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.

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