A Letter from Liberia

Reverend Alfred F. Russell to Robert Wickliffe in Lexington, Kentucky

Below is a letter from the freed, white, son of the slave Milly, in response to a letter from Robert Wickliffe. Wickliffe must have been writing him during the trial of "Todd Heirs et al. vs. Wickliffe" in which he was accused of fraud in a post-nuptial transaction with his wife wherein she was left with the seven slaves (including Alfred) subsequently sent to Liberia -- and he got all of her inheritance. At the time of this letter, Russell is an ordained Episcopal minister in the St. Paul River area, and goes on to be Vice-President, then 9th President of Liberia, 1883-84. He died in 1885.

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Clay Ashland Mesurado Co
Republic of Liberia July 3d 1855
Honered & Much Respected Sir

A letter from you dated 28th April 1855 was handed me yesterday. A letter so unexpected & from you, realy surprised & revived us. We had ever held the impression that you were not well pleased with our coming to Africa, and somehow thought you opposed to both collonisation & abolition, and that after the death of Mrs Polly [Mary Owen Todd Russell Wickliffe, see my introductory essay] your business &c would not allow you to pay aney attention to us, for we had writen you & Miss Margart [Robert Wickliffe's daughter who married William Preston of Louisville] several times, a great while ago. We had also been informed by emigrants that all of your family & yourself were dead Except Miss Margaret & Mary who had married, & Miss Wooley's son Robert until Clark told us you were alive in 1852.

Pardon us for this misjudgment of you. Your letter tells us it is not your falt that we have not heard from you. Your letter bears to us the very information we have for years longed to recieve, telling us in detail the history and fate of most all White and Collored that was dear to us, and that we had left behind us, the story is a melloncholy one. And after all leaves us the victory who chose Africa & became seekers of Liberty, so far as the collored people are concerned. Sinthia died 1836. Gilbert in 1839. Mother died of dropsey in 1845. George Crawford died suddenly in 1846. I was at that time away off in the interier of Africa preaching to the natives, on the Goulab and Pessa lines. We have suffered in Africa, and suffered greatley. I twas so long before we could find Africa out, how to live in it, and what to do to live, that it all most cost us death seeking life. We knew nothing of making a living (except Mother) had been reared like spoiled children & not servants, and if our parents or aney one else wated to give us a deserved whiping we flead to Mrs Polly, believing that the whole State of Kentucky could not take us from beside her chair. Who can ever forget that Blessed woman? her form and kindness is still fresh in our Memories.

The Revd M---- [McElroy? see his letter to Wickliffe in 1835] on his visit hear did call to see us often. He informed us that he had authority to give us in the name or by the authority of Mrs Polly an amount of money or its equivalent in what was most useful, but that he had been convinced that it could be laid out to more advantage in the United States and shiped, and promised to send us Tobacco provisions whip & corss cut saws &c. Aleaking out of Fame, and the head of a barrel marked to us, said the things did come, but those were the days of the "Druids" in Liberia, which days I see fast passing away. To recive notice that goods had been sent, & even to see them, was one thing, but getting them was a nother, you might know, surmise, and guess pretty correctly where they went, but after that, to observe profound silence was th emost discreete duty, unless you were ready suffer for what is called hear "a Lybil & slander." Had the Revd M--- to come again we would recieve it, heard as the work is, & slow as its progress may be, their is a more honest, just, liberal reform working hear. Cousin Lucy begins to look old and broken, is now quite sickly; and unable to do mutch except to knit a little. She is often with me, but lives with her son Henry. Henry is an industrious young man, He lives on his ten akre farm in Caldwell. follows with his brother George saws plank & making shingles, renting saws however is a great tax, and the work laborious. Lately he has turned his attention to planting sugar cane, but hear another difficulty meats them & all Liberian farmers, the want of propper Mills to express the juice, the little wooden mills used hear & which cost a greateal, do not get half the juice. A gentleman in New York & one in Baltimore sent two mills iron mills to a couple of gentleman in this Settlement on toll, the toll will soon pay for the mill & kettles, in Sugar & Syrup, and the Mill will be a profit to both the doner and the reciever. Henry has three children Isaac, Lucy, Alfred his wife is one of the decendants of the people sent out by the Breckenridge's, a girl born in the Atlantic. George has two children.

