Emigrants to Liberia – Notes of events which transpired at Cape Palmas, in reference to the difficulties between the American settlers and the surrounding native tribes, in December, 1843

Transcribed from “Information relative to the operations of the United States squadron on the west coast of Africa, the condition of the American colonies there, and the commerce of the United States therewith,” 28th Congress, 2d. Session, S. Doc. 150, serial 458.

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Notes of events which transpired at Cape Palmas, in reference to the difficulties between the American settlers and the surrounding native tribes, in December, 1843.

On anchoring at Cape Palmas with the American squadron on the afternoon of the 6th of December, 1843, Commodore Perry received, by the Rev. Mr. Hazlehurst (Episcopal missionary,) a letter from Governor J. B. Russwurm, of Cape Palmas, of which the following is a copy. At the same time, Mr. Hazlehurst informed Commodore Perry, that, in consequence of the hostile bearing of the natives, he was apprehensive that the lives of the Rev. Mr. Payne and his family, who occupied a mission station at Half Cavally, about twelve miles from the Cape, were in great danger; that the natives had cut off all his supplies, forcibly broken up his school; and unless Mr. P. and his family were rescued, he knew not what might be the consequence.

The Decatur had not yet anchored; and the Commodore immediately sent for Commander Abbot, of that vessel, and directed him to proceed with all despatch down the coast, and to act in the emergency at his best discretion.

Letter of Governor J. B. Russwurm

AGENCY HOUSE,
Cape Palmas, December 6, 1843

Dear Sir: I am happy to hear of the arrival of your squadron. You will find us on landing in the midst of a palaver with King Freeman, which arose from the following event:

Freeman lately called a convention of all the Beach kings and headmen from Fish town to Cavally river, under the ostensible purpose of settling all differences in the country; but before separating they laid an embargo on all trade from Bush or elsewhere, prohibited all natives from working for us, or even carrying a note on board a vessel, under a fine of ten bullocks; raised the price of rice, palm oil, and fowls, to such high rates as are paid no where else; in fact, they wish to extort from us the most extravagant rates for every thing whenever they like.

As matters now stand, we have the Greybo tribe united against us. Heretofore, there have been two parties, independent and jealous of each other. Our most reasonable men have concluded that we can no longer live in amity so close together; and as, according to our treaty of purchase, they own their town sites. The next important query is, what assistance can be rendered us by your squadron, consistent with your instructions, in case they refuse to remove for a reasonable compensation, and we be compelled to use violent measures?

From Rev. Mr. Hazlehurst, who will visit you before you can land, you will be able to learn more particulars of this palaver, which seems to reach almost our whole extent of sea coast.

I have a bag of despatches for the squadron, but hardly deem it prudent to send them off in a canoe.

Your message has been communicated to Freeman, and he has promised to send the news along the beach and into the interior.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

JOHN B. RUSSWURM

Early the following morning, (the 1st instant,) Lieutenant Poor was despatched with a message from Commodore Perry to King Freeman; which, to prevent mistake, was written out the night previous.

The following is a copy:

Memorandum for Lieutenant Poor

UNITED STATES SHIP MACEDONIAN,
Cape Palmas, December 6, 1843

Lieutenant Poor will, on landing, first call on Governor Russwurm, and say to him, that I have directed him (Lieutenant Poor) to call on King Freeman, with a message from me, expressing my regret that any thing should have occurred since my last visit to Cape Palmas to disturb the friendly intercourse between King Freeman and the American settlers; that I propose, in company with some of the officers of the squadron and Governors Russwurm and Roberts, to meet King Freeman and his associate kings and chiefs in palaver, on shore, to morrow at 10 o’clock, in the hope of adjusting all matters in dispute on amicable terms – a result the more desired by me, as it will render unnecessary any resort to the exercise of force, with which I am amply provided.

After relating this message to Governor Russwurm, Lieutenant Poor will, unless the Governor makes objections, proceed to deliver it to King Freeman at his residence. If objections are made by Governor Russwurm, Lieutenant Poor will return on board for further orders.

M. C. PERRY,

Commanding African Squadron


Report of Lieutenant Poor

UNITED STATES SHIP MACEDONIAN
Off Cape Palmas, December 7, 1843

Sir: In obedience to your order of the 6th instant, I called upon Governor Russwurm, and submitted the proposal therein contained. The Governor not objecting, I proceeded to deliver to King Freeman (through the interpreter, Yellow Will) the expressions of your regret at the difficulties which had occurred, since your last visit to the Cape, between the natives, settlers, and missionaries; and, further, that it was your intention to meet him and all the neighboring kings in palaver at 10 o’clock this day, (it being then about 8 A. M.,) in the hope of adjusting all matters amicably, rather than resort to the force with which you were amply provided.

