New Arrivals in Liberia:

This Episode: The Kroomen 


by Terence L. Johnson

Former Professor, African and African American History

Former Field Archivist

United States


Link for Citation Purposes:


I saw my first Africans, who the sailor called savage men, at The Cape. These so-called savage men were known as Kroomen.


Before I even embarked on our voyage, I had read from the Journal the African Repository that the Kroomen live along the Grain Coast of West Africa.  I learned more from the white British sailor who often spent a stay in Monrovia, and pitched a tent in a wooded area nearby, about this type of African. 


The sailor said to me “The Kroomen are an enterprising and athletic race. These Kroomen Africans lived on the coast and were the first Africans to communicate with people of color from America.  They learned our language and began to assimilate many of our customs.”

I said to the sailor, yes but all of the Kroomen, both men and women, went about their daily toils wearing long flowery embroidered grounds to cover up their loins while remaining bare-chested and bare-breasted.”

The British sailor laughed.

          “My friend, you are in Africa now. You must discard your American and British type of thinking.”

          I then said to him, “We Negro Americans will help the African savage become more civilized.  We will get his children into school.”

          The sailor took out a pipe, scratched a post near his tend with a match, and lit the tobacco in his pipe. He puffed on his instrument then said,

          “My dear sir, the indigo-dyed-nosed Kroomen are men who before being taken as slaves  would commit suicide.”

          I laughed, but really wanted to cry, from what I thought was an insane behavior.

           “That is savage. Really a savage way of behaving.”

          He responded back, “My dear man, you have never endured the province of being on a slave ship.”

          I retorted back at him, “But I have known the cruelty of being a Negro in America. I have known pain. I know the struggles of my race.”

          The British sailor puffed hardily on his pipe and inhaled the intoxicating smoke.  He leaned toward me and said,

          “I mean no disrespect to your race, my good man, but the Africans on those slave ships experience a hell that only a few of us have witnessed. I will deliver to you a secret of mine.”

          He took a few puffs from his pipe, then tears rolled from his eyes.

          “I once worked on a slave ship. I saw the horrors of black bodies tormented, tortured, starving at the hands of ignorant men like me who sailed on those ships to feed our poverty-stricken families in Ireland, in Wales, and even in my Merry Old England.”

            At that moment, I was educated to the fact that Negroes had not been the only ones exploited.

          “You are telling me that whites suffer in your country.”

          The white man laughed.

          “Friend I realize that your people think that we whites are in our homes scheming to harm and exploit Negroes, but in Ireland, in Wales, in England, the average white man has little clue to the doings of what Negroes experience or what happens in Africa.”

          “Why?” I asked.

          A few wealthy men reap most of the benefits.  A few wealthy men are white and Negroes. The African chiefs and the European monarchs are the ones who work together to enrich themselves at our expense.

          My conversations with this British white man led me to a new understanding as to how the real world operates.

          The British sailor put more tobacco in his pipe and again struck his match. He lit the noxious weed and puffed heavily.  Then he went to a stump and sat down.

          “Thomas, take the Kroo. They are part of system of exploitation that has existed for hundreds of years. They have skills in both canoeing and surfing the strong ocean currents. This has made them more valuable as fishermen, traders, and sailors on slave ships than as slave labor. Hundreds of them go to and fro by every steamer between the Kroo Coast and the Leeward factories.

          I had heard of the Leeward factories and how they held slaves that awaited to be embarked on pirate slave ships, even though the British had outlawed the slave trade.      

          Then he laid his pipe on the tree stump and said to me,

          “Your leaders here in Monrovia, the legislatures exploit the Kroomen to this day.”


          I was well aware of the fact that all Kroomen who reside in Krootown, on the side of the Mesurado River, shall pay annually, to the town of Monrovia, the sum of one dollar and fifty cents, as a tax, and do any fatigue duty that may be required of them by the President of the Town Council.”

          He frowned at me as he coughed after taking a swig from his pipe.

          “Thomas, you are a new arrival here, you may not know all the plans of your government.”

          I pretended a certain amount of ignorance.

          “What do you mean?”

          The British sailor laughed.

          “Kroomen, in order to reside in your colony, are required to receive a certificate from the government. Negro Americans who hire Kroomen are required to be responsible for the native’s taxes to the colony.  So Thomas, what do you call that?”

          He stared at me intently to get my confession.

          “Yes, I have become aware of it.”

          He laughed with an arrogant smirk, “You see, my boy, we all exploit one another.  The African chief exploits the African slave.  The white man exploits the Negro.  The Englishman exploits the Irishman.  The man exploits the woman.  In a way, we are all slavers.”

          Still, I could see from the man’s face, little tears that showed me that behind his laughter was a man who had seen much pain in Africa and also in his home country.

          “How do you know of such things, my friend?” I questioned.

          “You call me a white man, a British man, but I an Irishman, and we Irish know of slavery. Our people fight to stop the English from over-running our nation.”

          But I returned to argue a different point.
          “But we do not exploit all of our Africans here. I have seen how Eboes from the delta of the Niger were taken off of a United States slave ship and brought here to Liberia.
The captive Eboes were all males, but most of them found mates among the Liberian women of American origin, many of whom, losing friends, and the means and hopes of living, were glad to find homes and husbands among these demi-savages.”

          He smiled.

          “I must admit that you Monrovians have done a fair job helping these Africans, but I must warn you about other natives.  I must warn you about the Mandingo tribe.”

I discovered from the Liberian colonist that there existed a variety of Native peoples in the interior, who arrived to greet the colonist who did not understand one another's language. The majority of the Africans that the colonist initially encountered did not speak English, and traded with us by carrying signs and pointing to articles to be bought or sold.

But I was not familiar with that tribe.

          “The Mandingo?”

          The British sailor said, “In addition to spirits, Native Africans besides also desired guns.  These are a powerful tribe known as Mandingo.  This tribe traded with your colony for gun powder and tobacco.”

Then I thought, perhaps I have seen them. I have seen Africans trading with American Negroes.

 The British man said, “Mate, rum is the product most desired by Native Africans.  Rum and slavery go hand in hand.  Many of these natives will trade captured people for that rum.”

I responded to him with a certain amount of pride.

“That is why we have come here. It is our hope that the African savages might learn some of our best traits. I had hoped that we could make them a more moral people. Many of my people had either themselves been slaves or had witnessed the practice of slavery, so it was one of those customs that we will not tolerate here in Liberia.”

The British sailor put his pipe on his stump and stood up and touched me gently on my shoulder.

“Thomas C. Brown, some of your kind, the colonists, do not wholly oppose the institution of bondage. 

I shook my head.

“I do not understand.”

A huge frown appeared on his face.


“Kind sir, are you not aware of the fact that the slave trade is practiced within 60 miles of Monrovia.”

I said with a great deal of rather innocence, “Well no.”

 “Thomas, many of you American Negroes desire to have slaves.  I personally know of one colonist who believed that the colony needed slaves in order to gain wealth. Far away from Monrovia, Native Africans and some black settlers have put human beings in bondage.”

Sweat poured from my face.  My legs trembled slightly.

 “I am aware that Africans engage in a series of wars with one another.  I was not aware of the cause of the wars.  I was…”

 The British sailor abruptly interrupted me and hit me with a barrage of facts.

 “My good man, they, those wars are directly related to the slave trade. The powder and muskets the Liberians sell to natives not only kill wild game but also wage war against other African tribes. These African slavers create holding cells for slaves known as factories. These factories are often thatched huts, from five to six feet high.  Even though many of the Native Africans become quasi-Christians, they are hooked on alcohol and tobacco. They possess guns and used their factories to hold their captured slaves.”

I quickly sat on the very same stomp that the sailor ascended from and looked up at the man’s angry eyes.

“I believed we Negroes from the United States could easily change the Native African and his institution of slavery.”

Then the British sailor posed a rebuttal.

“But how will you change the heart of the American Negro.”

I replied, “I do not understand”
          He came back to me, “I think you do?  Thomas, you know that you are white black men to these Africans.

I said to him, “I do not understand fully why they call us that name.”

“Thomas, I think you do.”
          I awaited an answer and received it.

“The American Negro is like the white man.  You wear the trappings of his clothing, you speak the white man’s languages, you live in homes like white men and you are Christians. The African is the opposite of what you have become: civilized.”

Days became weeks, and weeks melded into months.

          I knew and met the so-called civilized Negroes who would become legends in Liberia, men who had been slaves but now were governors, presidents, and merchants.

But I also remembered the lowly caste of people of color who found peace in ardent spirits for want of fame and the simple pleasure of drinking clean water.  Now I also drank the devil spirits. Alcohol brought to Liberian society the same type of problems common all over the world. I knew of colonists who were practical drunkards.

          Native Africans who had developed beverages, such as palm wine, did not have distilled spirits with a high alcoholic content, but when they were given western alcohol they became addicted to intoxication. In fact, the native Africans loved the toxic drink so much that our Negro merchants could not trade with them unless rum was included as a gift in the business transactions. I understood that even territory could not be purchased without rum.  We traded with alcohol along with clothes and iron pots for native products, including ivory.

          I was informed by a gentleman who was present at the sale, that the land at Cape Palmas was bought without rum, and that the fifty dollars given to them instead of it, was used by the natives in the purchase of rum. He himself saw firsthand how the distilled liquor caused drunkenness in the Africans who converted to Christianity. I have myself seen in the town of Caldwell, a Mandingo merchant, a bigwig of a band of thirty men, drunk, and heard a native say, “What the matter Mandingo man, he just same other men", or in other words he is as drunk as a Christian.

          When Joseph Jenkins Roberts, a wealthy Negro merchant who hailed from the state of Virginia, became governor, he used my influence to get the nation’s legislators to enact laws that would regulate the sale of alcohol. 

Under these new laws, sellers of less than one gallon of liquor were required to have a license.  Persons violating this law would be fined not less than twenty-five dollars and not more than one-hundred dollars. This law, however, did not stop the drunkenness that I witnessed in my new country of Liberia.

          I often remember walking down the muddy streets of Monrovia, streets filled with the  dung of horses. In those streets I saw men and women drunk from liquors. Some of them were so drunk that they even stopped their monthly activity of bathing.  Even some of Liberia’s preachers drank alcohol.  On a windy day in June of 1833, I remember seeing a native walking along a muddy street with a bottle of some strong drink. I was drawn to this man with his bloody eyes and jet black skin. He was drunk and so was I on that day.  We talked about a lot of things about Africa.  Then he told me a secret that many Africans believed that we Negroes from America saw as superstitious nonsense. 

          "My friend, you are wrong. The water does not cause the fever."

          I laughed.

          "You Africans do not understand science."

          He laughed.

          "It is you who do not understand. You do not understand Africa. The cause of the fever is the tiny insect carried by flies that bores into your skin for blood."

          Relating to letters that I wrote to a friend from South Carolina about New Georgia, Liberia, I discovered something of great interest.

          "Many of these Africans in the colony, especially those who reside at New Georgia, are the most industrious people in the colony. …I know of freed Africans who have married American women,…Among themselves, they do not speak English, and do not read it."

          It was in New Georgia that I met a young man by the name of Joseph Jenkins Roberts. This young man was a trader who would become one of the most famous men in Liberia.  Roberts was the high sheriff, or as Africans might call him, the chief thief for the colony.  His duty included organizing militias to collect taxes from the Africans and to bring them under control of Liberia.

Roberts came to Liberia many years before I arrived. He lived in Monrovia like me, but travelled throughout the colonists selling American-made goods for precious woods and stones found among the natives.

          One item that I especially liked and that I traded with the natives was the African cherry. This cherry is a very peculiar fruit. It is about the size of the ordinary morrello-cherry of the United States, but, in taste it more resembles the cranberry. The tree is usually about fifteen feet high. The great peculiarity in the growth of this fruit consists in the manner in which the short stems are attached to the body of the tree rather than to the twigs of the branches.  The stems of the fruit being about one-third of an inch long. This fruit makes very fine tarts equal to the flavor of the cranberry.

          With the African cherry my wife made not only preserves but also a morning dish that she fries in slices in our chimney. When fried, it somewhat resembles the taste of fried sour apples.

          One day I was in a local whiskey house and Roberts sat beside me. My son Cuffee was ordering supplies across the street from this same whiskey house at the time. My son bought a United States musket for three dollars; and an English musket for four dollars and fitty cents and a hunting gun for four dollars. While Cuffee was making these transactions, I told Roberts my name and he told me his and then I inquired about the Africans and hoped to one day explore more of the interior of the country.

          "So, Mr. Brown, we tried to assimilate the African natives and it worked to some degree. But many Negroes from America had contempt for the natives."

          It was at this point that I revealed my true feelings to this young man, a man who in some parts of America could pass as a white man, or Buckra as we Negroes often called them.  I was a very light skin Negro myself, but Roberts was even lighter in complexion. I found it strange that this man lived under the African sun but refused to take off his long frock coat or loosen his tie.

