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    Joseph Jenkins Roberts Autograph Letter Signed. Two and a half pages; 9" x 11"
    Monrovia, Liberia; February 8, 1847

    A great content letter from Joseph Jenkins Roberts written 8 months before being elected president of Liberia to Quaker businessman and supporter Benjamin Coates in Pennsylvania. In part: "...I am becoming, Sir, more and more convinced of the impracticality of obtaining for the people of Color in the United States equal rights. It cannot be accomplished in the manner proposed by our ultra abolition friends, and they had as well give up the chase. The elevation of the Colored race is to be the work of their own hands; and in a separate community. Then their intercourse with the whites will be reciprocal, each finding it his interest to be civil. The two races, Sir, as you remember I remarked to you in a former occasion, cannot, as forming one community, live together in peace, and on terms of equality. There are deep rooted prejudices on both sides that, in my opinion, can be eradicated in no other way... By this vessel I have drawn on Rev Mr McLain, on acct of my salary, for two thousand dollars in favor of Mr Cresson and Dr Day $1000. each, the only means I know of extricating myself from the unfortunate 'Echo' business. I should loose by that operation, I fear, several thousand dollars; as I find it almost impossible to collect the large amts I have outstanding. Well the experience may be of service hereafter... I have requested Mr Edward J. Roy, who takes passage in this vessel for the U.S. to bring out his children, and lay in a supply of goods, to call on you before he makes his purchases. He has promised to do so, though he thinks the New York market cheaper than yours. He takes with him about $2000 in cash, and has some property in Ohio which he intends to sell, and vest in goods. You may perhaps remember having heard of him; he came to the Colony last June in the 'Chatham' from New York in company with your Cornish... I am / Dr sir, very respectfully, / Your obt Srvt / J. J. Roberts." With integral address cover made our in Roberts' hand, postmarked "Baltimore MD / Apr 7".

    The "unfortunate 'Echo' business" to which Roberts refers is a bit obscure. On August 10, 1844, Roberts chartered the brig Echo to sail from Philadelphia to Monrovia, with new settlers for Liberia. Perhaps they or their sponsors were supposed to pay for a portion of the cost of chartering the Echo, but Roberts had been unable to obtain payments.

    Among the emigrants on the Echo were the former slaves of John Rex of North Carolina. In April 1845, the Echo returned to the United States bearing legal documents related to the estate of John Rex (1771-1839), who had freed his slaves in his will and bequeathed funds to support them in Liberia. The North Carolina Supreme Court found the documents "totally insufficient in form & in substance." Only in 1855 after an act of the North Carolina legislature did the court order the payment of more than $7,000 from the Rex estate, and it took almost a year before arrangements could be made to get the money to sixteen former Rex slaves in Liberia. Finally, on August 13, 1856, the first of the money was distributed. Another payment arrived in January 1857.

    Joseph Jenkins Roberts (1809-1876) was born a free African American in Norfolk, Virginia, the son of a Welsh planter and his mulatto slave concubine. His father freed his mother and her children when she was still young. She married James Roberts, a free black man, who raised her children as his own. Joseph Roberts likely had seven-eighths European ancestry. He grew up working on a flatboat on the James River. His family moved to Petersburg. In 1829, Roberts emigrated to the African coast with his mother and most of his siblings under the sponsorship of the American Colonization Society. In Monrovia, he and two of his brothers established an import/export business. After his first wife and child died within a year of arriving in Africa, he remarried in 1836 to Jane Rose Waring, who had also migrated to Liberia with her parents. In 1833, Roberts became high sheriff of the colony, and in 1839, the American Colonization Society appointed Roberts vice governor. After Governor Thomas Buchanan died in September 1841, the society appointed Roberts as the first black governor of Liberia. In 1846, he asked the legislature to declare independence, and in a referendum, voters chose independence. On July 26, 1847, Roberts declared Liberia independent. He won the first presidential election in October and assumed office in January 1848 as the first president of Liberia. He won re-election three times and served until 1856. After his presidency, Roberts served as a major general in the Liberian Army and as diplomatic representative to France and Great Britain. He returned to the presidency for two terms from 1872 to 1876.

    Benjamin Coates (1808-1887) was born in Pennsylvania into a Quaker family and attended the William Penn school before entering business as a dry goods merchant and later wool merchant. He was actively involved in abolition, education, and colonization. As a member of the American Colonization Society from 1835, Coates actively worked with Joseph Jenkins Roberts to encourage emigration to Liberia as the best strategy for ending slavery in the United States and give African Americans a positive fresh start. In 1869, Coates became a partner in the publishing firm of Porter & Coates in Philadelphia.

    Condition: Flattened mail folds, with bits of paper loss affecting a few words at fold intersections and where wax seal has been removed. Docketing on the integral address cover, possibly by the recipient, and with a few notations in pencil by a previous collector. Light toning at folds.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    January, 2019
    15th Tuesday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 2
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