No. 393.
Mr. Turner to Mr. Fish.

No. 178.]

Sir: I have the honor to inform the Department that an outbreak has occurred at Cape Palmas, the serious nature of which forbodes disturbance to the quiet of this republic. The Grebos, a tribe of Africans numbering about 30,000 souls, have declared war against Liberia, and are under arms and strongly intrenched at Gape Palmas and along the Cavalla River, a distance of thirteen miles southeast by east from Cape Palmas, to a point occupied by the American Episcopalian mission for schools and religions purposes. The government has issued a call for troops to proceed without delay to Cape Palmas, and give relief to the Liberians, citizens of that place, who appear to have been driven from their homes and farms for a distance of about seven miles around, to concentrate their small force at the town of Cape Palmas, immediately upon the sea-shore, where they are at present within hastily-constructed works, endeavoring to maintain their position until the arrival of succor from other sections of the republic.

About thirty days, more or less, have elapsed since the government of Liberia thought it advisable to send Ex-president and President-elect James S. Payne as commissioner to the Grebo tribe of Africans at Cape Palmas, for the purpose of learning the most satisfactory manner in which it may be possible mutually to settle the long series of complaints alleged by that tribe against Liberia.

The errand of the commissioner has not resulted happily enough to secure peace. On the the contrary, the President informed me a short time since that that officer, in his communications to the government of the republic, regards an immediate war with the Grebos as inevitable. From the earliest settlement of Cape Palmas by American colonists, under the auspices of what was known as the Maryland Colonization Society, this Grebo tribe has evinced a restless dissatisfaction that, after one or two appeals to arms, forced the Maryland colony to annex itself to the Republic of Liberia.

The annexation of the Cape Palmas, or Maryland, colony to the republic was consummated in April, 1857, since which period the government of Liberia has labored with singular abortiveness of purpose [Page 833] for the settlement of the perplexing question of the right of territorial possession and jurisdiction at that point of the republic, as that question existed and was maintained between the Grebo tribe and the first American settlers at Cape Palmas, and as that question was transferred by those settlers through annexation to the Republic of Liberia. Having failed in the recent conference with Commissioner Payne to reach terms for the satisfactory adjustment of the existing differences, it appears that the Grebo tribe decided to appeal to arms, and wring from. Liberia forcibly a concession of that territory, the right to which the Grebos claim never to have ceded to any one. On the other hand, the Liberians claim to have acquired the right to the disputed territory by treaty and purchase, entered into with the Grebos by the first American settlers, and by the annexation of April 1857. It seems, therefore, reasonable to expect in the future a somewhat vexatious discussion between the Liberian government and the Grebo tribe, arising from the midst of circumstances strikingly similar, and leading perhaps to somewhat similar results, to those circumstances and results which now encompass the long dispute and difficulty so unhappily existing between this government and the Vey tribe of Africans, commonly known as the “Northwestern-boundary-claims” difficulty, and to which passing allusion was made in my No. 143. It seems proper that I should allude to an impression that obtains here to a considerable extent, viz: During a recent conversation the President, while referring to the probable war with the Grebo tribe, expressed the conviction that owing to a kind of military training which he said was introduced by the late Bishop J. G. Auer into the Grebo schools of the American Episcopal mission at Cape Palmas, the Grebos have been made proficient in the use of artillery and other fire-arms, and are therefore a formidable foe, tolerably versed in the arts of war. The mission referred to is an important and useful American interest of long standing in Liberia. I therefore felt a desire to know in what direction the President is inclined to attach blame for the military knowledge obtained by the young Grebo students, members of the Episcopal mission schools. He proceeded to state., without being requested, that, although those Episcopal schools situated among the Grebos have for some time combined military training with other instruction, it was not done without the knowledge of the government of Liberia, and he seem inclined in that conversation to attach more importance to the circumstance that President Roberts had suffered the young Grebo students to receive such instruction without remonstrance than to what he considered the fact that the schools have been the direct or indirect means of imparting such instruction to the tribe. It is well to remark here that a gentleman eminent in the Episcopalian ministry of the United States has recently arrived here for the purpose of engaging in active missionary labor, who assures me that military training has not at any time formed part of the course taught in the Episcopalian mission Schools at Cape Palmas or at any other point of this republic; however, I am unable at present to venture an opinion as to the truth or error of these expressions. Albeit, I have discovered that there exists among several of the African tribes, with whose habits and traditions of government I have become somewhat acquainted, a rule making it impossible for any king or chief of a tribe to enter into any compact, agreement, or treaty, of whatever nature, by means of which the lands owned by the tribe may be permanently alienated. When we reflect that the farms are all planted, worked, and the crops garnered and shared in common; that the houses are built [Page 834] and repaired on a day, or at a time set apart for the purpose, by the allied or consociate labor of the entire community of each tribal town, we are, perhaps, better able to understand how the land itself is also the property of a common ownership; which ownership the tribal traditions render perpetual, and undertake to enforce the perpetuation thereof by making the title non transferable. Hence, no individual or collective power within the tribe, even though it be kingly authority itself, is regarded by the people of the tribe as being sufficient to make permanent cession of the tribal lands. The tribal lands being considered the rightful inalienable inheritance of their posterity, held as a thing in trust for generations yet unborn, it would indeed be difficult to conceive of any cause for which an African tribe would contend with greater pertinacity than for that of conducting the unbroken descendency of their lands to their posterity. I have thus preferred to state what seems to me to be the root of the present misunderstanding, that the Department may better appreciate the necessity of the Republic of Liberia to defend with arms against a tribe with whom she is in treaty relations a territory which she claims to have acquired both by treaty stipulations and by purchase.

It would seem quite probable that, although the Grebo tribe may be vanquished in the field, it may prove quite difficult by any coercive policy to eradicate or even to diminish the force of a tribal tradition that it has been the fixed custom and practice of the tribe to observe, perhaps, for many centuries, and for which they at present show willingness and determination to die, if necessary. It is an unhappy circumstance that the policy of the republic during the years of her existence, in the midst of the very tractable tribes of Africans within Liberian boundaries, and who vastly outnumber her civilized citizens, has not been sufficiently assimilative to have so intermixed the interests of these two classes of her citizens as to be able now to avoid violent contact with the traditions of a tribe so powerful and influential as is the Grebo tribe. For twenty years, or thereabouts, those American Episcopalian schools have been taught upon a very commendable system among the Grebo tribe. The result is that several hundred of the young Grebo men, and about as many of their young women, have acquired a fair common-school training, while quite a number are classical scholars. Some are able to read the Holy Scriptures in the original tongues, and, in some instances, to translate them into the Grebo language, which has been reduced to grammar.

Now, it seems plain that, as this kind of intelligence increases and spreads within the tribe, the people thereof will become better able to know and appreciate their just rights, and to form combinations for the resistance to wrongs perpetrated from without the tribe. It would therefore seem “a far more excellent way” should the probity of Liberian statesmen adopt toward the aborigines of the country a policy the friendships and wisdom of which would be capable of inducing at least the intelligence of the tribes to enter and become an integral of the sovereign state of Liberia, and assist in bearing the responsibilities of the nation. It seems that some such policy would at once obviate many perplexing difficulties that may hereafter spring up to harass and trouble the republic, and accomplish a grand effectual act in the laudable work for which these colonies evidently were planted upon the borders of this unknown land, viz, the evangelization and civilization of this portion of this vast continent.

I have, &c.,