Amplifying a little-known slice of Southern history, journalist Alan Huffman has reconstructed the riveting true story of freed slaves who fled Mississippi to establish a new home in Africa in the 1840s. Mississippi in Africa: The Saga of the Slaves of Prospect Hill Plantation and Their Legacy in Liberia Today tells this stranger-than-fiction story in compelling style, capturing the hope, conflict and tragedy of the endeavor.
Isaac Ross was a Revolutionary War veteran who had established a sprawling, 5,000-acre cotton plantation in Jefferson County, Mississippi. When he died in 1836, Ross' will stipulated that all the slaves of the Prospect Hill plantation be freed upon his daughter's death. The plantation would be sold to finance a journey for any freed slaves who wanted to emigrate to Liberia, a province in Africa where a colony of freed slaves had already been established.
Legal battles by some of Ross' heirs delayed execution of the will for more than a decade, but by 1849 about 200 of the Prospect Hill slaves had been freed and had settled in Liberia. (Slaves who chose to stay behind were sold at auction, but the will specified that family units could not be separated.) Some who moved to Liberia emulated what they had seen back in Mississippi, building Greek Revival-style mansions in their new African homeland.
As it turned out, the freed slaves were not welcomed with open arms by the residents of the colony and a violent, bloody and bitter battle ensued between the tribes and the colonists. As part of his research, Huffman went to Liberia in search of the group's descendants. There he discovered that conflicts between natives and freed slaves have echoed throughout the country's history, even up to today's civil war.
Events move swiftly in this complex and turbulent tale, but with the skill of a Southern storyteller, Ross weaves the threads together in a clear and readable narrative. Piecing together a story he first heard about during his own Mississippi childhood, he has produced a well researched account that illuminates a distant event and its lasting legacy.