Joseph Jenkins Roberts (March 15, 1809 – February 24, 1876) was the first (1848–1856) and seventh (1872–1876) President of Liberia. Born free in Norfolk, Virginia, US, Roberts emigrated to Liberia in 1829 as a young man. He opened a trading store in Monrovia, and later engaged in politics. When Liberia became independent in 1847, Roberts was elected the first president, serving until 1856. In 1872 he was elected again to serve as Liberia’s seventh president.
Roberts was born free in Norfolk, Virginia, the second oldest of seven children. His father was said to be a planter of Welsh origin. Joseph’s mother Amelia, described as a mulatto who was quite fair, was the planter’s slave mistress or concubine. He freed Amelia and her children when she was still young. Amelia gave all of her children but one the middle name of Jenkins, which suggests that may have been the name of their biological father.(Source: Wikipedia)
- In 1841, Roberts was appointed by the American Colonization Society as the first black governor of Liberia after the death of Thomas Buchanan, a cousin of James Buchanan, who was the 15th US President.
- Roberts has been described as a talented leader with diplomatic skills. His leadership was instrumental in giving Liberia independence and sovereignty.
- In 1862, Roberts helped to found and became the first president of Liberia College (which later became the University of Liberia), where he served as president until 1876.