I live in Clay Ashland, a district bought by the Kentucy Collonisation Society; settlement that is seccond to none in this Republic, and which has shot far a head of settlements that have been established 28 & 30 years. And in Sugar growing & Coffee planting thrift and improvement, stands first, And I fear too, and must say it, that contrary to all that is generous in aney true heart, is an object of jealousey & hatred from maney who should encourage foster & protect, & not try to break it down. The people in it are not inclined to bow to Old Chairs Tables or Combinations. They feel that they left masters & lords behind and venture to contend for their equal & Constitutional rights. I have a farm of 200 akers land beautifully located on the St Pauls River. Now being finished is a good brick house (calld Russelton). Coming to Liberia 22 years ago as I did, and becoming we all once thought a crippled youth. With no rich brothers, no recources. Seeing all around me, large families, influential and united & reunited by marriage, holding all the offices in the country & the avanues to every immolument, working everything aparently from hand to hand and into & for each other, and looking upon all else as a third rate thing. Made aney sky dark. This kissing the "big toe" and this very "big negro" business. Has to me been the greatest "night mair" that ever crippled the energies of Liberia, and to this day the roots and limbs of those combined and self-seeking influences, sway a heavy scepter, and to a Country in which all around, every chief is King, & to emigrants from where every master is Sovreign, ment taught to bow before powers seen & influences felt, Espeshialy when the love of power & office is concidered & well weiged - and then the possession of office from the foundation of both the Collony & the Republic in the same Channels - until what was once a favor, seemes to be now a right. Though the popular vote is heard of, the ignorant thoughtless & promised hords may be both voters & jurymen things are not as liberal as they might be. Still the true heart of Liberia feels that if our independance is declared the battle of Liberty is still to be won. Why should aney man wish or content himself with leasing a third rate thing in his own country, when he knows the workings of the Policy that gave him that country - and the conduct of the Policy that would claim all that is excellent & profitable & honerable in the Country for themselves by selfseeking and self authorised. Contending for the rights, provisions & attentions &c due to emigrants And for right generally has cost me much in different ways. All I can say is, I am not a lone, and dark as Liberia has been, & is, the day is breaking though to some of us it is bitter. Liberia is prospering and generaly happy. This Collony is a creature of Divine Providence, Founded in the Councils of heaven, and by wise men of God on Earth. It was founded bought and paid for, for the Collored man of the United States. He that comes from Your shores to the Offspring of American benevolence, is no stranger or alien, aney more than I was. Their birth, tongue, education, religion, and country is the same. The very Object and end of their coming is the same with my own. The same Philanthrophy that sent me, places them hear, on the very same footing, condition & for the same cause. I hold Liberia has no right now, to meat the American Emigrant more freighted with intelligence & industry than formerly, with unjust & unconstitutional naturalisation laws. (We are all foreigners) because a party will hold office. The American Emigrant bears no comparison with the Irish, Germans, Polls, with strange tongue & strange Religion. pouring into your Country, bought by the Revolutionary blood of her Natural born sons, But who are our Natural inhabitants but our natives? for whom Liberia has eve made naturalisation rules. But time will work all right. We have a splendid country, rich in soil, metals, & resources of maney kinds & large enough for all the blacks in America. They would not trouble me by coming Ten thousand a month.

Sir as you are now old, and waiting for the future. As the days of your legal practice is over, and your sons are not I have one request to make of you. And that is should you still have them, a gift of such works on law. English and American Digests, Dictionaries, Compilations of the pith of Law - Works treating of the various brances As Commentaries, Contracts, Pleadings, Evidence, Executors & estates, Slander, International Law, Equity, Jurisdiction, indeed aney law works that may lay on your shelves or those of your friends & be cast aside in future as rubbage. Law books are scarce hear outside of a fiew hands & heard to buy, cannot be had even for money. By such a gift as may now be in your power I may remember you in future, and Liberia too may be greatly benefited & blessed. Please think & speak of this. I am now gathering my first little crop of coffee, which I will bear out & send you by the first vessel after it is prepared, with some other native African notions. And as soon as the sewing(?) & dust of the Election is over, & we can tell who is President, & who Senators & Representatives, whither law or unjust force and old office holders is to prevail, I will write you along letter, about Liberia As it is - her present & future prospects, Give all our best respects to your Children Misses Prestons & Wooley & to the Collored who Remember us. Truly Yours

A F Russell

(Box 50, Wickliffe-Preston Family Papers, University of Kentucky Special Collections and Archives)

Other Letters from Liberia

Introduction & Milly Crawford, 1833
Lucy Russell, 1835
Lucy Russell Briant, 1857

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Posted 12/28/97