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Edward Roye (1856)
*Edward J. Roye was born on this date in 1815. He was a Black businessman and politician.
Born in a little house on what is now Mount Vernon Road in Newark, Ohio, he was educated in Newark schools, but nothing much is known of his early years. In 1822, his father sold his Newark property and went to Illinois, leaving Edward and his mother behind. In 1829, his father left all his property acquired in Illinois to his son Edward. Young Roye became a barber, and in 1832 he was enrolled at Ohio University in Athens.
He went on to teach school at Chillicothe in 1836, and after that, he moved to Terre Haute, Ind., where he opened that city's first bathhouse/barbershop next door to the best hotel. When his mother died in 1840, the country's mood changed. Whites wanted to remove all Blacks and send them to Africa. Roye decided to leave the United States for Liberia in 1846, sailing from New York to Monrovia. His energy and intelligence soon made him a leading merchant, and after acquiring great wealth, he returned to the U.S. on his ship. It is said he visited Newark, where he was entertained at a banquet for an event for Thomas Ewin, adoptive father of William Tecumseh Sherman.
Years later, Roye became chief justice, speaker of the House, and finally, president of Liberia in 1871. He began a reconstruction program for his nation, intending to build new roads and schools. For these purposes, he needed money. Roye sailed for England, where he began negotiations with London banks. The results proved disastrous; the terms of the loans were severe, among other things carrying an interest of 7 percent. Roye hastily agreed without consulting the legislature. Liberia received about $90,000, while bonds were issued for $400,000.
The affair caused great resentment against him, and when he returned home, he was accused of embezzlement. He then tried to extend his two-year term as president by proclamation after the people rose against him. In October 1871, Roye was thrown out of office. He was brought to trial but escaped. He is believed to have drowned while trying to reach an English ship in Monrovia harbor on Feb. 12, 1872. After many years the nation of Liberia has taken another look at its fifth president. A building housing what was the True Wig Party headquarters is named in his honor, as well as a ship, a town, and several schools.
The Encyclopedia of African American Heritage
by Susan Altman
Copyright 1997, Facts on File, Inc. New York