The return of the Democratic Party to power in South Carolina in 1876, and the campaign of violence that accompanied it, raised anxiety among African Americans in the state and interest in the possibility of emigration. Similar feelings toward emigration could be found across the South, where blacks endured political weakness, restrictions on their civil rights, and difficulty in finding gainful employment. In many southern states, particularly the lower Mississippi Valley, the frustration of blacks with their poor condition caused some to migrate to the western United States during the exodus of 1879. In South Carolina, interest in emigration became focused on the African nation of Liberia, which was more accessible from the East Coast and because the American Colonization Society had already transported a small number of blacks there in the years immediately following the Civil War, albeit with mixed results.
Black leaders in South Carolina, including Richard Harvey Cain, Harrison Bouey, George Curtis, and the Reverend B. F. Porter, responded to the interest in black emigration by incorporating the Liberian Exodus Joint Stock Steamship Company in the spring of 1877, naming Porter as its president. The American Colonization Society, which did not have enough funds to transport the swelling numbers of black emigrants, welcomed the formation of the Charleston-based company and lent it moral support and advice. In January 1878 hundreds of potential emigrants from all over South Carolina converged on Charleston, despite the opposition of white employers who feared losing cheap labor. The company lacked the necessary funds for a Liberian voyage, but Porter bowed to pressure from hundreds of prospective passengers and hastily acquired a vessel, a clipper ship named the Azor. Christened on March 21, 1878, the Azor set sail from Charleston a month later carrying 206 emigrants from South Carolina to Liberia. After a forty-two-day passage during which emigrants endured delays, deaths, and unforeseen expenses in Sierra Leone, they arrived in Liberia short of money and supplies. News of the disastrous crossing discouraged hundreds of black South Carolinians who were waiting in Charleston for passage to Liberia. The cost of the Azor’s first voyage wiped out the company’s capital. The company planned a commercial voyage to Liberia in February 1879 to raise funds, but the ship never sailed. The Azor was sold at auction in November 1879.
Some of the Azor emigrants returned to South Carolina disappointed, but others enjoyed success in Liberia. In 1880 one of them reported that 173 of the Azor emigrants were still in Liberia, with perhaps others in the interior of Africa. Neither the demise of the Liberian Exodus Joint Stock Steamship Company or the opposition of white employers persuaded black South Carolinians to give up the idea of emigrating from the state to Liberia. For at least a few years after the collapse of the company, prospective emigrants sought the help of the American Colonization Society. By the early 1890s reports appeared claiming that several of the leading political and business figures in Liberia had come from South Carolina, including C. L. Parsons, chief justice of the Liberian Supreme Court; Clement Irons, who constructed the first steamship in Liberia in 1888; and the Reverend David Frazier, a member of the Liberian Senate.
Painter, Nell Irvin. Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas after Reconstruction. New York: Knopf, 1977.
Tindall, George Brown. South Carolina Negroes, 1877–1900. 1952. Reprint, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2003.