Description

    Letters from Monrovia

    American Colonization Society in Monrovia: Ezekiel Skinner Archive of Letters and Manuscripts. An archive of fifteen letters and several manuscripts (a total of 71 handwritten pages) by Dr. Ezekiel Skinner written during the years 1834 through 1836 from various places along the West African coast. The majority of the letters are addressed to his family and written in the style of a journal, but there are also retained copies of Skinner's official correspondence as an officer of the Society. Content touches various topics such as living conditions, missionary work, interaction with native Africans, medical care of the emigrants, and much more.

    The earliest letter is dated August 30, 1834, and is a retained copy of a correspondence addressed to the "Corresponding Secretary of the A.C.S." reporting on his arrival: "Monrovia... I expect that our friends have given us up for lost... While I fear than many are spreading before the public the disastrous scenes of fatality here, with triumphant joy. Let me assure you dear sir, that I rejoice I am here... Two of our number Dr. McDowell and Miss Sharpe have passed through the primary attack of the fever... I have saved several lives I have no doubt by the decided bold use of the Lancet."

    In a letter dated Nov. 2, 1834, Skinner gives an overview of his missionary work: "I have wrighten [sic] to you the number of Baptist professors in this colony and their distribution in the various villages, my first object was to form seperete [sic] churches if possible in each village; I found a disposition manifested by the first church to prevent if possible the formation of my new church in the colony... In the first church is all the opposition to the government of Mr Pinney..." The rest of the densely scribed two page letter gives a detailed description of medical care given to emigrants and to his fellow doctor Charles Webb. "Monday 13th a boat was dispatched to bring Mr Finley from Millsburg. Patients much the same both bled Seorl 15 ounces and Webb 30, both took calomel once in six hours Webb took Launim twice to day without procuring ease or sleep... Tuesday 14 Symptoms and treatement [sic] much the same except bleeding which was not continued in Mr. Seorls case an attempt to procure sleep by opium... Wed 15th... Seorl & Webb much as yesterday calomel persued [sic] bleeding continued in Webb..." The "Twentieth Annual Report of the American Society for Colonizing the Free people of Color" (Washington: James C. Dunn. 1837) makes mention of Webb. He is described as "the colored Medical student who emigrated to the Colony". According to the report, Webb would not survive his illness. Skinner's notes provide details regarding Webb's illness and death.

    In addition to his medical duties, Skinner was tasked with negotiating to acquire land for future settlements. He describes his first such outing in a letter (3 pages, 7.75" x 13.75") dated November 29, 1834: "Monday 17th made Arangements [sic] to visit Junk river and Grand Bassa with Mr Pinney and Mr Finley to make arrangements for emigrants expexted [sic] from Pensylvania [sic]. The mouth of Junk river is distant from this on the sea shore 40 miles; and the river St Johns at Grand Bassa 70 miles the first is ours the last we are attempting to purchase... staid at a native town and had my first interview with an African Monarch King Gray... Thursday 20 moved down the river without breakfast about 5 miles below this town and after passing two more we came to another principal branch of the river as big as that on which we were descending... about two miles from the mouth upon the Northe east side if this branch is the spot fixed for a Settlement where men are imployed [sic] in clearing the ground and erecting houses for the emigrants... This river and bay abounds with exelent Oysters... I would observe of King Peter that he is the most majestic figure of a man that I have seen in Africa... Monday 24th visited Bassa Cove the spot we were indeavouring [sic] to purchase; here is a Slave factory which we visited from which hundreds are shipped for the West Indies to perpetual Slavery every year... I should have assumed the profession of a soldier instead of that of the Preacher and should have taken carnal instead of Spiritual weapons and have spread death and destruction to all that I found ingaged [sic] in this horrid traffick... arrived at Monrovia on Thursday 27th... The native men have a string past between their legs and fastned [sic] round the waist... The Women wear a strip of cloth..."

    Despite the hardships endured, Skinner remains devout to his mission. On December 13, 1834, he writes to Augustus Bolles: "For Philadelphia I am a friend to a rational System of Abolition in America; and am a strong friend to Colonization; because I am persuaded that no other means exists, by which the foreign Slave trade; and domestic Slavery in Africa can be abolished... It is not the removal of a few concerned people from America that is the grand object of this institution, but to civilize and Christianize Africa..."

    In 1835, James B. Pinney retired from his post as Colonial Agent and Skinner was appointed his temporary successor. This archive contains a retained copy of a letter addressed to Mahlon Dickerson (4 pages, 7.5" x 10.25") dated in April 1836. Skinner writes as Colonial Agent: "I am acting as Agent of the Colonization Society I will indevour to act as Agent of the general Government of the United States in strict conformity to the instructions... received from the Naval Department... " His letter reports on the recent arrival of emigrants and the lands they have claimed. Skinner then tells the story of Harvey Taylor, a recent escapee from a Spanish slaving vessel who is claiming to be a US citizen and requests permission to draw on funds to help pay for Taylor's medical expenses. He addresses the topic of the slave trade, and asks for arms to help protect the settlement from aggressors: "the slave trade has been more extensively carried on since I arrived here last than it was a year ago & Balswoins men are carrying on war within 12 miles of this place amongst the [paper loss] people for the sole object of obtaining slaves. Spanish vessels rove upon the coast to what they were a few months ago as the British warships now capture all vessels on the coat of Africa Sailing under the Spanish flag. Balswoin's people threaten to invade the D ays on our purchased territory in which we shall be obliged to fight them. It would be much for the benefit of the Colony and safety of the people if the general government would send us two light Brass four pounders and forty rifles... I think that an occasional visit of some of the Ships of war of the United States would be beneficial, it would not only add to our safety & diminish the slave trade but would add to the safety of all American vessels trading on the coast..." With dampstaining and paper loss affecting the top three lines of text intermittently.

    In addition to Skinner's letters, this archive also contains drafts of letters and detailed medical manuscripts. One such manuscript is titled "Dissection" (2 pages, 7.75" x 12.5") and includes additional medical notes on the deaths of Charles Webb and Israel Seorl. Overall condition of letters is varies from good to near fine, with occasional dampstaining. A typed transcript of the entire archive is included.

    Ezekiel Skinner studied medicine under Declaration signer Benjamin Rush. His first trip to Africa was inspired by the death of his son Benjamin Rush Skinner. The younger Skinner had been serving as a minister in Monrovia when he succumbed to illness within a year of his arrival in 1831. Although almost sixty years old, Skinner believed it was his duty to continue the work of his son. He travelled to Africa on two occasions beginning in 1834, finally returning to the United States in 1837. These letters cover both trips and provide great information about the day to day challenges faced by the emigrants.


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