Monrovia – Nearly 160 years after hundreds of Barbadians traveled and settled in Liberia, a group of diaspora and home-based Liberians are preparing for a historic pilgrimage to the Caribbean island bearing significant historical ties to Liberia. The event website is www.Back2Barbados.com.
Under the umbrella of The SANKOFA PILGRIMAGE TO BARBADOS, the trip is being organized by Ambassador Llewellyn Witherspoon in collaboration with the Barbadian government, 159 years after the forebears departed Barbados for Liberia. It is a product of dreams of Barbadian-Liberians in Crozierville and Prime Minister Mottley to “revitalize the deep historical ties between Barbados and Africa.”
Liberia has produced two presidents of Barbadian ancestry, including President Arthur Barclay, who, as a boy, spent the first eleven years of his life in Barbados, and his cousin, Edwin Barclay, who was born in Liberia.
John Prince Porte emigrated from Barbados to Liberia in the mid-1860s.
The lineage is well documented in the 2021 Report, “Portes Find a New Home in Liberia: Story of the Post-emancipation Emigration of the John Prince Porte Family from Barbados, West Indies, to Liberia, West Africa, in 1865 and The Family’s Quest for Ancestral Citizenship” published by Ambassador Witherspoon. The Report is complimented by the Passenger Manifest of the Brig CORA, the vessel that brought 346 emigrants from Barbados to Liberia on April 6, 1865, arriving on May 10, 1865.
The document includes A History of Crozierville, the first-ever Porte Family Tree, a Porte Family Photo Gallery, and two separate documents portraying the Prominent Roles played in Liberia and internationally by Direct Descendants of John Prince Porte and Prominent Positions held in Liberia and internationally by other 1865 emigrant families from Barbados and their descendants who settled in Crozierville. It also included references to several important research work on the Barbados – Liberia bilateral agreement conducted over the years, which enabled the 1865 emigration.
In January 2020, Prime Minister Mia Mottley designated and introduced 2020 as the year for Barbadians and those who love Barbados to come home, reconnect with family and friends and invest in the rebuilding and development of Barbados. Under the theme “We Gatherin’ 2020”, it was a clarion homecoming invitation symbolizing a recommitment to the core Barbadian values that define who we are as a people. It is an event to reunite all Bajans.
Barbados maintains the world’s second-largest archive of slavery-era records, second only to the United Kingdom’s, which the Government is keen to preserve and make available to future generations using modern technology.
The Prime Minister’s plan hopes to diversify and grow the economy and boost its population, currently 290,000, by availing multi-generational diaspora descendants citizenship of the island. The change would mean that providing they can prove it, descendants of the island who settled in Liberia beginning in May 1865 and after could be in line for the coveted citizenship of Barbados.
In addition to 10 acres of fertile land per person and 25 acres per family, each Barbadian emigrant was granted citizenship on arrival in Liberia.
Ambassador Lorenzo Witherspoon, who has written extensively about the Barbados-Liberia connection, says he is grateful for the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Mottley, who requested during a 2021 meeting at Ilaro Court in Bridgetown, that a plan for a pilgrimage “home” of Liberians, to be followed by one of Barbadians to Liberia,” be undertaken.
Says Ambassador Witherspoon: “Like the British Slavery Abolition Act, whose passage was delayed until 1833, Liberian descendants of Barbadian emigrants and African-Barbadians who didn’t leave the island have, until recently, done little as a collective to reconnect and reunite families on both sides of the Atlantic and to build a robust and formal connection between the island and Africa. The generational change in Africa and Barbados and interest in revisiting their roots have served as a catalyst for breaking this barrier to reintegration.”
Dr. Ophelia Weeks, Co-Chair of the soon-to-be-launched Foundation, The Africa – Barbados Heritage Initiative (TABHI), laments: “We are today what we did yesterday. We will be tomorrow what we do today. The history of the relationship between Liberia, Barbados, and Crozierville should be preserved; it needs to be unearthed and celebrated. That history recognizes significant building blocks in Liberia’s development, then and now.”
Sean Williams, Co-Chair of TABHI, added, “Despite not having the opportunity to experience Liberia growing up due to the conflict in the 90s, his family’s stories of their ancestral home left a lasting impression on him. “Last year, I visited Liberia and discovered that our ancestors had arrived from Barbados after the abolition of slavery on May 10, 1865, which coincidentally is also my birthday. This realization inspired me to help others connect with their ancestral roots, leading me to join the effort to bring the “Back 2 Barbados” experience to life. By promoting awareness of our shared histories and cultural backgrounds, we can foster greater understanding and appreciation among people of African descent, break down barriers, and create economic and cultural exchange opportunities between Barbados and Liberia. Let us use our shared heritage to build bridges and work towards a brighter future for all.”
In a previous meeting with Ambassador Witherspoon, Prime Minister Motley gave assurances that the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. resources and others of the Government would be made available to assist in making the pilgrimage 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 Ambassador offered to leverage his fundraising experience and global reach to raise funds for digitizing slave-era records in the Barbados Archives.
The Prime Minister assured Ambassador 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, the 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. The family was one of about 50 that comprised what remains the only organized emigration of Barbadians to Liberia, indeed Africa.
Commenting on the research Paper, 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 1860s, 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.
Settled by returning, formerly enslaved Africans from the United States in 1822, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Côte d’Ivoire border Liberia. Although Liberia declared its independence on July 26, 1847, it was not until September 23, 1862, that the United States recognized it.
Under the auspices of the Barbados Company, Sarah Ann Bourne Barclay, daughter of Black business luminary and abolitionist London Bourne (who was born a slave in Barbados), together with her husband, Anthony Barclay Jr, led the 346 emigrants to Liberia in 1865.