[THE PRESIDENT OF LIBERIA EXPRESSES HOPE THAT FREDERICK DOUGLASS WILL NOT BE ARRESTED FOR HIS ROLE IN JOHN BROWN’S FAMOUS RAID ON HARPERS FERRY]; A letter from the President of Liberia to an important Philadelphia abolitionist and member of the American Colonialization Society. President Stephen Allen Benson.
[THE PRESIDENT OF LIBERIA EXPRESSES HOPE THAT FREDERICK DOUGLASS WILL NOT BE ARRESTED FOR HIS ROLE IN JOHN BROWN’S FAMOUS RAID ON HARPERS FERRY]; A letter from the President of Liberia to an important Philadelphia abolitionist and member of the American Colonialization Society
[THE PRESIDENT OF LIBERIA EXPRESSES HOPE THAT FREDERICK DOUGLASS WILL NOT BE ARRESTED FOR HIS ROLE IN JOHN BROWN’S FAMOUS RAID ON HARPERS FERRY]; A letter from the President of Liberia to an important Philadelphia abolitionist and member of the American Colonialization Society

[THE PRESIDENT OF LIBERIA EXPRESSES HOPE THAT FREDERICK DOUGLASS WILL NOT BE ARRESTED FOR HIS ROLE IN JOHN BROWN’S FAMOUS RAID ON HARPERS FERRY]; A letter from the President of Liberia to an important Philadelphia abolitionist and member of the American Colonialization Society

Monrovia, Liberia: 23 January 1860. Envelope or Cover. This signed letter from Liberian President Steven A. Benson is datelined “Government House / Monrovia Jan 23rd 1860”. It is enclosed in a stampless envelope addressed to “Benjamin Coates Esqr / Philadelphia / U.S.A.” The envelope is annotated “M. C. Stevens” in the lower left corner. It has a black, circular “Baltimore Md.” Receiving postmark dated “Mar 5” with matching “SHIP” and “5” handstamps. The letter has near invisible archival mends to some folds. Transcript provided.

In this letter, Benson updates Coates, a member of the American Colonization Society, on his schedule which includes meetings with inland tribal chiefs who were hostile to and occasionally attacked the Liberian settlers:

“I expect to proceed to Cape Mount next week . . . for the purpose of having a general Convention of the Chiefs, settling all their balances, breaking down all their barricades, & establishing peace in that entire section of the Country”

Most interesting is Benson’s concern for Frederick Douglas who was under suspicion for allegedly committing to lead a large band of raiders to join in John Brown’s attack on Harper’ Ferry:

“I shall regret very much in Case Fred Douglass is arrest[ed] for imprecations in the Harpers’ Ferry insurrection. Perhaps he will yet find his way to Liberia & find a resting place at last.”. Very good. Item #009612

Today, most historians accept Douglass’s denial that he had promised to aid Brown. However, after an incriminating note was found, Douglass fled to Canada. Adding to the tension were comments by some of Brown’s associates and family accusing Douglass of reneging on his promise. Northern, southern, and abolitionist newspapers alike (e.g., Weekly Anglo-African, New York Herald, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and Richmond Daily Dispatch) suggested—some more strongly than others—that at the last moment, a cowardly Douglass abandoned his pledge. (For more information, see the Frederick Douglass Papers at the Library of Congress and Hamm’s “When Frederick Douglass Met John Brown” in Jacobin Magazine 11 Jan 2017.)

Benson, the second President of Liberia, was born at Cambridge, Maryland in 1816 to free-born African-American parents. His family was among the earliest Americans to return to Africa, having immigrated in 1822. At the time of Benson’s expression of concern, Douglass was an ardent opponent Liberian colonization, and it is inconceivable that he would have ever considered an invitation to live there.

The M. C. Stevens was a packet ship named in honor of Mary Caroline Stevens, the daughter of Marylander John Stevens who donated the vessel to the American Colonization Society to provide transportation for free African-Americans who wanted to emigrate to Liberia.

Letters from President Benson are scarce and only infrequently appear for sale or auction. This example is especially interesting for its connection to John Brown, Harpers Ferry, and Frederick Douglass.

Price: $1,250.00