Cover image for This our dark country : the American settlers of Liberia
This our dark country : the American settlers of Liberia
Publication Information:
New York : Clarion Books, c2002.
Physical Description:
136 p. : ill., maps ; 25 cm.
"These Free, Sunny Shores" -- "Beyond the Reach of Mixture" -- Divine providence -- Americans -- Life upriver -- Progress -- "Some Fertile Country" -- "The Beclouded Sun" -- Epilogue: Liberia, troubled land.
Corporate Subject:
Explores the history of the colony, later the independent nation of Liberia, which was established on the west coast of Africa in 1822 as a haven for free African Americans.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book J 966.62 REE 1 1

On Order



In the early 19th century, the American Colonization Society was formed with the sole intent of creating a colony for free blacks and former slaves. Both blacks and whites took passionate stands either for or against this proposal. Despite the controversy, the first group of settlers landed on the west coast of Africa in 1822. They faced numerous problems arising from the unfamiliar climate, hostile encounters with the indigenous people, and the failure of other nations to recognize their independence, but they managed to build a nation, naming it Liberia, for liberty. Today, partly because of these difficult beginnings, Liberia is a country plagued by unrest.

In this accessible and well-written book, award-winning author Catherine Reef presents a significant but as of yet relatively unexplored chapter in African American history. Her account is filled with excerpts from diaries and letters of the settlers and richly illustrated with period photographs and prints, many of which have never been published before. Photo gallery, endnotes, bibliography, index.

Author Notes

Catherine Reef received a degree in English from Washington State University. She began her career as a writer at Washington State, where she created brochures for the College of Pharmacy and developed the university's first research magazine. She is the author of more than 35 nonfiction books for young people. She has received several awards including the Joan G. Sugarman Children's Book Award for Walt Whitman in 1996, the Sydney Taylor Award for Sigmund Freud: Pioneer of the Mind in 2002, and a Golden Kite Honor Award for Ernest Hemingway: A Writer's Life in 2010.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Catherine Reef describes the founding of Liberia in 1822 by members of the American Colonization Society, who wished to set up a colony for free blacks and former captives, in This Is Our Dark Country: The American Settlers of Liberia. Period photographs and engravings illustrate the volume. Reef's epilogue looks at modern-day Liberia and adds a sobering note: the country is now war-torn and economically unstable. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Horn Book Review

In this thoroughly researched and well-written, readable history, Reef traces the great experiment that was the colony of Liberia, founded in 1822 as a haven for free African Americans. Wide outside margins create plenty of space for cogent quotations and detailed captions that clarify the archival photographs. Letters, diary entries, and photos of many early settlers personalize the account. Bib., ind. From HORN BOOK Spring 2003, (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

Gr. 7^-12. This photo-essay is a grim, disturbing history of Liberia, first in 1822 when it was an American colony for free blacks and former slaves and later as an independent nation. It's an account of racism and betrayal in the U.S. and in West Africa, with no happy ending. Reef draws on letters and speeches to show that the whites, including Abraham Lincoln, saw the deportation of blacks as a way to solve racial problems in the U.S. In contrast, few African American leaders supported colonization: Frederick Douglass termed it the hateful, unchristian "twin-sister of slavery," and he called the U.S. the black American's native land. Just as ugly is the Americo-Liberian colonists' prejudice toward the local people: the new settlers regarded the Africans as uncivilized and inferior and denied them civil rights. Reef tells it in clear, plain style, always showing the connections between the two homelands. The handsome, very spacious design, marked by thick, quality paper and stirring black-and-white photos (many of them published here for the first time), makes the hard facts accessible, and many readers, adults as well as teenagers, will want to use the meticulous endnotes to find out more about the politics and the individuals in the portraits. A must for history collections. --Hazel Rochman

School Library Journal Review

Gr 5 Up-Reef presents this biography of the African nation from its birth in the early 19th century to the present day with the same attention to primary sources and visual materials as she did in her biographies of Sigmund Freud (2001) and Walt Whitman (1995, both Clarion). This account of the country's complex history is presented chronologically, making generous use of letters, diaries, photographs, and prints. In 1816, a group of wealthy and influential whites founded what became the American Colonization Society. The main purpose was to find a way to relocate free blacks to their own colony. The underlying motivations and the complicated arguments of the time for and against this volatile issue are discussed in great detail, taking care to explain not only the ignorance and prejudice that shaped the decisions, but also the hope and promise that relocation held for many. Reef does not hold back the ugly truths in Liberia's history, including the abhorrent treatment of people native to the region as well as recaptured slaves who were delivered to Liberia against their will. Although the chronology is occasionally choppy, jumping between different groups of settlers and the complicated state of affairs in America, the foundations of this seldom-explored topic are readily understood.-Genevieve Gallagher, Orange County Public Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

What usually appears in textbooks as a footnote to a footnote of history is given a fuller treatment in an uneven yet laudable accounting. Most American schoolchildren learn of Liberia (if at all) in connection with the abolitionist movement of the early 19th century. In 1822, the American colony of Liberia was established on the coast of West Africa with the specific intent of settling freed slaves far away from the maelstrom of racial unrest that was the US at the time. Here, where textbooks leave off, is where the real story of Liberia begins, and Reef (Sigmund Freud, not reviewed, etc.) does a generally creditable job of telling it. From the mixed motivations of the white men who supported the enterprise to the mixed feelings of the African-American population for whom it was established, the narrative thoroughly explores the intellectual and ideological context of the day. It introduces the 19th-century settlers of Liberia as Christian, primarily middle-class black Americans who traveled to Africa to make a country of their own. The account draws heavily on primary source materials, including copious excerpts from the journals, letters, and, later, publications of the colonists. Perhaps because of this reliance, the narrative is weighted heavily toward the Americo-Liberians (as the settlers called themselves) and their own vision of nation-building. Unfortunately, it does not really question the emergence of a class system that placed those Americo-Liberians squarely at the top--even though the conclusion of the history indicates that what modern Liberia has become in large part stems from conflicts between colonizer and colonized. The account is handsomely accompanied by archival material, including photographs; it might have been better served by the inclusion throughout of maps, which are relegated to an appendix. Despite its flaws, this offering stands as a valuable addition to children's literature both of African-American history and of American imperialism, and deserves recognition for its attempt to tell the story behind the footnote. (index, endnotes, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 10+)

Table of Contents

1 "These Free, Sunny Shores"p. 1
2 "Beyond the Reach of Mixture"p. 10
3 Divine Providencep. 19
4 Americansp. 35
5 Life Upriverp. 47
6 Progressp. 59
7 "Some Fertile Country"p. 71
8 "The Beclouded Sun"p. 85
Epilogue: Liberia, Troubled Landp. 98
"Please Remember Me ...": A Portrait Gallery of Nineteenth-Century Liberiansp. 112
Appendix Mapsp. 120
A Note on the Photographsp. 122
Endnotesp. 123
Selected Bibliographyp. 129
Indexp. 133