Blacks@Dartmouth 1775 to 1960

Henry Jenkins Roberts

Physician, Liberian colonist and brother of Liberia's first President, Joseph Jenkins Roberts

alumnus image

Dartmouth Medical School

Class of 1846

1847 Berkshire Medical School (M.D.)

Born  1821  VA

Died 1863 Liberia

Quotes from Biographical Sources

Although every American schoolboy learns that the Father of his Country as George Washington, few realize that another son of the Old Dominion also deserves that title. Joseph Jenkins Roberts was born in Norfolk in 1809, emigrated to Africa while he was a young man, and led the small colony of Liberia to it emergence as an independent republic in 1848. The tiny outpost of the American Society for the Colonization the Free People of Color had a population of more than six hundred when Roberts arrived in 1829. During its colonial period he served as sheriff, chief justice, lieutenant governor, and governor of the African settlement. When Liberia became independent, he was elected the first president of the new nation.

Educated and poised, Roberts - an octoroon - came from the Negro elite of the Old Dominion. His mother, Amelia, was described by a white contemporary as a woman of 'intelligence, moral character, and industrious habits.' She had gained her freedom from slavery despite the stringent laws of Virginia's black code and had soon managed to place herself 'on comfortable circumstances.' . . . The Roberts were undoubtedly among the more ambitious of the free Negro families in Virginia. Of the seven Roberts children who emigrated with their mother to Liberia after the death of their father, three of five sons came to hold important positions in the colony.

Two of Joseph's younger brothers deserve special notice: Henry J. Roberts left Liberia to study at the Berkshire Medical School in Massachusetts and then returned to establish a popular practice in Monrovia, the capital of the colony; John Wright Roberts became bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Liberia and ministered to a body of almost two thousand members.

Tazewell, C. W. (1992). The Father of Liberia. In C. W. Tazewell (Ed.), Virginia's Ninth President: Joseph Jenkins Roberts : An anthology on President Joseph Jenkins Roberts (1809-1876) with information on Liberia and the American Colonization Society. Virginia Beach, VA: W. S. Dawson Co.

Other source(s)

  1. Tyler-McGraw, Marie. Roberts Family. Retrieved from Virginia Emigrants to Liberia website: