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In our number for January, 1826, we published a letter from the Rey. Dr. Blumhardt, of Basle, Switzerland, to the Colonial Agent, Mr. Ashmun, making sundry inquiries in reference to the establishment and support of a Mission on the coast of Africa. To this letter, Mr. Ashmun made the following very full and able reply, which, in consequence of the avowed intentions of the Domestic & Foreign Missionary Society of the Episcopal Church, and of the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions, to establish Missions in or near the Colony of Liberia, we deem it expedient to publish. It is the production of one, who has enjoyed the amplest means of acquiring information concerning the inhabitants, customs, and resources of the country of which he writes, and who is in every respect qualified to express an opinion on the subject treated of in this communi. cation.
MONROVIA, APRIL 23, 1826.
at Basle, Switzerland.
nearly two months ago; but a very unusual press of other duties has hitherto deprived me of the power of answering it satisfactorily, and must render, I fear, the present reply much less perfect and detailed than the importance of your communication authorizes you to expect.
While I tender you my sincere thanks for the information your letter affords of the object, origin, and operations of the two allied Institutions in which your own labours have borne so distinguished a part, you will do me and many thousands of my countrymen only an act of justice by assuring yourself, that both had already shared deeply in our sympathies, our hopes, and our prayers. Our civil institutions and ancestral relations, perhaps, direct our natural affections towards a different district of Europe; but as heirs of the pure faith and blessed hopes of the Gospel, American Christians have still stronger sympathies to bestow on the land of Luther and the glorious company of his associate reformers. The rekindlings of the holy light of the sixteenth century, in Geneva, Basle, Frankfort, Dresden, and many other places in Switzerland, Germany, Holland, and Prussia, are reflected to the Western World, where it mingles with a kindred radiance, proceeding, we trust, with increasing brightness from the American churches. Gladly, I am persuaded, would those churches, or the individuals who compose them, reunite their labours with those of their brethren of Continental Europe, as they have their affections, in the cultivation of the common African field, hitherto too much neglected by both.A copy of your letter to the Board of direction of this Colony, has been put into my hands; from whom, I doubt not, you will receive assurances of their most cordial co-operation so far as the paramount and single object of their labours, "the Colonization of American Blacks in Africa”, to which they stand pledged to the world to appropriate their funds, shall authorize them to act. The answer which you may expect to that communication will, I trust, prove sufficiently full and explicit to satisfy your inquiries on all the points stated in your letters, except those of local information; and on these inquiries I shall now endeavour to afford you all the information which a residence of nearly four years in Africa, and a very large intercourse with the natives of the country, have enabled me to communicate.
Before proceeding to take up the questions of your letter, in their order, you will permit me to premise, that the district of Western Africa more immediately within the actual or prospective sphere of this Colony's influence, commences towards the north from the river Gallinas, (Spanish Galhinas) 100 English miles to the northwestward of Cape Montserado, and terminates, towards the southeast, at Settra Kroo, (the country of the Kroomen) 180 miles distant from the Cape; thus comprehending a line of 280 English miles of seacoast, but reaching less than one-sixth part of the same distance towards the interior. We have very little connection with, or even knowledge of, any of the nations comprehended in this extent of country, excepting the tribes of the seacoast. The Fey or Vey tribe occupies the line of coast between the Gallinas river and Grand Cape Mount, comprehending a district of fifty miles, and may have extended their settlements twenty-five to thirty miles inland. The character of these people is active, warlike, proud, and, with that of all their neighbours, deceitful. The slave traffic has furnished them with their principal employment, and proved the chief source of their wealth, to the present year, when it is believed to have been broken up entirely and forever. Their intercourse with the whites has been very great; and few of the men are unable to speak indifferent English. Three-fourths of the population are domestic slaves, now engaged in a civil strife with their masters for an extension of their privileges. The whole population of this tribe, I state at twelve to fifteen thousand.
