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Joseph Jenkins Roberts


On board the Harriet, Joseph Jenkins Roberts was, like Abdul Rahman, traveling to Liberia. As a twenty-year-old free black man, born in Virginia, he was emigrating to an Africa that he had never known but that promised a new life, free of the codes that restricted the day-to-day activities of black people in the United States.

Joseph Jenkins Roberts

Born in 1809, he grew up working on a flatboat with his stepfather. In addition, he served as an apprentice in a barbershop; the African American owner of the shop allowed Roberts access to his library and, through the books there, to explore a new world of knowledge. He and his extended family wanted to emigrate to Liberia for the same reason as many other emigrants: they wanted to escape the grinding experience of racism and repression of life in Virginia.

Liberia on a Map of Africa

In Liberia, Roberts engaged in a trade partnership with the barber to whom he had apprenticed in the United States, exporting goods from Liberia to the U.S. He was appointed vice governor of Liberia by the American Colonization Society, then later the first African American governor of the country. Upon Liberia's independence in 1847, Roberts was elected the country's first president, serving for six years, then later also served as its seventh president. Between presidencies he taught and served as president of the newly founded Liberia College.

Liberia College