Lying on the Atlantic in the southern part of West Africa, Liberia is bordered by Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Côte d’Ivoire. It is comparable in size to Tennessee. Most of the country is a plateau covered by dense tropical forests, which thrive under an annual rainfall of about 160 in. a year.
Liberia owes its establishment to the American Colonization Society, founded in 1816 to resettle freed American slaves in Africa. An attempt at colonization in Sierra Leone had failed in 1815. Six years later native rulers granted a tract of land on Cape Mesurado, at the mouth of the Saint Paul River, to U.S. representatives, and the first Americo-Liberians, led by Jehudi Ashmun, began the settlement. In 1894 an American agent for the society, Ralph Randolph Gurley, named the new colony Liberia and the Cape Mesurado settlement Monrovia. Other separate settlements were established along the coast during the next 20 years. Soon, however, conflicts arose between the settlers and the society in the United States. By the time Joseph Jenkins Roberts became the first black governor in 1841, the decision had been made to give the colonists almost full control of the government. A constitution modeled on that of the United States was drawn up, and Liberia became an independent republic in July 1847. Roberts was its first president, serving until 1856. Britain recognized Liberia in 1848, France in 1852, and the United States in 1862.