research of two leading historians of Virginia colonization: Dr. Marie Tyler-McGraw, author of the book An African Republic: Black and White Virginians in the Making Of Liberia (University of North Carolina Press, 2007), and Dr. Deborah A. Lee, who has researched and written on women colonizationists, the Underground Railroad, and antislavery in the mid-Atlantic region. It features as well an illustrated essay by Harvard University doctoral candidate Dalila Scruggs. Scruggs analyzed images produced by black settlers and white colonizationists to better understand underlying cultural beliefs and how they were used to promote the colonization movement in the antebellum United States.
The web project was funded by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the database developed in partnership with the Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County.
VCDH Director Scot French hailed the project as a major step toward expanding public awareness of the Virginia colonization movement’s social, cultural, and geopolitical dimensions, as well as a research and teaching tool with great potential for development and expansion. "I’m thrilled that Deborah Lee and Marie Tyler-McGraw chose to work with VCDH on this project. These two scholars, working in traditional archives, conducted research of enormous significance to the study of slavery, freedom, race, and nationality on both sides of the Atlantic. Now, through this unique website, they have made their findings widely accessible to the public as searchable data, narrated stories, and scholarly essays."
Now in its tenth year, the Virginia Center for Digital History is committed to advancing knowledge through the application of digital technologies to history and related fields of scholarly inquiry; designing and developing innovative applications of technology in consultation with historians and other project partners, and facilitating exchanges among educators with a shared commitment to transforming how history is taught, learned and accessed in the Digital Age.
Scot A. French
Director / Associate Professor
Virginia Center for Digital History
Alderman Library ~ Taylor Room
P.O. Box 400116
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4116
Phone: 434-924-3804 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Visit the website at http://www.vcdh.virginia.edu/liberia
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