Ending the Oceanic Slave Trade - Liberia


“The constitutional barriers of our liberties are over leaped at pleasure... to accelerate the progress to absolute power...” “I have no doubt but Liberia will yet receive a large influx of exiled children returning from bondage in the United States, and, before a life-time elapses, a glorious and perfectly independent government of Negroes...”

10-1. The Abraham Hanson Papers.

Moving and prophetic archive of letters of Abraham Hanson, abolitionist and clergyman who  became America’s first serving Consul General to “the land of liberty,” Liberia - dying there of  “African fever.” Indeed, the first American diplomat permanently assigned to sub-Saharan  Africa, in Hanson’s hands (and his successors), this post was distinguished as the only  resident American diplomatic chief of mission south of the Sahara - til the twentieth century.  The only independent state in Africa, Liberia did not gain diplomatic recognition til 1862,  Lincoln finally overriding Southern politicians, who objected to the notion of receiving foreign  dignitaries who were black. Comprising an intensive aggregation of 44 A.Ls.S. and 1  manuscript sermon (unsigned) of Hanson, 124 and 5 written pp. in his hand, respectively,  1846-66, but largely 1860-up, many from Monrovia, Liberia - including mention of Lincoln.  All to his wife Lydia, in Kenosha, Wis. (with one early exception in Chicago), tracing his ardent  antebellum service, and culminating in his history-making work in that coastal nation  struggling with destiny, til his prophecied death there in 1866 from “African fever” at the age  of just 48. It is especially significant that Hanson’s letters from Monrovia begin on Jan. 21,  1862, long before his nomination by Lincoln in June 1863, and commencement of his  diplomatic duties in 1864. His other letters variously from “At sea near Cape Palmas,” Aurora,  Ill., Beloit, Wis., Chesapeake Bay, Free Town, Sierra Leone, “Island of Gorée” (a slave-trading  center in capital of French West Africa), Liverpool, Milwaukee, New York’s Astor House,  Philadelphia, Racine, and Willard’s Hotel, Washington. • Together with 12 letters and 1  sermon to him or from his papers, 41 pp. • Printed circular, resolution of meeting of N.Y.C.  Colonization Society, held in Middle Dutch Church, May 13, 1840. • Rare manuscript legal  document, “County of Montserrado, Republic of Liberia,” 1852, official copy, paying bill for  boarding, tuition, and clothing of Robert Savage, evidently a black orphan. His expenses may  have been borne by the Colonization Society. Bearing “Republic of Liberia...” embossed paper  seal. In all, 60 items, over 170 written pp., various sizes from about 4½ x 7 to 8 x 10, mainly  larger. A fine writer, his hand usually neat and clear (even when penned with a quill from the  wing of an African eagle!), Hanson’s letters offer a wealth of wisdom and pathos. It is clear  that he knew that his mission - both diplomatic and personal - to foster freedom for blacks,  was placing him under emotional and physical strain. As he foresaw in one letter, he would  pay with his life. Just a few highlights: Traveling between his native Wisconsin and Liberia  (with stopovers in England and other locales): “Religion is the most inspiring in the whole  universe of Truth...I hope to leave in Liberia a history that will bear the most rigid  scrutiny...Have had 3 attacks of African Fever. This is not the place for you. Do not come. I  would rather die alone than jeopardize your life. Abandon the thought of coming...As minister  of the gospel, (am) trying to be useful...All I can do is labor earnestly...At sea near Cape  Palmas. Have had to visit settlements...on commercial affairs. Last mail brought me a new  commission...which exists during the pleasure of the President....” • (Letter of Sept. 4, 1863:)  Referring to the candidate who quit the Liberia post before starting, “If he wanted only the  honor & emoluments, and not the useful work & service to be done here, he certainly was wise. I know of but two motives which will  induce a white man to come to Africa. One is an inordinate love of pain - and the other a philanthropic desire to be useful to a  depressed & injured race... I dare not make any effort to obtain African curiosities. The precarious state of my health precludes much  exertion....” • (Dec. 31, 1863, Washington, as he was preparing to formally assume his diplomatic