Choose from the Above Links to Navigate about the Website.

detail of Liberian postage stamp

Jehudi Ashmun, Middlebury College, and the American Colonization Society

                Jehudi Ashmun was born in 1794 in the small town of Champlain, New York, not far from the border with Canada.  By all accounts an earnest and ambitious young man intent on self-improvement, he entered Middlebury College in 1812 when he seventeen.  Like many of his fellow students, Ashmun came to Middlebury seeking to qualify himself as a minister.  Also like many of his Middlebury classmates, he was relatively poor and had to work as a schoolteacher between sessions of classes, and sometimes even during them.  According to his biographer, Gurley, Ashmun was an enthusiastic debater and enjoyed participating in the one of the College’s debating clubs, possibly the Philomathesian Society.  Yet, he struggled to maintain his health and finances while at Middlebury, and he ultimately left the College in 1815.  Ashmun graduated as salutatorian from the University of Vermont in 1816.   
                  Following graduation, Ashmun helped to establish and instruct the Maine Charity School in Hampden, Maine, but he left that position rather precipitously following a misunderstanding with his employers over his marriage to Catherine Gray, a young woman whom he knew from his youth in Champlain, New York.  He then traveled south, first to New York, where he published the short-lived pro-colonization journal titled The African Intelligencer. He then movedsouth to Baltimore, where he published the Theological Repertory. During his journey southward, Ashmun maintained a journal in which he detailed his travels and also his hopes for an illustrious and useful career of Christian service.  Ashmun’s journal reflects his eagerness to pursue missionary work among the “heathens” of Africa, or some other far-flung region of the world.  In 1922, the American Colonization Society appointed Ashmun to lead an expedition of thirty-seven free blacks to the West African coast, where he joined a fledgling ACS colony on Cape Monteserado.  Ashmun’s wife accompanied him on the journey, but succumbed to disease within weeks of their arrival on the African coast.  Ashmun and the small group of African-American colonists struggled against hostile West African tribes and worked hard to build a successful agricultural settlement under harsh and unfamiliar environmental conditions.  In order to attract more free African Americans to the Liberian colony, Ashmun published The Liberia Farmer, a descriptive text on the agricultural opportunities that prospective colonists should they join the ACS colony.  While even Gurley, his admiring biographer, acknowledged that he could be high-handed, Ashmun sought to establish a successful agricultural colony with a government modeled on the American democratic system. His tenure as governor was plagued by disease and conflict with indigenous tribes. Ashmun succumbed to disease in 1828.
               Liberia gained its independence in 1847 when the American Colonization Society could no longer afford to sponsor it.  By that time, Ashmun’s initial settlement of thirty-seven had grown to the thousands, and it would continue to be a destination for free American blacks throughout the middle and late nineteenth century.  While the histories of the ACS and of Liberia have been rife with ideological and political conflict, Ashmun’s writings and other primary documents attest to his belief that building Liberia was a crucial means to combating slavery and serving Christ. 

Sources Consulted:

Gurley, Ralph Randolph. Life of Jehudi Ashmun, late colonial agent in Liberia: With an appendix, containing extracts from his journal and other writings; with a brief sketch of the life of the Rev. Lott Cary. J.C. Dunn, 1835.

"Middlebury's Lost Man of History," Middlebury Newsletter 21:3(April 1947), 10-11, 21, 22.



Jehudi Ashmun, a native of Champlain, New York, studied at Middlebury College from 1812 to 1815. Ashmun ardently opposed slavery and supported the colonization movement. The American Colonization Society appointed him to le the first governor of its colony in West Africa in 1822.