Sketch of Benjamin Major. Courtesy of Eureka College Archives.

The Major Collection
of
Letters from Liberia


Processed by Kristy Gebhardt
Spring 1994


Letters Transcribed by James Amemasor
August 2004

Reprocessed by Michael Kozak
Spring 2008



Table of Contents

Collection Information
Volume of Collection:
One Box.
Collection Dates:
1836-1851, 2004.
Restrictions:
Many brittle documents. Use photocopies unless authorized by Librarian / Archivist.
Reproduction Rights:
Permission to reproduce or publish material in this collection must be obtained in writing from the McLean County Museum of History.
Location:
Archives
Notes:
For additional information, see: Bibliography of James Amemasor's Masters Thesis.

 

The first letter sent to Benjamin Major from their freed slaves in Liberia, September 1836. This letter was written by Talbert Major.

 

Historical Sketch
   The Major Collection of Letters from Liberia consists of twelve letters written by freed slaves living in Liberia to their former master, Benjamin Major (31 Oct. 1796 - 29 May 1852). In the late 1820s, perhaps as a result of his friendship with Alexander Campbell, founder of the Disciples of Christ Church, Major came to the conclusion that slavery was wrong. He freed his eight slaves and paid their passage to the West African country of Liberia, where they arrived in late summer of 1830. The Major family moved from Christian County, Kentucky, to Woodford County, Illinois, in 1834. The family was and still is prominent in Woodford County, having been very instrumental in the establishment of the town of Eureka and Eureka College.
   The letters, written by four different individuals Tolbert Major, Austin Major, Wesley Harland, and Tolbert's wife, Selvay, describe the vagaries of life in Africa, family matters, the weather and native vegetation, and the recurring troubles that occurred with the indigenous people. Requests were also made to Benjamin Major for a variety of supplies, such as cotton and paper, which were scarce. Requests were also made for replacement of lost items. Greetings were passed to family members and acquaintances still in this country. For the most part, it appears that Mr. Major regularly sent shipments of goods to Liberia.
   Most of the letters begin with "Dear Father" or "Dear Father and Mother", but whether this is meant literally or figuratively is unclear. Other individuals mentioned include: Agnes Harlan, Lucy Major, George Harland, Edward Watins, John Major, Enock Harlands, and Shelvay Bradson.
   The earliest letter dates from September 1830 and the final one, announcing the death of Tolbert Major, is dated December 26, 1854. Photocopies and preliminary transcriptions of all the letters have been made, with the exception of one which could not be pieced together. One letter from 1839 has a 2" x 2" hole in the center of the first page and a missing second page; otherwise, the letters appear to be intact. Most are torn, but are still legible. All are in extremely fragile condition. The letters are arranged in chronological order.

 

Scope and Contents Note
    This collection of twelve complete letters, appended notes, and letter fragments written between 1830 and 1854 by emancipated slaves residing in Liberia. Their former master Benjamin Major and his family, of Eureka, Illinois were the recipients. They were donated to the Society by Mrs. Joseph Major, of Eureka, Illinois in 1992.

 

Box and Folder Inventory

Folder 1:
 
Photocopied information on Major family from Woodford County and a short history of Liberia and the American Colonization Society compiled by Archives Intern, Kristy Gebhardt in 1994.

 

Folder 2:
View Letter
Letter dated 9/1836
To: W. Joseph Major
Location: Hopkinsville, Kentucky
From: Tolbert Major

 

Folder 3:
View Letter
Letter dated 5/20/1839
To: Benjamin Major
Location: Washington, Tazewell County, IL
From: Tot ben Jagers (Tolbert Major)
"My Dear Father ..."
also to "My Dear Master" - 2nd page same letter - missing
"Dear Sir..."

 

Folder 4:
View Letter
a. Letter dated 10/17/1840
To: Benjamin Major
Location: Washington, Tazewell County, IL
From: Tolbert Major
"Dear Father..."
View Letter
b. Letter dated 10/17/1840
To: Benjamin Major
Location: Washington, Tazewell County, IL
From: Austin Major
  "Dear Father..."

 

Folder 5:
View Letter
Letter dated 8/7/1843
To: Ben Majors
Location: Washington, Tazewell County, IL
From: Tolbert Major and Austin Major
"Dear Father..."
Same page -
From Wesley Hanland
"Dear Sir..."

 

Folder 6:
View Letter
Letter dated 4/4/1844
To: Benjamin Major
Location: Washington, Tazewell County, IL
From: Wesley Hanland
"Dear Friend..."

 

Folder 7:
View Letter
Letter dated 6/26/1847
To: Benjamin Major
Location: Washington, Tazewell County, IL
From: Tolbert Major
"Dear Father..."

 

Folder 8:
View Letter
a. Letter dated 6/22/1848
To: Ben Major
Location: Washington, Tazewell County, IL.
From: Tolbert Major
"My Dear Father..."
View Letter
b. Letter dated 6/23/1848
To: Ben Major
Location: Washington, Tazewell County, IL
From: Austin Major
  "Dear Father and Mother..."

 

Folder 9:
View Letter
Letter dated 10/19/1849
To: Benjamin Major
Location: Washington, Tazewell County, IL
From: Austin Major
"Dear Father and Mother..."

 

Folder 10:
View Letter
Letter dated 12/26/1851*
To: Benjamin Mager (should this be Major??)
Location: Washington, Tazewell County, IL
From: Selvay (?) Magers (wife) (should this be Major??)
"Dear Father..."
*There is a discrepancy in the date of this letter because Amemasor transcribed it as 1851 while Gebhardt transcribed it as 1854. There is no way to tell just by looking at the letter.

 

Folder 11:
View Letter
Undated fragments Postmarked August 7th
To: W. Ben Major
Location: Hopkinsville, Christian County, KY
-Although these fragments of a letter are undated it is most likely that it was written between the first and second letters of 1836 and 1839. It was sent to Benjamin Major, addressed to Hopkinsville, Kentucky but it could also be sent to him by way of Kentucky to Illinois.

 

Folder 12:
Photocopies of original letters

 

Folder 13:
Draft transcriptions of letters made by Kristy Gebhardt (1994)

 

Masters Thesis:
 
James Amemasor's Masters Thesis written in August of 2004 titled A Taste of Freedom: The Benjamin Major Collection of Letters form Emancipated American Slaves in Liberia, 1836-1851, with his own transcriptions of the original letters.

 

McLean County Museum of History Collections and Research