IN.gov - Skip Navigation

Note: This message is displayed if (1) your browser is not standards-compliant or (2) you have you disabled CSS. Read our Policies for more information.

Indiana Historical Bureau

Underground Railroad > "Bury Me in a Free Land: The Abolitionist Movement in Indiana", by Gwen Crenshaw > The Colonization Movement The Colonization Movement

"I long to see the day when there will not be a Nigger
in the U.S. I want them all sent away to a country
by themselves and let the Whites be by themselves,
to work out there [sic] Salvation the best they can.''1


The colonization movement began in 1816 as an antislavery response to the dilemma of what to do with free and freed Negroes. Southerners believed that it was dangerous and ill-advised for free blacks to remain in the slave states. But blacks also posed a problem in the free stales. Hoosier Robert Price summed up the North's general attitude: "We don't want them up North. . . . Let the curse stay in the south.''2 The only alternative some saw was gradual emancipation and colonization. In 1817 Samuel Milroy, a member of the Indiana General Assembly, introduced a resolution calling on Congress to colonize blacks in the Far West.3

The idea of colonization was by no means new. Shortly after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson and other prominent leaders of the Revolutionary era proposed colonization as a solution to the paradox of freedom and liberty in America. In 1815, Paul Cuffe, a wealthy free black from Massachusetts, took thirty-eight Negroes to Africa on his own vessel at an expense to himself of three or four thousand dollars.4

About Going to Liberia



The same year that Milroy introduced his proposal to Indiana's General Assembly, the American Colonization Society was formed. Two years later a congressional act authorized President James Monroe "to send beyond the limits of the United States all captured negroes, and to appoint agents, residing on the coast of Africa to receive them.''5 The next year, at the annual meeting of the American Colonization Society, George Washington's nephew, Bushrod, urged that states organize colonization societies and that the states and the national government appropriate money to establish "a settlement on some part of the African coast, to which captives may be sent.''6 Within a few years colonizationists had purchased land and founded Liberia, whose capital--Monrovia--was named for James Monroe.

Members of the Indiana General Assembly invited persons interested in forming an auxiliary of the American Colonization Society to attend an organizational meeting on the evening of January 20, 1820, in the Senate chambers in Corydon. The group resolved, "That the principle and practice of slavery, are wholly unrecognized with the free constitution of the American government, and the best feelings of the American government, and the feelings of human nature." The all-male society asserted that "No exertions which can properly be made for the eradication of this great evil, should be withheld; and that the use of every means which can justly be resorted to, be recommended to the citizens of this State, to check its extension and to accomplish its abolition as far as practicable." The Society's mission was "to aid and assist the American Colonization Society . . . in its laudable and humane intentions." Members paid the Society two dollars annual dues and appointed officers and managers. Governor Jonathan Jennings served as the Society's president; members included some of the most renowned citizens of the state.7


 The Colonizationist



By the 1820s, however, antislavery supporters began to look askance at colonization societies. Up to this time many antislavery laborers had worked avidly for gradual emancipation. Now they questioned the true motive of the colonizationists. Benjamin Lundy, who had believed that freedom for the slave was worth colonization or any other price, altered his views: "I an not anxious," Lundy stated, "to support this measure any further than it will serve the cause of emancipation." He then predicted that it was not possible to colonize every black in the United States "or that it will be necessary that they should be." Moreover, Lundy believed that colonization should only pave "the way for the completion of that grand and benevolent work, the Abolition of Slavery.''8 In Indiana, antislavery Quakers argued that colonization was founded on principles which unfairly forced expatriation of Africans. Colonization, the Friends argued, "as a condition to the slaves being set at liberty, is unjust and oppressive.''9

Nevertheless, gradual emancipation with colonization still appealed to many Americans. On February 7, 1825, the Indiana General Assembly approved a joint resolution which provided for the gradual emancipation of slaves and foreign colonization. The assembly passed this resolution in response to a similar act passed in Ohio in 1824.10 In his 1829 message to the General Assembly Indiana Governor James Brown Ray applauded the efforts of colonizationists and the American Colonization Society. He felt that return of blacks to their land would be the greatest accomplishment of the age: "We long to celebrate the jubilee of freedom--of general and unconditional emancipation, of every soul held in bondage, because his skin is dark. We look forward with fervent hope, to the important era, when we shall see them wending their way across the Atlantic . . ." so that "the next generation might be saved the mortifying spectacle, of beholding the manacled African writhing in his fetters, in the temple of human freedom."11

