Virginia Emigrants to Liberia

The American Colonization Society was established in 1816 by a coalition of Upper South politicians and Northern and Southern ministers to establish a colony on the west coast of Africa for the voluntary emigration of free Blacks from the United States. Many supporters hoped that reducing the free Black population would promote manumissions in the South and help to gradually end slavery. Most whites viewed free Blacks as troublesome. Although denied full freedom and equality, their very presence threatened the stability of slavery and white supremacy. Most free Blacks rejected the idea of African colonization although some found it appealing or had to choose between emigration and slavery. Contradictory though it was, colonization was the first organized national antislavery movement and catalyzed the Abolition movement.

The complex responses of Black and white Virginians to African colonization, slavery, freedom, and citizenship on both sides of the Atlantic are revealed in this collection of documents and data. They contribute greatly to otherwise scarce data on 19th century Black Virginians, including surnames, family and community relationships, occupations, former enslavers, literacy, and religion. As a public collaboration, this website is anticipated to reach scholars who can add more information about the individuals and families featured and will enlarge our understanding of the national political and social forces at work in antebellum America.

Narratives & Scholarship
Family Stories and Letters

Read essays about free and formerly enslaved Black Virginians who emigrated to Liberia in the four decades before and immediately after the American Civil War, aided by a national organization, the American Colonization Society. GO >


Peruse scholarly articles and original documents pertaining to the African Americans who sailed from Virginia to make a new home on Africa’s west coast. Voluminous and largely untapped records were left by the migrations’ sponsor, the American Colonization Society. GO >

Explore 1820—1866

Search for emigrants by name, age, family, occupation, place of origin and destination, and more. Explore Virginian emancipators and facilitators by name, county, and year. GO >


Investigate Virginia by county or city for emigrants, emancipators, and facilitators. Delve into the Liberian settlements of the emigrants. GO >


Explore ship rosters for voyage dates, the ports of departure and arrival, lists of emigrants, and more. GO >


View a timeline of relevant events and documents pertaining to African colonization, especially in Liberia. VISIT >

The Project

After historian Marie Tyler-McGraw published An African Republic: Black and White Virginians in the Making of Liberia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), she wanted to make her research available to others. Further collaboration with other historians and institutions made this website possible. READ >


The vast majority of primary sources used in the project dataset come from the voluminous Records of the American Colonization Society held by the Library of Congress with digitized images available online with free registration at READ >


A team of independent historians and researchers along with technology experts at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities collaborated in producing this website. READ >