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Stephen A. Benson
The birth of Stephen Allen Benson in 1816 is celebrated on this date. He was 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 his election as 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 the annexation of the Colony of Maryland, now Maryland Country, into the Republic of Liberia in 1857.
He also obtained the recognition of 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.
Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century.
Edited by Leon Litwack and August Meier
Copyright 1998, University if Illinois Press