A Brief History of Liberia

By Tim Lambert

Early Liberia

It’s believed the ancestors of the indigenous people of Liberia migrated there between the 12th century and the 16th century. The Portuguese reached the coast in the 15th century and trade began in pepper, ivory, and slaves.

In 1816 the American Colonization Society was formed. It aimed to resettle free black Americans in Africa. A colony was founded on the coast in 1822. In 1824 the capital was named Monrovia after US President James Monroe.

The new colony grew rapidly. The USA had banned the slave trade and US ships intercepted ships carrying slaves. The slaves were settled in Liberia.

Liberia declared its independence from the USA on 26 July 1847 and a constitution was drawn up. Joseph Jenkins Roberts became the first president of Liberia in 1848. Britain was the first European country to recognize Liberia. The USA did not recognize it until 1862.

Modern Liberia

Liberia declared war on Germany in 1917. Then in 1926, the US Firestone Company opened a rubber plantation in Liberia. In 1944 Liberia once again declared war on Germany. In 1946 Liberia gained a new constitution. It introduced universal suffrage.

However, in 1980 Samuel Doe led a military coup. In 1985 Doe was elected president in a rigged election. In 1989 The National Patriotic Front of Liberia, led by Charles Taylor began an uprising. The result was a civil war that lasted until 1996. Taylor was elected president in 1997.

However, a second civil war began in 1999. It lasted until 2003. The civil wars, of course, caused great devastation but with the coming of peace, Liberia began to recover. In 2005 Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected president of Liberia. She was the first woman president of an African state.

Today Liberia is a poor country but the economy is growing. In 2023 the population of Liberia was 5.1 million.

Last revised 2024