The Voyage Back Home
On this day, Feb. 6, 1820, the very first group of Black Americans returned to Africa.
A group of nearly 90 brave men and women voyaged across the Atlantic on the Mayflower of Liberia (also known as The Elizabeth), a vessel that would leave from New York City to arrive in Sierra Leone just over a month later on March 9.
Paul Cuffe’s Dreams of a United Black Race
Although the American Colonization Society headed this particular voyage, this “Back to Africa” movement had been initiated years prior by a Black man named Paul Cuffe.
Cuffe was born to an ambitious and self-taught father captured from Ghana’s Ashanti region. This gave him a direct connection to Africa, higher ideals of freedom and a rebellious streak that most African-Americans didn’t have at the time. He is on record at just 21 years old as refusing to pay taxes to the Council of Bristol County, Mass., because Blacks did not have the right to vote.
Cuffe remained highly ambitious and passionate about the upward mobility of African-Americans all throughout his life, so much so he took part in numerous social, political and entrepreneurial endeavors. He was an evangelist, abolitionist, sea captain and merchant. Because of this, he would go on to become the wealthiest African-American of his time.
Despite his financial success and his exposure to the world at large, Cuffe was still disheartened about the harsh suffering of most Black Americans. In 1811, he took his first voyage to Sierra Leone, where he established the Friendly Society of Sierra Leone, which initially was a trading organization between Blacks in Africa, America, and England.
Unfortunately, Cuffe did not see his dreams come to fruition because he died in 1817. The American Colonization Society picked up where he left off but with much less good intent, based upon the historical record of its founder.
The American Colonization Society and the Establishment of Liberia