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Collection Description



The Major Collection of Letters from Liberia consists of twelve letters written by formerly enslaved people living in Liberia to their former slave holder, Benjamin Major (31 Oct. 1796 – 29 May 1852). In the late 1820s, perhaps as a result of his friendship with Alexander Campbell, founder of the Disciples of Christ Church, Mr. Major came to the conclusion that physical bondage was wrong. He freed his enslaved people and paid their passage to Liberia, where they arrived in late summer of 1836.

The letters, written by four different individuals Tolbert Major, Austin Major, Wesley Harlan, and Tolbert’s wife, Silvay, describe the vagaries of life in Africa, family matters, the weather and native
vegetation, and the recurring troubles that occurred with the indigenous people. (The letter writers frequently misspelled words, including names. Major and Harlan are both frequently misspelled in the letters.) Requests were also made to Benjamin Major for a variety of supplies, such as cotton and paper, which were scarce. Requests were also made for replacement of lost items. Greetings were passed to family members and acquaintances still in this country. For the most part, it appears that Mr. Major regularly sent shipments of goods to Liberia

All are in extremely fragile condition.  The letters are arranged in chronological order. Transcriptions are in the finding aid.

This collection includes twelve complete letters, appended notes, and letter fragments written between 1830 and 1854 by emancipated slaves residing in Liberia. 

These letters were gifts from the estate of Gretchen Major, of Eureka, Illinois, in 1992.  Gretchen, a great granddaughter-in-law of Benjamin Major, agreed that the letters be donated to the Historical Society before her death in November 1991.


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