Erskine, Hopkins W.
Autograph Letter Signed, Monrovia, Republic of Liberia, December 9, 1848 to Walter Lowrie, New York

folio, three pages, folded, postal markings on integral address leaf, else in very good, clean condition.

This letter was written by Hopkins W. Erskine, who was a black Liberian working for the Board of Missions of the Presbyterian Church. He was the son of a free black American family that emigrated to Liberia when he was 10. He eventually became Attorney General of Liberia from 1864-1868. He writes to Walter Lowrie, in New York City, who was on the Presbyterian Board for Missions.

The letter concerns the establishment of a Presbyterian mission school in Kentucky, Liberia. There is considerable detail given concerning costs, the mechanics of establishment, advantages and disadvantages. Apparently there were no other denominations present, so the Presbyterians would have the unusual opportunity of a clear field to work in.

Erskine mentions at several points Rev. Harrison W. Ellis, by then a Liberian known as the “Learned Black Blacksmith”, who was born a slave in Alabama where he was a blacksmith. He acquired a knowledge of Latin, Greek, Hebrew and theology to become a Presbyterian minister.  


     “Republic of Liberia, Monrovia December 9/48

Respected Sir,

Yours bearing date of fourth of Sept was gladly received. Just as your letter arrived I had made an engagement with Captain Carlton of Barque Nehemiah Rich to act as supercargo on the coast, that engagement I was obliged to fulfill, having done so I immediately after my arrival at Monrovia called on all the ministers of the Presbytery who are now in Town holding their first session to accompany Mr. Ellis and myself to select a suitable site for a mission. Our tour up the beautiful St. Paul was an agreeable one. The settlement of Kentucky was selected for these reasons –

1st Though there are a small number of inhabitants and but about seventeen children come at able at present, yet, there is a strong redeeming quality no mission has ever as yet attempted to establish any operations at Kentucky and therefore this field will be to us an open door without opposition.

2nd Here the teacher will have in three miles around Kentucky one or two native villages to whose inhabitants he could preach and talk.

3rd Here a Presbyterian church, can, we think, be in a short time organized, as there will be no other doctrines disseminated, but ours it is a field where the tree of Presbyterianism may grow and flourish, which we hope will be the case. – Add to this the utility of having a productive soil in the event of a boarding school – and think with others that such a school can be established with ease. It is notorious of the natives that they will not send their children to school except they are boarded.

Now Sir, I shall according to the wishes of the board proceed immediately to establish a school in Kentucky Settlement, but will have some considerable expense to build a house for a dwelling – and to keep my school in, the authority to draw on the treasury of the Board for seventy – five dollars I have availed myself of – but, it will cost at least forty dollars to build a temporary School House, to answer for school and church – No supplies having reached me as yet I will be under the necessity to borrow provisions & use the money for building &c – The Presbytery has taken me under its care to grant me license to preach &c whenever I apply for it. I shall endeavor to apply myself to the studies pointed out to me, and should circumstances require it, I will take license to Preach the gospel which I believe it my duty to do. There were no school books spoke of; what I am to do about obtaining books I can not say. I have purchased one dozen spelling books and will be puzzled for other books, However I will use every effort to obtain books sufficient for present use. As my school will be small, should my provisions arrive shortly, I will take in 12 or 15 native youths as boarding scholars – with the consent of Mr. Ellis, expecting the board will agree with us – and make provisions accordingly, perhaps the first two or 3 years it will cost the board $ 30 per year each for board independent of clothing afterward I think 25$ will board one for one year this course should we pursue it will be from the fact of filling up our school at once while providence opens the door to us. It would be highly necessary for us out here to impress the natives with the belief that we come to them with authority to act as other missionaries of the various denominations besides it will be useless to attempt to obtain a footing among them unless we as others board their boys and educate them for future usefulness the parents have no idea of the benefits resultant from education and Christianity therefore I hope you will see I act as I think for the best. Again to go among them as missionary and not be able to teach their children will to them be an anomaly.

You may therefore expect to hear from me by the next opportunity that I have taken boys from the surrounding native towns and if the board disapproves of the measure they can say so which I think they will not do however I shall keep you advised as to all my proceedings in school &c &c – Hoping to receive books, stationery and supplies as soon as possibly I will add nor more at present …


To Walter Lowrie Esqr.

Respecting the boarding of boys I wish to be understood that except necessity compels, the step will not be taken until we hear from the board, but from my knowledge of the native character around about their settlements I venture to say that no missionary will be looked upon as such except he establishes a school for them. Therefore I said should they urge it and I now add should necessity seem to urge it will the board blame us? I hope they will not for they cannot see exactly the situation of their missionaries among African heathen each tribe differs in their manner of receiving missionaries or God man Therefore I say it amounts almost to a certainty that I will be obliged to take some of their boys should I visit them as missionary and I do hope the board will not censure me severely for doing so.

Yours Respectfully

H. W. Erskine”