Occupying the coast between Capes Mount and Montserado, fifty miles in extent, is the Dey tribe; reaching only half the distance of the Veys inland, and containing about half their po
bulation. They are indolent, pacific, and inoffensive in their character: but equally treacherous, profligate, and cruel, when their passions are stirred, with the Veys. The different subdivisions of the Bassa tribe are disposed along the remaining line of coast towards the southeast, over which the influence of the Colony is beginning to be felt. No writer on Africa, within my knowledge, has comprehended the inhabitants of this last division of the coast under the general designation of the Bassas. But the propriety of the designation is seen in the facts, that the language of all is radically one and the same, and that thetr
manners, pursuits, characters, and the productions of their country, present a striking uniformity. These countries, taken in their order and reckoned by their distinct governments, are from Cape Montserado 15 miles, Mamba—thence 20 miles, Junk—thence 15 miles, Little Bassa—thence 20 miles, Grand Bassa--thence 12 miles, Young Sesters--thence 15 miles, Trade Town—thence 12 miles, Little Colo—thence 13 miles, Grand Colo; after which occurs Teembo (Sp. Timbo), Maná, Rock Sesters, Sinou, Little Botton, Grand Botton, Settra Kroo, and Kroo Settra. This maritime country may reach on an average twenty miles inland. It is decidedly the most populous of any seaboard district of equal extent in Western Africa. In rice, oil, cattle, and the productions of the soil, it rivals, I will not say any part of the African coast, but any part of the savage world. An immense surplus of these articles, after abundantly supplying the wants of the inhabitants, is every year transported to other countries. The people are domestic and industrious, many of them even laborious in their habits. Their number may be estimated at 125,000. Their stationary and even manner of life, the infrequency of wars among them, and their own importunity to be furnished with the means of improvement, seem to declare their readiness to receive among them the instruments of civilization, and the heralds of divine revelation.
I have already said that we yet know but little of the natives of our interior. The vague accounts received from ignorant slaves, and by a few other channels of information, agree that they are much more extensive and powerful, and less broken into tribes, than those of the coast. All the people of the seaboard have a character made up, as their language is, of parts borrowed from their intercourse with Europeans. But - both the one and the other, remote from the seaboard, are of necessity, unmixed and peculiar. Very recent accounts received from an expedition of Englishmen into these very regions, represent the populousness and even civilization of these countries in a very imposing light; accounts not without their corroborating proofs in many circumstances, well known upon the coast.
Between the settlements of the coast and those in the interior, it ought to be stated, is in most places, a forest of from half a day, to two days' journey, left by both as a barrier of
separation, and which is seldom passed except by erratic traders, who are in many parts of this country very numerous.
The Dey and Vey languages have an evident affinity between themselves, but I have not been able to trace it to any other dialect of Africa. It is very imperfect in its structure, wants precision, has no numerals above 100, and abounds in sounds absolutely inarticulate. I think it not worth the labour of reducing it to a grammatical or graphical form, as the English can be used for all the purposes of education, with equal facility, and incalculably greater advantages, and as otherwise several thousand new terms must be introduced, before the language of the country can be made the medium of exact theological and philosophical instruction. The Bassa dialects may be readily reduced to one and the same written language. But no attempt of the kind has yet been made. It is more copious and artificial than the former, but an European of education can scarcely credit the fact, that a jargon so rude in its structure and pronunciation, should exist as the medium of communication among rational beings. The people of these countries universally inhabit villages of from forty to one and two thousand souls. Every town or village has its head, and several subordinate chiefs, and exhibits the harmony, and much of the economy of one great family. The chiefs have over the people of their respective towns, unlimited authority, which is seldom resisted on the part of their subjects, or abused by themselves. Polygamy and domestic slavery are universal. The women and female children are to the males in most of their towns as three to two; "the inequality being sustained by frequent purchases of female slaves from the interior. The men perform no servile labour, (a few of the newly acquired domestic slaves excepted,) and pass their entire year in indolence, except the months of February, March and April, when all are industriously occupied in preparing their rice and cassada plantations. The women are incessantly busy either in the plantations or in domestic duties.
The people have no taste, and very little capacity for abstract thinking. Except their games of hazard, they have nothing in the shape of science among them.-In their habits they are temperate and abstemious, and capable of incredible fatigue, when impelled to it by war, or stimulated by the hope of reward.