1848: Responding to the World

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

WNS15ALM10_175l small lr“Youth ought to be in a course of preparation for that field of great interest now opened to us in the providence of God. . . . What say you? Shall I not resign my situation and enter at once into the work of getting some in a course of training for Africa?”

It is April of 1848. Williston Seminary’s first Principal, the Rev. Luther Wright, has returned from a public meeting, full of excitement over the news of Liberia’s declaration of independence. Liberia, in West Africa, had been created in 1821 by American Abolitionists, specifically the American Colonization Society, as a haven for Free Blacks.   Over the next decades thousands of African Americans, most of them free-born, emigrated to Liberia.  Perhaps the Society’s motives ranged from naïve to unsavory – there was a suggestion that White New Englanders, while hating slavery, were nonetheless happier in a monochrome society.  But in 1847, Liberia declared its independence.  It would no longer be a subsidiary client of the ACS, but Africa’s first republic, governed by Africans.

A map of Liberia and environs, from the 1830s (Library of Congress)
An 1830 map of Liberia and environs (Library of Congress)  (Click images to enlarge)

Writing to his friend, the Rev. Lavius Hyde of Becket, Mass., Wright declared his desire to embark upon a program to train young free Blacks to be educators and leaders in the new country.  He also commented on the United States’ war with Mexico, and on the rise of the Second Republic in France.  He shared his concern over the health of friends, and even told a story about his boyhood friend and current employer, Samuel Williston.  Wright’s personality resonates through the letter. Such documents provide students of history not only with contemporary references to world and national issues, but with the immediacy of one man’s response to the world in which he lived.  (The full text of the letter is transcribed below.)

The first page of Luther Wright's letter.
The first page of Luther Wright’s letter.

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