Lott Carey was a co-founder and the first black governor of Liberia, the colony for freed American slaves that was established by the American Colonization Society in 1822.
In 1813, Carey, a Virginia slave, was able to buy his freedom and that of his two children for US$850. He was ordained a Baptist preacher and joined the original group sailing for Liberia. A few months after its founding, the Colonization Society sent as its agent Jehudi ASHMUN, a white man who intended to become a trader. Ashmun, however, soon found himself in the position of unofficial governor. The two became good friends and Carey served as Ashmun’s assistant.
The first challenge was the unhealthy conditions that bred disease of every sort. Carey nursed the sick and became a self-instructed physician. The two then turned to the pressing need for defense against attacks by the local tribal chief, who claimed the land taken by the settlers. Carey organized the militia and helped build fortifications after moving the fearful settlers from an offshore island to the mainland. Through all their challenges, Carey never lost sight of his original goal. He encouraged the settlers to develop a Christian commonwealth, a vision he shared with their sponsor. He preached to the local people and founded a school for indigenous children, although his efforts had modest results.
Carey later fell out with Ashmun over the latter’s policies and perhaps over the paternalism exercised by the project’s white overseers. After a settler revolt, Ashmun was forced to leave in 1824 but returned a few months later with greatly reduced authority. After 1825, more immigrants expanded the colony by organizing several new settlements. Once again, Carey’s medical experience was invaluable to the newcomers. He was named vice-agent in 1826. Ashmun died in 1828 after naming Carey as his successor. Carey died the following year in a gunpowder explosion.
Norbert C. Brockman
Lipschutz, Mark R., and R. Kent Rasmussen. Dictionary of African Historical Biography. 2nd edition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.
Fitts, Leroy. Lott Carey: The First Black Missionary to Africa (1978).
This article is reproduced, with permission, from *An African Biographical Dictionary, *copyright © 1994, edited by Norbert C. Brockman, Santa Barbara, California. All rights reserved.