post in Liberia:) “...I...will not...spare  one effort...to acquit myself like a man, a man who fears God, and loves his races. I do not intend that my family or friends shall ever  blush on account of my name and history...This new and honorable trust committed to me is of a peculiar nature. It has very few  attractive features...A Happy New Year! What events are in the womb for 1864? Who can tell?...” • (Apr. 6, 1864, Monrovia:) “This is a  very critical period in the history of Liberia...I think I begin to see why the Lord sent me here, but the more clearly I see this, the more I  am made to tremble at the thought of my responsibility. I believe that when this Republic has passed, thro’ the ordeal which is now  purging her from baser ingredients, she will begin to gather strength and proportions which will astonish the world...In reference to the  propriety or expediency of your joining me in Africa...can you bear the ocean travel?....” • (Aug. 29, 1864:) “It will take me about one  year yet to show much fruit of my labor. It is not my wish to dazzle the public, by any brilliant superficial display. I do not wish to be a  comet. I had rather be a planet, giving a fixed & steady light! I hope the work which I am endeavoring to do...will tell in eternity. My  attachments to, and confidence in the African race grow stronger as time elapses...They have a rich heritage in earth (which, thank God,  the white oppressor cannot possess)...They will yet, indubitably, establish their identity with the human race, and their just claims to  the universal brotherhood of man. I have no doubt but Liberia will yet receive a large influx of exiled children returning from bondage  in the United States, and, before a life-time elapses, a glorious and perfectly independent government of Negroes (poor and despised  Negroes) will be firmly established upon this benighted Continent of Africa. If I can aid in this blessed consummation I am perfectly  willing to sacrifice my life.”  (Oct. 5, 1864:) “I am scratching this off...with the quill from the wing of an eagle which a week since was soaring above the African  forest or desert....” • (Mar. 25, 1865:) “...There is an exhibition [in Free Town] of the productions and manufactures of the West Coast  of Africa, and I deemed it my duty to my government to come and inform myself....” • (Nov. 3, 1864:) “You need not think of me as in a  land of strangers...There is not a child in Monrovia, not a citizen of Liberia that does not feel a solicitude for my welfare...I think the  feeling is mutual. I would willingly sacrifice my life for these people – they know it – not because I have told them so in words - but  they judge from my acts....” • (Apr. 13, 1865:) “I have been much interested in, and instructed by the Exhibition. Here we have all sorts  of African produce and manufacturers, for examination but not for sale at present. The citizens & officials have been exceedingly  hospitable to me...Besides making several speeches...I have preached...The people are very boisterous when they get happy, & the  children and young people are not so orderly as ours in Liberia. Upon the whole I like Liberia far better than Sierra Leone...Most of the  white Missionaries have their wives with them, but they suffer from the climate... My complexion has reached about the hue of a clean  but unpeeled Irish potatoe....” • (May 14, 1865:) On pictorial lettersheet solicitation of “St. Mark’s Hospital, Cape Palmas, West Africa,  For Seamen, Colonists, and Natives,” listed supporters including “J.J. Roberts, Ex-Pres. of Liberia” and “Lt.-Col. R. Marsh  Hughes...Hon. Sec. of the Strangers’ Home for Asiatics, Africans, and South Sea Islanders.” “This is the bright, beautiful and calm  sabbath morning!...I am trying to keep my mind free from worldly care on this day of rest...During the past week we have had a large  influx of population to Monrovia. A vessel arrived from Barbados...with 346 souls on board. They are scattered round the city wherever  an empty house could be found, or an hospitable family would give them shelter & a welcome. I am very favorably impressed by their  appearance & manners, and have no doubt but those who may survive will be a great blessing to this country. They have not had a case  of sickness on board, but there is something in store for them. A few will sicken and die...Out of 18 emigrants who came out with me in  the Thomas Pope about six of the