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 Home    Documentary Heritage of the Civil War    Part 3, 2013: "Make Way for Liberty!"    Major collection of letters from Liberia, 1830-1854 and 1994

Major collection of letters from Liberia, 1830-1854 and 1994

Ben Major

Ben Major

Courtesy of McLean County Museum of History

Liberia letter

Letter from Tolbert Major to Benjamin Major

Courtesy of McLean County Museum of History

Location
McLean County Museum of History (Bloomington, Ill.) External Link
Background
In the late 1820s, possibly as a result of his friendship with Alexander Campbell, founder of the Disciples of Christ Church, Benjamin Major came to the conclusion that slavery was wrong.  He freed his eight slaves and paid their passage to Liberia, where they arrived in the late summer of 1830.  The Major family moved from Christian County, Ky., to Woodford County, Ill., in 1834.
Contents
The collection consists of twelve complete letters, appended notes, and letter fragments written between 1830 and 1854 by emancipated slaves residing in Liberia.  Their former master Benjamin Major and his family, of Eureka, Ill., were the recipients.  The letters were written by four different individuals, Tolbert Major, Austin Major, Wesley Harland, and Tolbert’s wife, Selvay.  In the letters they describe the vagaries of life in Africa, family matters, the weather and native vegetation, and the recurring problems that occurred with the indigenous population.  Requests were also made to Benjamin Major for a variety of supplies, such as cotton and paper, which were scarce or needed to replace items that were lost at various times.  Greetings were passed to family members and acquaintances still in the country.  Other people represented include Agnes Harlan, Lucy Majors, George Harland, Edward Watkins, John Majors, Enock Harlands, and Shelvay Bradson.  Also included in the collection are draft transcriptions of the letters and a short history of Liberia and the American Colonization Society compiled by Kristy Gebhardt in 1994.
Quotation [from Tolbert Major to Benjamin Major; Bassa Cove, Grand Bassa County, Liberia; June 22, 1848]
"We did on the 29th July last by own representatives solemnly declare ourselves a free sovereign and independant [sic] people thereby dissolving all political connection Between the Col. [Colonization] Society and ourselves and we have established a new form of Government by viz a "Republican form" and it is my pride and joy that I am a free man in a free country and can enjoy the free mild and equal Government which has just been established and where I can have an equal share of Republicanism."

[Read the entire letter from Tolbert Major to Benjamin Major, June 22, 1848] (PDF, 970 KB)

(See the NUCMC catalog record) (PDF, 11 KB)

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 Home    Documentary Heritage of the Civil War    Part 3, 2013: "Make Way for Liberty!"    Major collection of letters from Liberia, 1830-1854 and 1994
  The Library of Congress >> Cataloging, Acquisitions
   January 2, 2013
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