King Freeman said, in answer, that he was ready and willing to meet the Commodore, but that, owing to the distance at which some of the kings interested lived, it would be impossible to summon them before the next day, 8th instant, at 10 A. M.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
C. H. POOR, Lieutenant.

Com. M. C. Perry,
Com’g U. S. Naval Forces, Western Coast of Africa


Notes of a palaver held at Cape Palmas on the 8th of December 1843, and proceedings preliminary thereto.

In an interview with Governor Russwurm on the morning of the 7th, the Commodore was told by him that the native tribes around the Cape had combined against the settlers, to force them to pay higher prices for rice and palm oil than could be exacted by the terms of compact made at the time of settlement; that this object, together with pique at a message sent in reply to their exorbitant demands, had induced the natives to close up all the paths and cut off supplies, both by sea and land; that the settlers were in constant fear of some sudden attack, and consequently were under arms.

Commodore Perry replied, that the colony received its corporate existence from the State of Maryland; and that he, as an officer of the General Government, was not authorized to interfere except where the lives and property of American citizens were endangered; that the private bargains and contracts between the settlers and natives were beyond his cognizance; he would cheerfully render any assistance in their defence against natives, but could not take any offensive measures.

The Commodore also observed that he was quite certain that all matters might be amicably arranged at the palaver appointed for the following day, though, to show the natives what might be the consequence of their persisting in warlike demonstrations, he had ordered several armed boats ashore, with a considerable detachment of marines.

Commodore Perry then sent for King Freeman, of Cape Palmas, and told them that he, (Commodore Perry,) when last at Cape Palmas, received from King Freeman the strongest assurances of friendship for the Americans, and now he found him at open rupture with them. The king replied, that he had been coerced into the measure; that he disapproved it, and would use his influence to have the embargo removed.

About 3 o’clock, a messenger, from one of the outposts of the settlement, came up to the Cape with a note from the commandant of the post, reporting that a large body of armed natives had attempted to pass the guard; that the guard fired, and killed three of them; upon which, the others precipitately retreated. The commandant also reported that he expected every moment an attack, and asked for reinforcement; whereupon, all the armed colonists that could be spared were sent to the post, and, at the request of the Governor, the Commodore directed a detachment of marines to march towards the spot, and accompanied them himself, together with Captain Mayo and others. On the way out, the wives of the colonists were seen proceeding, with their children and most valuable effects, either to the Cape or to the stockade, for safety. Learning, after having arrived within a short distance of the outpost, that the natives had retired into the Bush, the Commodore ordered the marines back to the boats.

During the night, the Decatur returned from Half Cavally, having Mr. Payne, his family and effects, on board.

The following is the report of Commander Abbot, delivered to Commodore Perry, by an officer despatched from the Decatur previous to her anchoring:

UNITED STATES SHIP DECATUR,
Off Cavally, December 7, 1843 — at noon.

Sir: In pursuance of your orders, I repaired to this place, anchored between eight and nine last evening, in ten fathoms water. I immediately wrote, and despatched by my head Krooman, piloted by one of the shore canoes, a communication to Rev. Mr. Payne, a copy of which is enclosed, and at one o’clock this morning received a letter from Mr. Payne, which is also enclosed. In accordance with his views, despatched an armed force, consisting of all the marines, in the launch, 1st and 2nd cutters, and gig, in which I went myself. We left the ship at a little past 6h. 30m., after taking breakfast on board, and were at the mission house a little past eight, although the surf was high, and the landing difficult and bad. Before ten o’clock, the king and chief men of the place were assembled, and we had a grand palaver talk, which I am sorry to say broke up with an unfriendly aspect. They admitted that they had gone contrary to their agreement with the missionary. But what they had done was by King Freeman’s instructions. They said they did not wish war, but must be governed by King Freeman. Their whole bearing seemed to show that they are instigated by King Freeman at Cape Palmas to produce a rupture, and that there is an extensive effort making for a general and combined resistance and warfare against the Americans.

