Title page for ETD etd-06092010-200522

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Wegmann, Andrew N.
Author's Email Address andrewnwegmann@gmail.com
URN etd-06092010-200522
Title Christian Community and the Development of an Americo-Liberian Identity, 1824-1878
Degree Master of Arts (M.A.)
Department History
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Burstein, Andrew Committee Chair
Cole, Gibril Committee Member
Lindenfeld, David Committee Member
  • Liberian
  • Jacksonianism
  • Republicanism
  • Alexander Crummell
  • Edward Wilmot Blyden
  • Joseph Jenkins Roberts
  • history
  • African American history
  • American Colonization Society
  • Americo-Liberian
  • Liberia
Date of Defense 2010-05-05
Availability unrestricted
By the mid-nineteenth century, two separate visions of civilization and Christianity existed in Liberia. On the one hand, the settlers – the emigrants sent from the United States to Liberia by the American Colonization Society starting in 1822 – worshiped the external appearance of a Christian mind and “civilized” western body. They revered those citizens who spoke the best American English, lived in the grandest wood-framed houses, and wore the best American clothes. They required total indoctrination of natives into the “religion of the tall hat and frock coat” to maintain a stable, “civilized” American society. On the other hand, the black-led missionaries – the black Americans and frustrated settlers who broke off from the white-led missionary enterprise in the 1840s and 1850s – promoted the idea of a “civilized,” Christian mind. To them, the “religion of the top hat and frock coat” developed an exaggerated sense of “civility” both in Americo-Liberian society and the few native societies it touched. Accordingly, they worked to inject the native population with an understanding of a single benevolent God, solemn prayer, and spiritual immortality through translated scripture, and pidgin sermons. This split in cultural and religious practice gave rise to a new national and racial identity in the Liberian hinterland based on the pan-Negro principles of Edward Blyden, Alexander Crummell, and John Seys, among others. Led by the black missionaries, a new group of pan-Negro preachers rejected the “total indoctrination” practices of the Americo-Liberians, promoting a sense of racial unity and equality lost in Liberian settler society. They transplanted American-based Jacksonian individualism into the African context, allowing natives to experiment with, and learn the teachings of Christianity on their own. At the same time, however, the Americo-Liberian society, which existed strictly in the urban centers of Monrovia, and coastal settler towns, remained steadfastly American. Americo-Liberian leaders placed innate value on skin color, ancestry, and outward appearance, creating a racialistic meritocracy that banned dark-skinned blacks, and native Africans from the highest echelons of settler society. Both societies were Americo-Liberian by nature, separated by the fundamental difference between rhetoric and reality.
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