By the 1830s, however, abolitionists and antislavery zealots vigorously railed against colonization. One antislavery newspaper rejoiced that more astute observers saw the plan as something less than antislavery: "As a scheme of benevolence the Colonization Society is dead. It may, however, replenish its over drawn treasury--it may conduct a greater business of transportation than ever--but still it is dead. It will never gain the confidence of those who really seek the freedom of the slave.''12

Hoosier colonizationists defended their efforts and tried to put the abolitionists and antislavery workers on the defensive. "It has been said," asserted James Cook, a manager of the Indiana Colonization Society, "by those who oppose Colonization, and wish to retain the colored man among us, that the prejudice against the African race is cruel and unjust, [but] no one can dispute its existence, and . . . it is likely to continue.'' 13 But abolitionists unequivocally defined and maintained their position: "We cannot consent upon any contingency that the bondage of a fellow-being shall be prolonged for a single day. We cannot say to him he must go to Hayti . . . to the full enjoyment of his freedom.''14

Colonizationists accused abolitionists of providing no practical solution for the dilemma of slavery and oppression. The Reverend B. T. Kavanaugh, an agent of the American Colonization Society, led the anti abolitionist forces. "They seem disposed," Kavanaugh seethed, "to spare no labor or pains, in searching for all the evils in our disordered world. . . . But where is the remedy?" The abolitionists "aim at arriving the slave and his master over the head of the FEDERAL CONSTITUTION, which is, in its very nature, highly seditious if not treasonable!"15

Colonizationists claimed that their effort was not one of racism but one of consideration. In the spring of 1847, P. D. Gurley, editor of The Colonizationist, a newsletter of the Indiana Colonization Society, defended the organization's goals. "Now," he wrote, "whatever may be the course of others, we sincerely hope that the friends of African Colonization will always and everywhere adhere strictly to the principle of 'speaking the truth in love.' " Gurley further noted that colonizationists spoke the "truth," which was obscured for a time by the dust and smoke of abolitionism "but now is shining again with augmented lustre.''16

Gurley claimed that colonization benefited both free blacks and slaves. "Colonization," he asserted, "is eminently an enterprise of love-- love to the free colored man, whose condition it aims to improve--love to the slave, whose chains it will ultimately break without excitement or bloodshed." He also recognized the benefit of colonization to white Americans and the Union, however, viewing the movement as a labor of "love to the glorious Republican Confederacy, which tends to preserve unbroken, by uniting the North and South in a common effort.''17

Another obstacle helped to defeat the colonizationists' effort: the African slave trade. While colonization societies sent blacks to Africa, slavers brought captured, and sometimes recaptured, Africans to the New World. The illegal African slave trade continued, even though the eighth article of the Treaty of Ghent (1817) forbade it. Both the British and Americans saw a need to address the problem, and in 1842 the United States and Great Britain signed the Webster-Ashburton Treaty. This treaty primarily settled and defined the northeastern boundary of the United States, but its eleventh article addressed the African slave trade.18

Under its provisions the English and American navies were to maintain squadrons off the African coast to capture slavers who kidnapped Africans. Both abolitionists and colonizationists applauded the treaty. If the United States could eradicate the African slave trade, then colonization would be successful. Subsequently, Senator John Pettit of Indiana proposed that Congress appropriate $250,000 to the American Colonization Society to enable it to establish a steamship line.19



Another, perhaps unanticipated, obstacle which colonizationists faced was the response of some of the nation's free blacks. America was the native land of many blacks, and they did not want to return to Africa any more than whites wanted to return to Europe. Free blacks throughout the nation vigorously opposed colonization, and Hoosier blacks were no less avid in their determination to remain in their native land. At a state convention in the winter of 1841-1842 in Madison, Hoosier blacks adopted a resolution which declared, "No well informed colonizationist is a devoted friend to . . . people of color." In January, 1842, free blacks in Indianapolis held a meeting in the Bethel African Methodist Church and endorsed the Madison resolution. Blacks at this meeting also appointed a committee to correspond with others throughout the state in opposition to colonization. Subsequently, blacks in the state expressed an interest in migrating to the Oregon country but opposed African colonization. 20

Article 13.
Negroes and Mulattoes.


