The Arrival of the Congo People in Liberia: A Historical Overview

The story of the Congo people being dropped off in Liberia is tied to the broader history of the transatlantic slave trade and efforts to suppress it in the 19th century. Here is an overview:

1. Abolition and Anti-Slave Trade Patrols: After the abolition of the slave trade by Britain in 1807 and by the United States in 1808, both nations began patrolling the West African coast to intercept illegal slave ships. The British Royal Navy and the American Navy captured many of these ships.

2. Liberia’s Founding: Liberia was established by the American Colonization Society (ACS) in the early 19th century as a place to resettle freed African Americans. The first group of settlers arrived in 1822. The capital, Monrovia, was named after U.S. President James Monroe.

3. Liberated Africans: When illegal slave ships were intercepted, their captives, often referred to as “recaptives” or “liberated Africans,” needed a place to go. Liberia became a key resettlement location. The British and American navies would bring these freed Africans to Liberia.

4. Congo People: Many of the Africans who were freed and brought to Liberia were originally from the Congo River basin. They became known as “Congo people” in Liberia. Over time, this term expanded to include not just those from the Congo region but also other liberated Africans from various parts of West Africa.

5. Integration into Liberian Society: The Congo people were integrated into Liberian society, which was already composed of African American settlers, indigenous African tribes, and other groups. This integration was complex, with various social, cultural, and political dynamics at play. Over time, the Congo people and their descendants became an integral part of the Liberian social fabric.

This story reflects the intertwined histories of the transatlantic slave trade, colonialism, and the formation of new African identities and communities in the 19th century.

Kings and Queens of Liberia

King & Queens of Liberia Poster

King Zangar Kadesi– The successor of King Sar, who ran his capital from Little Bassa, near Edina Grand Bassa. One of the greatest allies to the early colony, Kadesi saved Edina from attack on June 10th, 1835 forces were stopped by Kadesi Warriors Kadesi also aided the Bassa Cove colony in erraticating  the slave trade. Kadesi was succeeded by popular Bassa chief Bob Gray.

Queen Famata Bendu Sandamani– They called her Sandemani, Queen Famata Bendu, a name that echoed with the power of the Sande society itself. But royalty wasn’t handed to her, no sir! She earned it. They called her “Taradogba” too, meaning “grave” in the Gola tongue, a reminder that she wasn’t no giggling flower.

Famata Bendu, wife of King Arma, the favorite one, mind you. But fate, that jester with a cruel streak, snatched her king on the battlefield. Some might crumble, weep into their robes. But Famata Bendu? She straightened her back, fire in her eyes. They say she took that Gawula throne, claimed it as hers by right, became ruler of the Vai people herself!

But a queen don’t rule alone! Famata Bendu, wise as she was strong, took King Al Haj, or Lahai of the Gallinas, as her husband. Together they brought forth Momolu Massaquoi, a leader in his own right. This sister wouldn’t be messed with!

But even the bravest warriors face setbacks. The Sofa warriors came, a storm of violence that swept through Vai lands. Famata Bendu, though she wouldn’t yield, wouldn’t bow, was forced to flee. And in 1891, that warrior queen, that leader, that woman who defied the odds, drew her last breath.

Chief Yellow Will

Momolu Sao– Momolu Sao, a name whispered through the Liberian winds, a man whose power echoed from Bopolu to the farthest reaches of western Liberia. Son of Sao Boso, he wasn’t content to follow in his father’s footsteps. Instead, he carved his own path, establishing the town of Totokwele, a testament to his ambition and leadership.

Blood ties bound him to Fan Kwekwe, their mothers sharing the rich heritage of the Gola people. But Momolu Sao wasn’t just defined by lineage. He was a force in his own right. From the early 1860s until his final breath, his influence held sway over a vast swathe of western Liberia.

Even the pioneering spirits who ventured into the unknown, like Benjamin J.K. Anderson and Edward Wilmot Blyden, crossed paths with Momolu Sao. He wasn’t just a ruler, he was a landmark, a figure etched into the Liberian story. History offers little detail about his reign, but his legacy speaks volumes. He was a leader, an innovator, a man who carved his own destiny in the heart of Liberia.

King Sao Boso

Simlah Ballah– also known as (Bill Williams), a Grebo man with the powerful name of Ballah, wasn’t your average tribesman. He carried the weight of two worlds on his shoulders. A member of the Nyomowe section, he spoke the colonizer’s tongue with the fluency of a native. This gift made him King Freeman’s voice, a bridge between the established Grebo people and the encroaching Maryland State Colonization Society.

