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This Our Dark Country: The American Settlers of Liberia

This Our Dark Country: The American Settlers of Liberia

by Catherine Reef

In the early 19th century, the American Colonization Society was formed with the sole intent of creating a colony for free blacks and former slaves. Both blacks and whites took passionate stands either for or against this proposal. Despite the controversy, the first group of settlers landed on the west coast of Africa in 1822. They faced numerous problems arising


In the early 19th century, the American Colonization Society was formed with the sole intent of creating a colony for free blacks and former slaves. Both blacks and whites took passionate stands either for or against this proposal. Despite the controversy, the first group of settlers landed on the west coast of Africa in 1822. They faced numerous problems arising from the unfamiliar climate, hostile encounters with the indigenous people, and the failure of other nations to recognize their independence, but they managed to build a nation, naming it Liberia, for liberty. Today, partly because of these difficult beginnings, Liberia is a country plagued by unrest.

In this accessible and well-written book, award-winning author Catherine Reef presents a significant but as of yet relatively unexplored chapter in African American history. Her account is filled with excerpts from diaries and letters of the settlers and richly illustrated with period photographs and prints, many of which have never been published before. Photo gallery, endnotes, bibliography, index.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The handsome design makes the hard facts accessible….many readers will use the meticulous endnotes. A must for history collections." Booklist, ALA, Starred Review

"Taking care to explain the prejudice and promise that relocation held, the foundations of this seldom-explored topic are readily understood." School Library Journal

"Reef is. . .skillful. A well-selected gallery of maps, period lithographs, and captioned photos enhance the presentation." The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

". . . an engrossing look for . . . all ages at both a continent and a chapter of American history too often ignored." --Ruminator Review Ruminator Review

"An unbiased, journalistic style...award-winning author...photographs...add interest...fills a void in African-American history collections and is highly recommended." VOYA (VOICE OF YOUTH ADVOCATES) VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)

Publishers Weekly
Catherine Reef describes the founding of Liberia in 1822 by members of the American Colonization Society, who wished to set up a colony for free blacks and former captives, in This Is Our Dark Country: The American Settlers of Liberia. Period photographs and engravings illustrate the volume. Reef's epilogue looks at modern-day Liberia and adds a sobering note: the country is now war-torn and economically unstable.
In 1822, three white missionaries and forty black pioneers arrived on the swampy West African coast to carve a nation. The story of Liberia and its connections to the United States represents a sad history of promise unfulfilled. The American Colonization Society, founded in 1816 by a group of well-intentioned whites, was created to establish a place for free blacks and former slaves because "they can never enjoy equality among the whites in America; only in a district by themselves will they ever be happy." Both races had passionate feelings on this issue. Some famous supporters of colonization were Thomas Jefferson, Bushrod Washington (George's nephew and the society's first president), and Abraham Lincoln. Already home to at least sixteen ethnic groups when the nineteenth-century Americans landed, the new country challenged them with territorial battles, extreme climate, sickness, and death. At first supported with money and emigrants supplied by the society, Liberian settlers began to develop profitable businesses, especially in sugar and coffee; however, just before the Civil War, support dropped away. Massive loans, governmental corruption, industrial exploitation, and loss of land to encroaching nations, among other problems, produced rioting and murder in the twentieth century. Still politically unstable and desperately poor, Liberia ranks among the world's hottest trouble spots. Using an unbiased, journalistic style, award-winning author Reef incorporates a great deal of U.S. race-relations history into this account. Photographs, some published for the first time, add interest. This resource fills a void in African American history collections and is highly recommended for highschool and better middle school readers. Index. Illus. Photos. Maps. Biblio. Source Notes. Appendix. VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2002, Clarion, 136p,
— Laura Woodruff
Children's Literature
In This Our Dark Country, Maryland author Catherine Reef tells the little-known story of American settlers in Liberia. In 1822, a colony was established in West Africa for free African Americans. Reef traces the history of this colony, sharing the black settlers' dreams and hopes, and looks at contemporary Liberia, an independent country troubled by war and poverty. Period illustrations, photos and quotes dot the text, providing images and voices from the past. As with her many award-winning biographies for young readers, Reef brings history alive with her accessible, carefully researched narrative. This is nonfiction at its best. 2002, Clarion,
— Mary Quattlebaum
School Library Journal
Gr 5 Up-Reef presents this biography of the African nation from its birth in the early 19th century to the present day with the same attention to primary sources and visual materials as she did in her biographies of Sigmund Freud (2001) and Walt Whitman (1995, both Clarion). This account of the country's complex history is presented chronologically, making generous use of letters, diaries, photographs, and prints. In 1816, a group of wealthy and influential whites founded what became the American Colonization Society. The main purpose was to find a way to relocate free blacks to their own colony. The underlying motivations and the complicated arguments of the time for and against this volatile issue are discussed in great detail, taking care to explain not only the ignorance and prejudice that shaped the decisions, but also the hope and promise that relocation held for many. Reef does not hold back the ugly truths in Liberia's history, including the abhorrent treatment of people native to the region as well as recaptured slaves who were delivered to Liberia against their will. Although the chronology is occasionally choppy, jumping between different groups of settlers and the complicated state of affairs in America, the foundations of this seldom-explored topic are readily understood.-Genevieve Gallagher, Orange County Public Library, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
What usually appears in textbooks as a footnote to a footnote of history is given a fuller treatment in an uneven yet laudable accounting. Most American schoolchildren learn of Liberia (if at all) in connection with the abolitionist movement of the early 19th century. In 1822, the American colony of Liberia was established on the coast of West Africa with the specific intent of settling freed slaves far away from the maelstrom of racial unrest that was the US at the time. Here, where textbooks leave off, is where the real story of Liberia begins, and Reef (Sigmund Freud, not reviewed, etc.) does a generally creditable job of telling it. From the mixed motivations of the white men who supported the enterprise to the mixed feelings of the African-American population for whom it was established, the narrative thoroughly explores the intellectual and ideological context of the day. It introduces the 19th-century settlers of Liberia as Christian, primarily middle-class black Americans who traveled to Africa to make a country of their own. The account draws heavily on primary source materials, including copious excerpts from the journals, letters, and, later, publications of the colonists. Perhaps because of this reliance, the narrative is weighted heavily toward the Americo-Liberians (as the settlers called themselves) and their own vision of nation-building. Unfortunately, it does not really question the emergence of a class system that placed those Americo-Liberians squarely at the top--even though the conclusion of the history indicates that what modern Liberia has become in large part stems from conflicts between colonizer and colonized. The account is handsomely accompanied by archivalmaterial, including photographs; it might have been better served by the inclusion throughout of maps, which are relegated to an appendix. Despite its flaws, this offering stands as a valuable addition to children's literature both of African-American history and of American imperialism, and deserves recognition for its attempt to tell the story behind the footnote. (index, endnotes, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 10+)

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
8.50(w) x 9.50(h) x 0.62(d)
Age Range:
10 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Catherine Reef is the author of more than 40 nonfiction books, including many highly acclaimed biographies for young people. She lives in College Park, Maryland.

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