Section 1. No negro or mulatto shall come into or settle in the State, after the adoption of this Constitution.
Section 2. All contracts made with any Negro or Mulatto coming into the State, contrary to the provisions of the foregoing section, shall be void; and any person who shall employ such Negro or Mulatto, or otherwise encourage him to remain in the State, shall be fined in any sum not less than ten dollars, nor more than five hundred dollars.
Section 3. All fines which may be collected for a violation of the provisions of this article, or of any law which may hereafter be passed for the purpose of carrying the same into execution, shall be set apart and appropriated for the colonization of such Negroes and Mulattoes, and their descendants, as may be in the Stale at the adoption of this Constitution, and may be willing to emigrate.
Section 4. The General Assembly shall pass laws to carry out the provisions of this article.
Constitution of 1851

In response to this opposition, the somnolent Indiana Colonization Society resurrected itself when "seventeen citizens of the city of Indianapolis . . . agreed to exhume the society." At a November, 1845, meeting the Society's Board of Managers resolved that a representative or representatives of the black community "possessing the confidence of the colored people and the agent of this Society" should go to Liberia and investigate and report on conditions. They subsequently appointed Willis Revels, a free black African Methodist minister from Terre Haute. But the plan backfired when citizens showered Revels with letters protesting his trip and his association with the colonization movement. The minister speedily resigned, to the chagrin of the Society.21

The group accelerated its efforts, however, and Hoosier colonizationists began their own propaganda campaign.22 "A free negro in Indiana," the colonizationist Reverend J. L. Richmond asserted, "is very little better off than a slave in Kentucky.''23 The Reverend Kavanaugh became a leading apologist for the Society's mission and a bitter opponent of abolitionists. Kavanaugh asserted that "The negro in our land is, in birth, an outcast of a different color and race from the majority, and if he pants to be free, he cannot find freedom and equality in any part of the Union." Since blacks were "inferior in numbers, wealth and intelligence," Africa was the "only land . . . where they could be free from the overbearing oppression of the white man.''24

In the 1850s, following passage of the Fugitive Slave Law, colonizationists began a full-scale effort to rid the country of blacks. Just as abolitionists bombarded the nation with antislavery literature, colonizationists conducted a spirited propaganda campaign. One pamphlet, Where Shall We Go, lauded the opportunities that awaited people of color in Liberia. According to the publication Liberia had a republican form of government, exchanged treaties with ten European nations, and was the only place where blacks could govern themselves.25

The third section of Article thirteen of Indiana's 1851 Constitution provided some financial support for the colonization of free black Hoosiers who resided in the state at the time of adoption of the Constitution. In 1857 Governor Joseph Wright urged that the legislature appropriate additional funds for state aid for the colonization of blacks who wished to emigrate. As a basis for his argument for state aid, Wright noted that Hoosiers nearly unanimously adopted Article thirteen of the new Constitution (which prohibited further settlement in this state by blacks) and that colonization benefited everyone. African colonization, according to Wright, promised "so much good to the colored man, as well as a permanent peace and harmony in our own commonwealth.''26


 Thirteenth Article

Courtesy Archives Division, Indiana Commission on Public Records

In the spring of 1852, the legislature approved two measures regarding colonization. The first was a "Joint Resolution on the Subject of the Slave Trade, and for the purpose of Colonization." The resolution was an indictment of the African slave trade, which the Assembly called "a reproach to the Christian world, and a base outrage upon an unfortunate race of our fellow men." The resolution asserted that "Philanthropy and patriotism alike demand an earnest effort to suppress the African slave trade." Colonization, according to members of the state's General Assembly, would suppress the African slave trade and separate the races. The resolution also provided for transporting blacks to Africa without charge to them and for subsidies for a "reasonable period" after settling.27

The 1852 General Assembly also enacted a law which provided for the organization of a state Colonization Board. Under this act the General Assembly appropriated $5,000 for the colonization of Negroes and mulattoes who resided in Indiana before November 1, 1851. Fines collected as a result of violation of Article thirteen of the 1851 Constitution and voluntary contributions were also to be applied to the colonization fund. Three thousand dollars of the money was to be used to purchase a one hundred acre lot in Liberia for each emigrant. Each emigrant was to be given a certificate which entitled him to receive the one hundred acres of land in the African country. The act authorized the Board to give each emigrant fifty dollars, if he needed it, and suggested that whole families be given preference. County treasurers were instructed to receive donations and bequests, and the governor, auditor, and secretary of state were empowered to carry out the provisions for land acquisition in Liberia. The law also provided that the state treasurer receive colonization funds from county treasurers and pay out funds as the state Board ordered. 28


This General Assembly also passed "An Act to Enforce the Thirteenth Article of the Constitution." This act involved collecting money to help with colonization funds. The legislature requested that James Mitchell, then an agent of the American Colonization Society, furnish the legislature with information about Liberia. The House asked whether Indiana should establish a settlement for the "accommodation of her people; what cost would be incurred; and about natural production; health, fertility, location, character of soil, and nature of climate, inhabitants and government.''29