Mr. Payne thought the aspect of things such as to make it advisable and prudent, if not absolutely necessary, for his immediate embarkation on board the Decatur, with his family and the most valuable of his effects, and leave the rest to chance, locked up in his house; in which I and my officers coincided, and the boats are now effecting it. As soon as it is accomplished, I shall hasten to join you at the Cape, only heaving to about three miles on the way, to take off the family of one of his teachers.

This communication will be despatched from the shore in the canoe, as soon as the use of the canoe can be dispensed with.

My statement and talk at the palaver [conference] was such as I believe will meet your approbation, but I have no time to state it in this communication; for I am, in great haste, but most respectfully, your obedient servant,

JOEL ABBOT, Commander

Com. M. C. Perry
Com’g U. S. Naval Forces, Western Coast of Africa.

P. S. – 3 o’clock P. M. – In consequence of your canoe leaving us improperly, without coming alongside from the shore, I despatched one of my boats in haste. Mrs. Payne is on board, but the embarkation is not yet complete. It is possible I may not get up until to-morrow some time.

J. A.


UNITED STATES SHIP MACEDONIAN,
Off Cape Palmas, December 9, 1843.

Notes of a palaver, held at Cape Palmas on the 8th of December, 1843, between Commodore Matthew C. Perry, commanding United States naval forces on the western coast of Africa, assisted by Captain Isaac Mayo, commanding United States ship Macedonian; Commander J. Tattnall, commanding United States ship Saratoga; Governor J. B. Russwurm, Governor of the colony at Cape Palmas; and Governor J. J. Roberts, Governor of the Commonwealth of Liberia – of the one part: and King Freeman, of Cape Palmas; William Davis, (king’s brother,) of Cape Palmas; Ex-King Yellow Will, Half Cavally; Headman Jack Hughes, Rock town; Headman Old Tom, Fish town; Headman Nh, Grahway; Headman Karrah, river Cavally; Pah, river Cavally’s mouth; Boawah, Middletown between Fish and Rock towns; Wah, Half Grahway – of the second part. William P. Rodgers, secretary.

The Commodore stated that he came to hear the matters in dispute between the settlers and natives, and with a view of reconciling them.

Governor Russwurm interpreted the remarks of the Commodore, and proceeded to mention what would be essential to a reconciliation on his part. He required, firstly, that the embargo laid on trade should be taken off; and he justified the demand on the ground that the embargo was a direct violation of the treaty made at the time of settlement, and was in itself essentially injurious and unjust; secondly, that King Freeman should promise not to enter again into any combination against the settlers from doing so. Governor Russwurm stated that time had shown it to be impossible for the settlers and natives to dwell in such proximity; their habits and objects were too dissimilar for them to live harmoniously together; and, as the only means of securing a lasting peace, he proposed, thirdly, that King Freeman should sell the land on which his town stood, and he and his people remove to a neighboring site equally good on the other side of the river; and that, in addition to assigning this land for his residence, he, (Gov. R.,) in behalf of the Colonization Society, would pay King Freeman such sums of money, in five annual installments, as might be mutually agreed upon. Governor Russwurm declared, that unless the natives left the Cape, the settlers must. King Freeman had broken his word three times, and he could no longer trust to his promises of friendship and peace.

King Freeman acknowledged having assented to the law complained of, but denied having broken his promises, and said the settlers must answer for the first breach of faith. King Freeman said there was an article in the deed of sale of the Cape, which made it obligatory on each party to punish with death any of its members who might murder a member of the other; that Mr. Parker, a trader, having shot two Bushmen, was not punished with death according to the compact, and, in consequence, his (Freeman’s) town was set on fire in the night by a party of Bushmen, who, at the same time, proceeded to the house of Mr. Parker, and, in revenge, murdered him and his family.

The embargo was caused partly by the Governor himself, who had expressed his determination not to pay more than a stipulated price for the productions of the country, and at the same time declared that he would sooner “eat grass” than comply with their demands. This expression had irritated the natives, and caused the interdiction of trade. Freeman said that Governor Russwurm would, on very slight occasions, prepare for war, and make hostile demonstrations when the natives desired to keep the peace. He believed the Governor individually to be friendly, but that he was under bad influences; that the day previous three Bushmen had been killed by the settlers, and the friends of the slain looked to him for redress. King Freeman concluded by acknowledging the embargo to be wrong, but pleaded in extenuation that his people had been incensed by the language of Governor Russwurm.

