Liberia, a republic on the west coast of Africa, between 4° 20′ and 7° 20′ N. lat., extending from the Sherbro river on the northwest, near the south boundary of the British colony of Sierra Leone to the Pedro river on the southeast, a distance along the coast of nearly six hundred miles. It has enjoyed the status of a sovereign State since 1874, when its independence was formally recognized by England, France, and Germany. The habitable region of the country is a strip from ten to twelve miles wide along a slightly indented shore line of 350 miles. The area over which the political jurisdiction of the republic extends is estimated at 9700 square miles. The interior is one of the wildest and least visited sections of Africa.
Liberia had its origin in the scheme of the American Colonization Society to found in Africa a place to which free blacks and persons of African descent might return from the United States. Charles Carroll, of Carrollton, was at one time president of this society, which sent out its first colony to Africa on February 6, 1820. They settled first on Sherbro Island, but in April, 1822, abandoned this site for the more promising location at Cape Mesurado, between Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. Here the colony became permanently established, and continued under the management of the Colonization Society until the political exigencies of commercial intercourse with other countries, especially with England, forced Liberia, July 26, 1847, to make a declaration of independence as a sovereign State. It is divided into four counties, Mesurado, Grand Bassa, Sinou, and Maryland. The capital and largest town is Monrovia, a seaport on Cape Mesurado, called after James Monroe, President of the United States, under whose administration the colonizing scheme was begun. There are no harbors, and access to the most important rivers is prevented for vessels of deep draught by a sandbar. The temperature varies from 56 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, with an average of 80 degrees and a rainfall of about 100 inches a year. The rainy season begins in May and ends in November, the hottest month being December and the coolest August. The climate is deadly to white men, African fever being prevalent.
Some 12,000 quasi-American negroes constitute the governing class. With these are affiliated about 30,000 who are civilized, native born, and native bred. The wilder tribes of the interior, estimated as numbering about 2,000,000, are the descendants of the aborigines. The Americo-Liberian settlers are to be found on the seacoast and at the mouths of the two most important rivers. Of the native tribes the principal are the Veys, the Pessehs the Barlines, the Bassas, the Kroos, the Frebos, and the Mandingos. Outside of the negroes of American origin not many Liberians are Christians. The converts have been made chiefly among the Kroos and the Frebos. Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterians, and Episcopalian missions have been established for many years with scant results. As a number of the first American colonists were Catholic negroes from Maryland and the adjoining states, the attention of Propaganda was called to their spiritual needs and the second Provincial Council of Baltimore in 1833 undertook to meet the difficulty. In accordance with the measures taken, the Very Rev. Edward Barron, Vicar-General of Philadelphia, the Rev. John Kelly of New York, and Denis Pindar, a lay catechist from Baltimore, volunteered for the mission and sailed for Africa from Baltimore on December 2, 1841. They arrived there safe and Father Barron said the first Mass at Cape Palmas on February 10, 1842. After a time, finding that he did not receive missionaries enough to accomplish anything practical, Father Barron returned to the United States, and thence went to Rome where he was made on January 22, 1842, Vicar Apostolic of the Two Guineas, and titular Bishop of Constantia. With seven priests of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost he returned to Liberia, arriving at Cape Palmas on November 30, 1843. Five of these priests died on the mission of fever, to which Denis Pindar, the lay catechist, also fell a victim, January 1, 1844. Bishop Barron and Father Kelly held out for two years, and then, wasted by fever, they determined to return to the United States, feeling that it was impossible to withstand the climate any longer. Bishop Barron died of yellow fever during an epidemic at Savannah, Georgia, September 12, 1854, and after a long pastorate Father Kelly died at Jersey City, New Jersey, April 28, 1866.
The Fathers of the Holy Ghost, who took up the work, were also forced by the climate to abandon it in a couple of years, and the permanent mission lapsed until February 25, 1884. The Fathers of Montfort (Company of Mary), under Fathers Blanchet and Lorber, then laid the foundation of another mission at Monrovia. The president of the republic, Mr. Johnson, and the people generally gave them a cordial welcome, but the sectarian ministers organized a cabal against them, and endeavored to thwart all their efforts to spread the Faith. They made some progress in spite of this, and in the following year, having received reinforcements from France, opened a school for boys and extended their operations into other places. Father Bourzeix learned the native language, in which he compiled a catechism and translated a number of hymns. Later, when he returned to France, he wrote a history of Liberia. He died in 1886. Deaths among the missionaries and the health of the others shattered by fever forced these priests also to abandon the Liberia mission. After this it was visited occasionally by missionaries from Sierra Leone until 1906, when Propaganda handed its care over to the Priests of the African Missions (Lyons), and three Irish priests, Fathers Stephen Kyne, Joseph Butler, and Dennis O’Sullivan, with two French assistants, went to work with much energy, and continue (1910) to make much progress among the 2800 Catholics the vicariate is estimated to contain (see Africa. subtitle The Catholic Church). The British Colony of Sierra Leone on the west, and the French colonies of the Ivory Coast to the east, and French Guinea to the north have gradually been encroaching on its territory, and internal troubles over deficits adding other complications, Liberia sent in 1908 an urgent appeal to the United States Government for help to preserve its integrity. To learn the conditions there, and find out what assistance could best be given, a commission of three was appointed by the president; it sailed from New York April 24, 1909, and returned in the following August. The diary kept by Father John Kelly during his stay in Liberia was published in the United States Catholic Historical Society‘s “Records” (New York, 1910).
THOMAS F. MEEHAN