          "Mr. Roberts, the black skins and pagan ways of the African are aberrant. I hear that some of them even sacrifice their slaves in funerals, while still even others eat the flesh of the dead."

          Joseph Jenkins Roberts began to laugh and then drowned down his throat with a gulp of whiskey. He set his empty horn of drink on the table and our patron came and filled it to the top. He leaned over to me and whispered.

          "You will learn, if you stay in this country, that there are many things that we must teach the natives. They are indeed the savages than the white man has written about. We may need to force them into being civilized if need be."

          I picked up my glass and sipped my whiskey from my horn, while Roberts again swallowed his drink whole. He said to me, "we accepted the kings and chiefs into our homes, but the lower of order of tribal Africans were generally not invited into peoples' dwelling."

          "Why is that?" I inquired.

          Roberts gave me a big smile.

          "We give the kings respect because they control the land that we must eventually take from them. It is for their own good."

          I posed half of a question that was like a statement. "And the lower caste of Africans?"

          Roberts again smiled.

          "They do not have any bargaining power.  Having them sign a contract for native lands by marking an X is of little use to our land acquisitions."


          After Roberts laughed, I returned the favor.  I realized that Joseph Jenkins Roberts was as clever as some of the white Yankee traders who had hoodwinked the American Indians out of their land. Such a man could go very far in a land with many undiscovered countries. Many months passed while my family and I dwelled in Monrovia.  It was not usual that some colonists often used Africans as servants who toted materials as if they were animals of burden. When I started my hardware business, I hired a native as a house servant and a few others as staff in my store.  The more I worked beside them, the more I realized that they were indeed savages, but we would need to assimilate the pagans as best we could.




Publisher's Note: By special arrangement with the Author, all reader-remitted Membership Fees resulting from the story above, less processing expenses if any, will be forwarded to the Author as means of remuneration. -JP


A Note on Who Funds This Journal: We Accept No Advertising, No Government Grants, and No 'Foundation' Grants


We Are An Independent Organization Publishing Independent Media 100% Funded by Our Members.


If You Are Not Yet a Member, You Can Join Immediately:


Membership Registration Link »


Full (or Fellow) Membership in the BWW Society/Institute for Positive Global Solutions puts a high emphasis on perceptive minds and each person's capability to see beyond general, sterile, politically correct views. It focuses on those whose open minds reflect the determination to break down the monopolistic sledgehammers of the lobbies that would have the world see things as they do and in their own interests. 


Membership is available only to people with the qualifying criteria described above, and papers submitted for publication in the Society's journals must be of a high standard and meaningful to academic and layman alike where possible.


Because of this, many view membership in the BWW Society with a marked degree of significance in their lives, and as a pathway to a statement of their dissatisfaction with what has been going on which has led to global social and political instability, heading for general chaos, massive upheavals in populations and seemingly endless wars.


For many, the hope that their intensive effort might just find the right readers in the right places to carry their thoughts through, is of itself a beacon in their lives.


BWW Membership not only reflects each Member’s commitment to the future but their high standing as an independent thinker.


Your dedication to presenting solid solutions to global challenges which are so sadly lacking in our overcautious institutions with their intrinsic fears, is a much needed effort worth cultivating.  Our platform -- based on the crucial interchange of ideas, across the board from great scholars to fine lay minds -- is a valid, purposeful instrument for innovation and free thought. BWW Membership reflects not only each Member's commitment to the future but their high standing as an unrepentantly independent thinker.


With all of the above in mind, you are invited to join us and Register your Membership for the current term:


Membership Registration Link »


As a Member, you are also encouraged to submit articles, papers, or commentary pieces for inclusion in our publication, the Journal of Global Issues & Solutions. Finer readers would be difficult to get together in any one place.


We need every support we can get to continue with the movement and your own is another spark in this ambitious project which only you can realize at this moment in time.


The BWW Society/Institute for Positive Global Solutions is an international interdisciplinary multi-cultural forum based on the exchange of free thought and creative ideas, and stands as a challenge to the regimented, politically correct presentations we see too much of today.


Membership is comprised of academics, business leaders, physicians and researchers, scientists, artists, writers, civic leaders, theologians, professionals, and others whose forward-thinking minds and innovative thoughts are brought together as a collective conscience for the breaking out of our constrained and restrictive societies.


You are invited to join today via the link below:


Membership Registration Link »