Charles Benjamin Dunbar
Physician, politician and Liberian colonist
Dartmouth Medical School M.D.
Class of 1853
Born 1829 NY
Died 1878 Monrovia Liberia
Quotes from Biographical Sources
Another of the African-American physicians, a mulatto who came to Liberia to serve was Dr. Charles Benjamin Dunbar. He was an extraordinary man who later became one of the most politically and professionally influential and wealthy figures in Liberia in the second half of the 19th century. Born in New York in December 1829, he trained at Dartmouth Medical School and graduated MD in 1853. He had a good medical practice in New York until 1859 when he decided to settle in Liberia. A few years earlier, he had first visited the new black Republic on the West African coast to assess the situation, particularly the prospects for profitable business.
That initial visit to Liberia convinced him that there were enormous opportunities to engage in profitable business in Liberia. While in Monrovia, Dr. Dunbar also resumed his medical practice and influenced many people in other ways. Outside the field of medicine, Dr. Dunbar was a farmer, a merchant, a lecturer at Liberia College, and a man interested in public affairs and actively involved in politics. As a farmer, he produced sugar cane. He and another business partner, Mr. M. T. DeCoursey, an African-American who emigrated to Liberia in 1851, and by the late 1850s was ‘a planter and manufacturer of sugar, coffee and dealer in African products.’
Dr. Dunbar’s exchange of communications with one of Liberia’s leading intellectuals of the 19th century, Rev. Alexander Crummell, led to the latter writing a long letter to Dr. Dunbar, in which he set forth his views on the ‘Relations and Duties of Free Colored Men in America to Africa,’ published in New York in 186. It is one of the most detailed collections of ideas on the subject.
A man with a flamboyant personality, Dr. Dunbar was a Senator and very deeply involved in the turbulent political crisis that led to the removal of President Edward J. Roye from office on October 26, 1871. Dr. Dunbar died in Monrovia, Liberia, in 1878 and was buried on the grounds of the Palm Grove Cemetery Company, Monrovia. Liberia’s 9th President, Anthony William Gardner, paid him this high tribute, ‘It is with much sorrow and grief that I have to inform your honorable body (the Legislature) that since your last meeting Senator C. B. Dunbar departed this life, much lamented by his friends and the country. As a medical man, the loss of Dr. Dunbar will be felt in this community, if not throughout the Republic, for a long time to come; and as an industrious and enterprising farmer and as a loyal citizen, Dr. Dunbar’s loss is keenly felt.’ One of his children, Mr. Charles B. Dunbar, Jr., a graduate of Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, (1895), who was also a former Liberian Senator and Attorney-General, was one of only two blacks present at the Treaty of Versailles, France, which ended the First World War.[Condensed and edited]
Njoh, Joseph N. (2018). The Beginning and Growth of Modern Medicine in Liberia & The Founding of the John F. Kennedy Medical Center, Liberia, pp. 70-75. Nigeria: Panaf Publishing, Inc.
- Kenney, John A. (1912). The Negro in Medicine (p. 7): Tuskegee Institute Press.
- Message of His Excellency President A. W. Gardner to the Legislature - December 12, 1878. (1879). Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States (Vol. 1, p. 711): U.S. Department of State, U.S. Government Printing Office.