Exploring Liberia-Barbados Ties: Retired Liberian Ambassador Lorenzo Witherspoon Meets with the Iron Lady of the Caribbean

Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley chatting with retired Liberian ambassador Lorenzo Witherspoon, last Friday at Ilaro Court

Bridgestone, Barbados – Ilaro Court, the Official Residence of the Prime Minister, was Friday afternoon filled with stories that embraced the Barbados-Liberia connection with nostalgia and discussion of the extensive social and economic potential that could be tapped into with greater cooperation.

The occasion was a courtesy call on Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley by retired Liberian ambassador Lorenzo Witherspoon, who is visiting the island to continue an extensive research project and connect with his Barbadian roots.

Witherspoon, the great-great-grandson of John Albert Porte, who migrated from Barbados to Liberia in the mid-1860s, told the Barbados delegation that included Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Dr Jerome Walcott, and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office with responsibility for Culture, John King, that the warmth of Barbadians and the many similarities with Liberia made him feel at home.

The former ambassador, who has written extensively about the Barbados-Liberia connection, was planning to visit the island with his family for We Gatherin’ 2020 when COVID-19 struck.

He revealed, though, that with the world starting to settle and the interest among Liberians to learn more about their Barbadian roots growing, there were already initiative taking shape to facilitate visits.

In response, Prime Minister Mottley assured Witherspoon that the resources of the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. would be made available to assist in making these visits a reality, as well as facilitating Barbadians who wish to make the connection.

The former diplomat also complimented Barbados on its maintenance of the world’s second-largest archive of slavery-era records, second only to the United Kingdom’s, and urged the Government to take steps to preserve it in a manner that would make it available to future generations using modern technology.

The Prime Minister assured Witherspoon that the archives project was a priority of the Government, and considerable discussions had already taken place with a view to digitizing the records.

During his meeting, Witherspoon presented the Prime Minister with the results of one of his research projects, a paper titled: Portes Find A New Home in Liberia — Story of the Post-Emancipation Emigration of The John Prince Porte Family from Barbados to Liberia, West Africa in 1865.

In the document, Elfric K. Porte, Sr., the eldest great-grandchild of John Prince Porte, wrote: “Coming 150 years after the arrival of our forebears in Liberia from Barbados, the family is proud of this initiative, which firmly and finally connects the dots of our family’s origins and paves the way for the reunion with our living relatives in Barbados….”

From the hundreds of Barbadians who returned to Liberia in the 1860’s that country has produced two political leaders, including President Arthur Barclay, who, as a boy, spent the first dozen years of his life in Barbados.