Monday 17 October 2022


Edward James Roye is Liberia's fifth president.

He is noted in Nigeria as the first recorded lawyer of Igbo descent in history. In Liberia, however, Edward James Roye is well-known as the country’s fifth president whose administration was short-lived and who died under rather mysterious circumstances.

Celebrated as the first pure black person to become president of Liberia, Roye was a “pure descendant of the Igbo tribe from Nigeria”. His father, John Roye, was an Igbo slave in Ohio, America who later gained his freedom and became an illustrious merchant with considerable wealth and land in many cities.

Born on February 3, 1815, in Newark, Ohio, Roye would benefit from the financial standing of his family and attend one of the best schools – Ohio University in neighbouring Athens, Ohio.

Following the death of his father in 1836, Roye relocated to Terre Haute where he became famous for establishing the largest barber shop in the community, boasting a 79-foot (24 m) high barber pole, “the tallest in western Indiana” .

In the midst of his fame and success was the American Colonisation Society that was then encouraging free African-Americans to move to the colony of Liberia in West Africa to live in a “prejudice-free nation”.

Not having any ties to the United States after the death of his mother in 1840, Roye decided to make that journey. On May 2, 1846, at the age of 31, he left New York with the rest of his family and arrived in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, June 7.

There, he improved and within two years, he was already Liberia’s top shipping merchant. He also became active in Liberian politics and by 1849, he was the Speaker of the Liberian House of Representatives as well as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia from 1865 until 1868.

Was one who once said that Liberia was

“decreed to champion the black race and should be governed only by ‘pure Africans,’” Roye was in 1870 elected president of Liberia. This made him the first member of Liberia’s True Whig Party (oldest political party in Liberia founded by Americo-Liberians) to serve as President.

“I do not expect immunity from the criticisms of our opponents, nor do I ask for it,” Roye said in his inaugural address.

The Ohio Historical Society refers to Edward James Roye as the "ninth and forgotten president from Ohio." While in a land far away from the "land of Legend" he is known by some as the "Lincoln of Liberia."

Edward James Roye portrait is on Liberia 5 dollar bill.

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