Ballah wasn’t confined to Cape Palmas. He walked the coastal path, a living map, and by the early 1830s, his presence was known even in Monrovia. But his true test came in 1836. Dr. James Hall, the Society’s agent, arrived with whispers of a new settlement. Ballah, ever the diplomat, crossed the ocean with Hall, his voice carrying King Freeman’s message – a message of cautious acceptance for these new arrivals.

Back in Baltimore, Ballah stood before the Society’s board, a man of two cultures advocating for a fragile peace. He wasn’t just a translator, he was a negotiator, paving the way for more settlers with the blessing (if not the full enthusiasm) of the Cape Palmas leadership.

But Ballah’s role didn’t end there. He became the conduit, carrying back the Society’s “Code of Laws,” a document that would reshape the landscape of Cape Palmas. He ensured understanding, navigated the inevitable friction that arose between the established Grebo community and the newcomers.

Fate, however, dealt a harsh hand. In 1860, Yellow Will, the Grebo chief, passed away. Ballah ascended, but his leadership was a double-edged sword. The Grebo people, his own kin, harbored resentment, while the settlers remained wary. This weight of expectation, this struggle to bridge two divergent worlds, must have been a heavy burden to bear.

Ballah’s reign ended in 1865, his life a testament to the complexities of cultural exchange. He wasn’t a king, nor a colonizer, but a man caught in the in-between, a necessary bridge in a time of flux.

Peter Zulu Duma

N’Damba– N’Damba, a woman of the Kissi people from Liberia’s northwestern frontier. History whispers her name, but offers little else. Yet, her legacy is tragically intertwined with the soul-crushing trade of human chattel.

Her son, James Cleveland, a product of a union between N’Damba and an English merchant, became a symbol of the corrupting influence of colonialism. He straddled two worlds, wielding his African and European heritage not for unity, but for exploitation. 

Cleveland rose to notoriety as a ruthless Westernized slaver, preying on the very people he called kin.  He and his “allies” across the sea orchestrated the brutal export of West Africans to the Americas, their greed fueled by a warped sense of progress.

N’Damba, the forgotten mother, stands as a stark reminder of the insidious nature of colonialism. It wasn’t just about stolen resources and subjugated lands; it fractured families and twisted identities. James Cleveland, a man consumed by avarice, became a tool of this oppression, forever staining his mother’s legacy with the blood of his people.

The Controversial History of Matilda Newport: Assault on Monrovia

Matilda Newport, also known as Matilda Spencer before her marriage, was a figure in Liberian history whose legacy is complex and debated. Here’s a summary of what we know:


* Born in the United States around 1795, possibly in Georgia.
* Married Thomas Spencer and immigrated to Liberia in 1820 with the American Colonization Society, settling in Cape Mesurado.
* Remarried Ralph Newport in 1825 after her first husband’s death.
* Died in 1837 in Monrovia.

The Legend:

* The legend surrounding Matilda Newport claims that she single-handedly defended Cape Mesurado from an attack by indigenous Dei people in 1822, using a cannon she lit with her pipe.
* This story was popularized in the 19th and 20th centuries, becoming a symbol of the Americo-Liberian settlers’ resilience and dominance.

Historical Controversy:

* Much of the story surrounding Matilda Newport’s actions during the 1822 conflict is disputed by historians.(Dr. Amos Sawyer, Joseph Saye Guannu, Tékpwfárí Stix El Rá, Wilmot Blyden and the father of Liberian history E.J. Roye)
* Evidence suggests she was not present at the battle and maybe her husband Thomas Spencer played a significant role in the defense.
* The narrative of a single hero overshadows the contributions of other participants and ignores the complexities of the conflict.


* Matilda Newport Day was celebrated as a national holiday in Liberia from 1916 to 1980, commemorating her supposed heroism.
* The holiday was abolished due to its historical inaccuracies and its contribution to tensions between Americo-Liberians and indigenous Liberians.

By understanding the nuances and controversies surrounding Matilda Newport, we can engage in a more informed and critical discussion about Liberian history and its impact on present-day realities.

Matilda Newport’s story is a reminder of the importance of critically examining historical narratives and recognizing their potential biases. While she may have been a real person who immigrated to Liberia, the legend surrounding her actions is largely inaccurate and contributes to a problematic understanding of the country’s history.