Commodore Perry told Freeman that he and his people had a right to do what they chose with their own goods, but that it was very improper to close up all the paths, and shut out the trade of other people.

King Freeman confessed he was wrong, and acquiesced in a proposition of the Commodore to take off the restriction, and let the market hereafter remain open, the articles of trade to be considered worth what they would bring. He further promised, that there should not again be any difficulty of a similar nature.

The kings and chiefs having each separately expressed their wishes to have the restriction on trade removed, and to be friends again with the settlers, the Commodore recommended them to forget all their old disputes, shake hands, and commence anew.

The Governor then proposed the purchase of the land on which King Freeman’s town stands; but, as the Commodore expressed his determination not to interfere in any question of civil compact unless as a mediator, and as King Freeman wanted time, the subject was not further agitated.

Commodore Perry then said he wished to speak to the chiefs assembled, in regard to the American missionaries, as well as all Americans resorting to or living in Africa. He told them that the President and people of America were kindly disposed towards the tribes on the coast; that the Americans did not wish to take advantage of or oppress the natives, but desired to trade on fair and equal terms; but, while the President cherished this friendship for the African, he would not allow his own countrymen to be treated unjustly or cruelly; that there would always be an American squadron on the coast, to protect American citizens, and chastise any who would injure them; he had instructions to use the force under his command to that effect, and he should most certainly obey them.

The Commodore explained the object and duties of the missionary; he told the assembled chiefs that the missionaries were good men, sent to Africa by private societies of religious persons, to benefit and enlighten the natives; that these missionaries incurred great labor and expense, braved hardships and death, and the only reward expected for this sacrifice was the gratitude of the native; that the missionary society in America had expended very large sums of money, and for all their pains and expenses had received, in many instances, nothing but ingratitude and insult; that, the day previous, he had been obliged to send a ship of war to Half Cavally, to remove Mr. Payne, his family, and effects, beyond the reach of the ungrateful natives; that the Cape Palmas people has also displayed a hostile disposition towards the missionaries residing near them. The Commodore asked the kings if they had any excuse for this behaviour.

King Freeman replied, that he had amicably arranged all matters with the American settlers, and did not wish to have them reopened; he promised to be friendly to the missionaries, and to allow his boys and girls to return to them for instruction.*

Commodore Perry then called upon Yellow Will, king of Half Cavally, for explanation, why he had treated Mr. Payne and his family so badly. Commodore Perry remarked to Yellow will, that he had heard, from good authority, that Mr. Payne had settled among them at their own request, and for their own advantage, under a solemn promise of protection and kind treatment; that they had delivered to his charge many children for education, and now had broken up his schools, and threatened the lives of Mr. Payne and his family.

Yellow Will, evidently under much apprehension, acknowledged that he and his people had been wrong; that, when Mr. Payne was coming away, he begged him to remain, but that gentleman said he was determined not to stay. He said he was willing to apologize to Mr. Payne, beg his pardon, assist him to re-establish himself at Half Cavally, and promise not to molest him again. Upon the demand of Commodore Perry, he agreed to be answerable for the safety of the mission house and property during the absence of Mr. Payne.

Commodore Perry told him that it would be a just punishment if Mr. Payne should decline returning; he explained the nature of a missionary’s appointment; that if one ever behaved improperly, on representation of his conduct to the society which employed him, he would be removed; that he (the Commodore) would forward any authentic report to the United States; he reminded them that the missionaries always established themselves amongst the natives with their free consent, and often by invitation; and that timely objection would prevent the settlement of the missionaries.

Commodore Perry told the kings that the President and Secretary of the Navy were kind men; and that he, (Commodore Perry,) as well to please them as to indulge his own feelings, was disposed to settle these matters with as much lenity as was consistent with his duty; but that hereafter there would be ships of war always on the coast, to punish all who in any wise might maltreat American citizens; that the captains of all the ships of the squadron had the same instruction as he had.

The Commodore concluded by saying, he was quite glad to hear, from good authority, that none of the kings or chiefs present were engaged in the slave trade; if they had been, he should have felt bound to have declined all palaver with them, and to declare them enemies of the United States.

WILLAM P. RODGERS,
Commodore’s Secretary.

Approved.              M. C. PERRY,
Com’g U. S. Naval Forces, Western Coast of Africa


*At the commencement of the difficulties between the natives and settlers, the former had withdrawn their children from the missionaries, to whom they were apprenticed for instruction.