The 1853 General Assembly continued the appropriation for the state Colonization Board to purchase land in Liberia for Indiana emigrants. The 1852 act had provided that one hundred acres of land be given to each emigrant faintly. President Joseph J. Roberts of Liberia, however, informed the Colonization Board that his government was opposed to granting emigrants from any state that much land. He suggested that each emigrant receive ten acres of land in the rich and fertile Cape Mount area "in order that jealousies not be engendered and to keep every emigrant on an equal footing.''30

Though the majority of Indiana's black residents preferred to stay in this country, despite discrimination and prejudice, some did go to Liberia. William Findlay, a free black from Indiana who emigrated, expressed his feelings in a letter to Governor Joseph Wright: "I am much pleased with this country and I do beleave that evry colard man that respects him self as a man would do well to come to this contry." He added that although living conditions were not as good in Liberia as in America, living with dignity was preferable to living in luxury.31 Apparently David Matthews, a free black barber from Delaware County, agreed. Matthews applied for passage to Liberia for himself, his wife, and children in April, 1853.32

In June of the same year, James Mitchell distributed colonization subscriptions to county treasurers to collect money to found a settlement for Indiana's free blacks in Liberia. If the public responded favorably to the effort, Mitchell wrote in the summer of 1853, the Board would send a black agent to Liberia for information and enlist another to "take the field" in Indiana. Indiana colonizationists saw their efforts as successful and subsequently appointed a black A.M.E. minister, John McKay, as Indiana's agent to go to Liberia.
It appears that McKay escorted two groups of Indiana blacks to Africa. In April, 1853, McKay along with six emigrants embarked from Norfolk on the Banshee for the thirty-four day trip to Cape Mount.

While in Liberia, McKay visited Milesborough, White Plains, Clay-Ashland, and the adjoining settlements. He also met with Findlay, who had emigrated from Covington, Indiana, before the adoption of the 1851 Constitution. Findlay, according to McKay, had accumulated forty acres of land at the bank of the St. Paul River with twenty acres of coffee trees. McKay then visited Sierra Leone, the British counterpart to Liberia. Upon his return to the United States, fourteen more black Hoosiers had applied to emigrate to Liberia, and in November, 1853, McKay escorted them to Liberia from Baltimore.33

Upon his return, McKay estimated that fifty more emigrants would embark from New Orleans to sail with him for Liberia. Near the time of departure, however, McKay notified the secretary of the Colonization Board, Thornton A. Mills, also the pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, that the families had changed their minds. McKay told the secretary that anti colonization blacks had exerted influence on the other sojourners and dissuaded them from going. Only one family presented itself to McKay to make the trip and "they were in such a condition of sickness that it was not . . . advisable to send them.''34

Apparently, the anti colonization blacks also exerted pressure on McKay. He resigned his post and "no other colored man could be found suitably qualified" to replace him. The Board also found that it was ill advised to solicit a white for the job because "the labors of white men were too unfavorably received by the colored people to think of engaging them.''35

The Reverend M. M. Clark, "a colored minister of the gospel," was probably the last black from Indiana to apply for passage to Liberia. He applied for and was granted passage in September, 1859. "This eloquent and learned minister of the A.M.E. Church," became a missionary of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Liberia under the jurisdiction of Bishop Burns.36

Despite enormous efforts the Colonization Society in Indiana was a failure, as the movement was elsewhere in the United States. Many free blacks chose not to emigrate, and many enslaved people chose to colonize themselves by escaping to Canada. These intrepid pilgrims seeking freedom fled the land of "whips, chains and Bibles," to where they could be the masters of their fates and the owners of their souls.



Emigrants to Liberia From Indiana

Barque Shirley, November 27, 1852
Samuel B. Webster, 30
Ship Banshee, April 30, 1853
Elvin Ash, 44
Lucinda Ash, 45
Josephine Ash, 10
Gabriel Ash, 8
Nice Ash, 4
Nancy J. Ash, 2

Ship Banshee, November 9, 1853
Joseph Ladd, 28
Susan Ladd, 17
George Washington, 1/2
William Brown, 45
Susan Brown, 28
John Brown, 4
Isabella Brown, 1/4
Cornelius Sims, 49
Elizabeth Sims, 33
Charles Sims, 18
William Sims, 14
Sarah Sims, 12
G. W. Sims, 10
Charlotte Sims, 6
Thomas J. Sims, 4
Jacob Stephenson, 56
Harrison Stephenson, 14
Robert Stephenson, 12
Charles Stephenson, 10
James W. Stephenson, 8
D. Matthews, 37
Alley Matthews, 28
William H. Matthews, 12
Frederick Matthews, 7
David Matthews, 2
Rev. J. McKay, 39


Report of the Secretary of the State Board of
Colonization of the State of Indiana, to the Governor for 1853.

The Impetus for Freedom

Bury Me in a Free Land: Chapter listing