most healthy & promising are dead. A great deal is chargeable to imprudence in diet...Through the  mercy of our Father in heaven I am as well as most of the people who have been here for 30 years. The West Indians are wending their  way to the different churches. Some are Episcopalians, some Methodists (that is Wesleyans), some Baptists, &c., but nearly all religious  people...I send you by the Brig M.A. Benson one box of Coffee, a few shells....” Mousechew affecting ends of ten lines in Hanson’s hand;  fold wear, but very satisfactory. • (Apr. 1866:) “Returned from Sierra Leone...One passenger a German Jew who was in Confederate  Army - not from principle but force....” • (June 11, 1866 – Hanson’s last letter before his passing:) “...I have been obliged to place myself  under the Dr.’s care...The exhaustion of body from travel, and the excitement of mind from the various scenes through which I passed  added nothing to my stock of health...I do not know when this letter will leave here - but good bye....” Some letters endorsed by his wife  at upper hand, “My Husband.” At top of Apr. 23, 1866 letter, likely in Mrs. Hanson’s hand: “The last letters received before the hand  that wrote them was stilled forever.”  A letter from his friend C. Ellis, Aug. 2, 1866, informing Mrs. Hanson that her husband died July 20: “He took off his ring on Tuesday,  said to send it to sister Martha. Thursday, he was preaching. On morning of 20th July, he passed away.” • Fittingly, the last item in the  archive is the earliest - 1840, when Hanson was just 22 years old - and almost certainly refers to Liberia, which would become Hanson’s  life’s work: Printed circular, resolution of meeting of N.Y.C. Colonization Society, held in Middle Dutch Church, May 13, 1840, 2 pp., 8  x 12, postal markings, signed in type by Joel Parker, Nathaniel S. Prime, and other abolitionists. “...Does not Africa having bled for ages  by the ruffian hand of the white man call for our prompt and cordial response?...How many an African might be elevated from his  present degradation... and from the rubbish, physical and moral, which covers that continent?...Everything connected with the scheme  of Colonization calls aloud...The Slave Trade during the last year has been prosecuted to an almost unexampled extent, except where  prevented by means of our Colonies...The establishment of Colonies along that coast [of Africa] is the only mode which promises the  entire suppression of that inhuman traffic...Several hundred slaves are offered to our Society who must revert to Slavery, unless  colonized within a specified time...Let us show to Africa that we sympathize with her suffering children....” It is evident that this  circular made an indelible impression upon him.  Lincoln and the anti-slavery movement were seeking means of ending the oceanic slave trade. It became Hanson’s historic mission (a  colleague consul was sent to Haiti around the same time) to support Liberia’s population of freed American blacks, and slaves liberated  from ships interdicted by the American and British Navies. The back of the oceanic slave trade was finally broken by 1865, the number  of slaves reaching Cuba dropping from some 30,000 in 1859-60, to only 143. To give further context to the endurance of Hanson’s  pioneering role in Black Africa, it was not until 1943 that an American President paid an official visit to any independent African  nation, Liberia again the host. About 48 letters removed from letter-book, with thin old brown paper hinge strip affixed to respective  final pages with mucilage, judged before 1925, usually covering rightmost portions of text, legible against the light, and removable by a  conservator if desired; some margins of largest items tattered, apparently where they overhung letter-book, with occasional loss of  outlying text; few with mousechew; about three Hanson letters incomplete; varied fold and handling wear and other defects, but nearly  all darkly penned, spanning satisfactory to fine, and on average, about very good. A fascinating archive, certainly unpublished, exuding  the dedication, success, pathos, and ultimate tragedy, of this white abolitionist willing to render his life for the future of American  blacks, in their land of liberty. Hanson material is excessively rare. With CD containing about 34 pages of research findings. $9000-  12,000 (60 pcs.)

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