Settler fictional kinship: Marie Elizabeth Stango, Vine and Palm Tree: African American Families in Liberia, 1820-1860, PhD Dissertation, University of Michigan, 2016


Abstract: This dissertation explores the role women and diasporic families played in the settlement of colonial and early republic Liberia. While the majority of African Americans actively fought against Liberian colonization, over ten thousand African Americans settled in Liberia over the nineteenth century. It argues that from the very first moments of colonization, negotiating kinship and familial structures became the central pivot of settler life and colonial governance. Local articulations of family were shaped by settlers’ previous experiences under slavery, as well as specific practices in the vicinity of the Liberian settlements: most notably, the polygyny of many of the indigenous peoples already inhabiting the space that was to become “Liberia.” Settlers both reconstituted and redefined the meaning of kinship after their experience of American slavery and transformed the requirements and impulses of the American colonization movement. Moving back and forth between Monrovia, Cape Palmas, Philadelphia, and Virginia, the dissertation is an examination of the gendered representations and experiences of settlers that produced frictions of kinship in Liberia. Using underutilized or previously unexamined manuscript, print, and oral sources from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, it connects United States history with the history of its West African colony, offering a critical remapping of early African American studies.

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