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Tue, 05.21.1816

Stephen A. Benson, Liberian Leader born

Stephen A. Benson

The birth of Stephen Allen Benson in 1816 is celebrated on this date. He was a Black businessman and politician.

Born in Maryland, Benson was only six years old when he and his family emigrated to the newly created country of Liberia in 1822. Shortly after their arrival, the colony was taken over by African natives, who held Benson and his relatives captives for a few months. Upon his release, Benson rejoined his family and began his schooling. In 1835, he joined the militia and was stationed in Grand Bassa County. After his service, he remained there, working in trade and agriculture. In 1842, he won his first elective office, winning a seat on the Colonial Liberian Council.

After Liberia gained its independence in 1847, he served as a judge until he was elected vice president in 1853. When President Joseph Jenkins Roberts declined to seek a fifth term in 1855, Benson was elected to succeed him. During his four-term presidency, Liberia saw an expansion of both its internal and external trade, and in 1862, the country got diplomatic recognition by the United States.  Perhaps his biggest accomplishment was annexing the Colony of Maryland, now Maryland Country, into the Republic of Liberia in 1857.

He also received recognition for Liberia from the following countries: Belgium 1858: Denmark 1869; Italy 1862; Norway and Sweden 1863; and Haiti 1864.  Benson was the first Liberian President to speak several native languages, favoring a progressive policy toward Liberia's native peoples; regrettably, this policy remained largely unimplemented.  He left office at the close of 1863 and returned to his coffee plantation in Grand Bassa County. Stephen Benson died in 1865.

To Become a Political Scientist


Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century.
Edited by Leon Litwack and August Meier
Copyright 1998, University of Illinois Press
ISBN 0-252-06213-2

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