Brown, Hallie Q.
|MRS. JANE ROBERTS -- 1809--(?) -- "The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here."|
Mrs. Roberts was the wife of the first African President of Liberia. She was an American as was also her distinguished husband, Joseph Jenkin Roberts, a Mulatto born in Virginia in 1809. He went to Liberia in 1829 and engaged in trade. At the death of Thomas H. Buchanan, as Governor of the Commonwealth of Liberia, Mr. Roberts was appointed Governor of the Colonization Society of America and held the office for six years. He was at the head of the Liberian force in its war against the Golah Chief, Gatumba.
During his governorship Mr. Roberts visited the United States and made a good impression and met the lady who later became his wife. As a result of his visit an American squadron visited the Coast of West Africa. Governor Roberts found the English and other foreigners unwilling to pay customs duties, on the ground that Liberia was not an actual government and had no right to levy duties on shipping and foreign trade.
A crisis was reached. In 1846 the Colonization Society resolved that it was expedient for the people to take into their own hands the management of their affairs and severed relations which had bound Liberia to it.
The Liberians themselves called for a Constitutional Convention which began its sessions June 25, 1847.
On July twenty-sixth the Declaration of Independence was made and the Constitution of the Liberian Republic was adopted.
"The flag consisted of eleven stripes alternately red and white; the field, blue, bore a single white star. It is suggested that the meaning of the flag is this: The three colors indicate the three counties into which the Republic is divided. The eleven stripes represent the eleven signers of the Declaration and the Constitution; the lone star indicated the uniqueness of the African Republic."
The election was held in October and Joseph Jenkin Roberts, the governor of the Commonwealth was elected to the new office of President of the Republic. One of his earliest acts was to visit Europe in order to ask the recognition of the new nation by European countries. The first to recognize the Republic was Great Britain in 1848; the second, France in 1852; the United States in 1862. In 1858 Mr. Roberts was appointed president of Liberia College. In 1862 was sent to Europe and appointed Belgian Consul.
In 1872 he was re-elected president for the fifth time. President Roberts was a superior man in intelligence and moral integrity. His excellence in conversation and elegance of manners rendered him popular in the Courts of France and England.
During his long and eventful public life, he was ably assisted by his excellent wife, the subject of this sketch.
Mrs. Roberts graced the Executive Mansion with ease and dignity. She spoke English and French fluently and in all respects was well-bred and refined. She accompanied her husband on many of his visits and was the recipient of great attention wherever she appeared. She had the distinction of being twice presented to her Majesty Queen Victoria, once with her husband on the Queen's royal yacht. At the conclusion of that visit to England, the President and Mrs. Roberts were courteously returned to Monrovia on the British war-ship Amazon.
Her second appearance before the British Queen was no less interesting. An African woman by the name of Martha Ricks, famous for her patch work quilts, had for twenty-five years been piecing an intricate pattern, which
Thus a generation passed until at last it was finished and Aunt Martha unfolded a most beautiful creation. A quilt which showed a complete coffee tree all in green and yellow on white ground--its branches and leaves perfectly formed, the flowers at the root of the leaves and its berries--exquisite in tracery and workmanship.
The design was so unique and true to nature that it was admired by all who saw it.
The laugh was turned, but how was the Queen to get it? "I shall take it to the Queen myself," said Aunt Martha. Again the joke went around--"Aunt Martha's going to take her quilt to England," they laughed and joked. Mrs. Roberts saw and admired the quilt, heard the story and the way was found. She and Aunt Martha embarked for England carrying the much prized quilt. On reaching London a meeting was arranged and Aunt Martha stood in a palace and had the joy, after years of patience and perseverance, to present in person her quilt which was graciously accepted by that noblest of sovereigns, the Queen of Great Britain and Empress of all India, Victoria Regina. Today the workmanship of this humble African woman adorns a niche in the art collections of Windsor Castle. Mrs. Roberts and Aunt Martha, the latter laden with gifts from the royal household, were returned to Monrovia, by her majesty's command, on a special ship with royal escort.
On reaching her home, Clay-Ashland, a great concourse of people, men, women and children were at the wharf to greet Aunt Martha, while Sunday school scholars sang a song of welcome.
The writer during a visit to London in 1910 met Mrs. Roberts at the home of Mr. William Archer the first colored
Mrs. Roberts, notwithstanding the weight of ninety-one years, was clear in mind and wonderfully active. She related the story of Aunt Martha among other incidents of interest. She was in England on official business.
In previous years she had secured considerable money to erect a hospital in Monrovia and was endeavoring to enlist the support of English friends to supplement the same through generous gifts.
Whenever Mrs. Roberts went abroad she was spoken of as "the sweet old lady who looked so much like the Queen."
She passed away in London, never returning to the land of perpetual verdure, the country she loved so well and to which she had given the best years of her life to redeem.