Liberia’s history has many parallels to that of other African countries, but it’s ‘colonisation’ by descendents of African slaves from America, has added unique of idealism and tragedy to the country’s history, and created a distinct cultural and social landscape.
I've compiled this timeline from a couple of sources, listed below. There may be inaccuracies, omissions, and terms or emphases readers don't agree with - please feel free to comment/make suggestions.
I highlighted some events that seem particularly significant.
It is believed that the ancestors of present day Liberians migrated into the area from the North and East between the 12th and 17th centuries. None of the sub-Saharan empires of that period encompassed Liberia.
Pre-colonial Liberian history was dominated by sixteen major groups of which the most important in terms of their history, economy, politics and numerical strengths were the Bandi, Bassa, Gio, Gola, Grebo Kissi, Kpelle Krahn, Kru, Loma, Mano and Vai. Most of these groups lived in communities in which chiefs, elders and priests were the most immediate authority. In these societies, mechanisms for social control were characterised by military, religious and social sanctions in which secret societies, especially the Sande and the Poro played key roles in managing social and political strife through the provision of secular and sacred functions.
1200 A.D.: Arrival of Spanish explorers
1364: Arrival of the Normans from France
1461: Arrival of Portuguese explorers, who name the country the Grain Coast
The name "Grain Coast" derived from the abundance of melegueta pepper ("grains of paradise") the Portuguese found upon their arrival in present-day Liberia. The melegueta pepper was an extremely valuable trade commodity, having both culinary and medicinal qualities.
1500s: Portuguese and British traders participate in the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
1611: Arrival of Dutch traders
1700s: Arrival of first French, then Swedish traders
Background to colonisation/settlement
1791: Toussaint L'Ouverture leads an uprising of Black slaves on the island of Santo Domingo, today's Haiti.
The uprising raises fears among American slaveholders of a similar rebellion in America, and contributes to the formation of the American Colonization Society (ACS)
1807: Congress bans the importation of slaves into the U.S.
1816: A group of Quakers and slaveholders in Washington, D.C., form the American Colonization Society (ACS) for the purpose of sending free Blacks to Africa. Membership of the ACS is limited to whites only.
Arrival of first Americo-Liberian settlers
1820: The Elizabeth sails from New York to the west coast of Africa with 86 passengers on board. The passengers are almost all freeborn Blacks. Also on board are one white agent of the ACS and two representatives of the U.S. government.
1821: A U.S. government agent and an ACS agent sail to the Grain Coast to begin negotiations with local kings for purchase of land for the settlement.
Government agent Capt. Robert F. Stockton and ACS agent Dr. Eli Ayres engage in several days of negotiation with King Peter Zolu Duma. Under duresss, the King sells or leases land at Cape Mesurado and the adjacent island of Dozoa, to the ACS.
1822: The Battle of Crown Hill
The colony comes under attack from some 500 members of two indigenous ethnic groups. This is among the first in a series of armed clashes between the native population and the colonists in early Liberia, indicative of the conflict of intentions and culture that marked the early, uneasy relationship between the two groups.
1824: The ACS names the colony Liberia, for liberty, and the capital Monrovia, after U.S. president James Monroe.
1836: Thomas Buchanan, cousin of U.S. president James Buchanan, arrives at Bassa Cove to serve as governor.
1838 The settlers unite to form the Commonwealth of Liberia, under a governor appointed by the American Colonization Society.
1839: The ACS adopts the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Liberia.
1842: Joseph Jenkins Roberts becomes the first African American governor of the Commonwealth of Liberia.
Prior to Roberts, there were other African Americans who had served as acting governors of the colony, always pending the arrival of new, white appointees from America.
Towards an independent Liberian state
1847: Liberia becomes independent. The Liberian Declaration of Independence is adopted and signed.
1847: Governor Joseph Jenkins Roberts is elected the first Liberian president.
1848: Joseph Jenkins Roberts is inaugurated into office. He will be reelected and serve a total of eight years.
During Roberts's presidency, the country's first university is established, and the smuggling of slaves, which had continued to occur on the coast, is suppressed.
1860: Liberia's territorial boundaries are expanded, with assistance from the United States.
Following various treaties, purchases, and battles with indigenous chiefs, by 1860 Liberia's boundaries are extended to include a 600-mile coastline.
June 3, 1862: The United States formally recognizes Liberia's independence.
The U.S. establishes formal diplomatic relations and signs a treaty of commerce and navigation with Liberia.
1871: The Liberian government takes out the first of several major foreign loans.
The loans come primarily from Britain.
1874: Constitution modelled on that of the US is drawn up.
1874: Liberia declares Independence
1874: Indigenous chiefs meet in the National Legislature for the first time.
1926 - Firestone Tyre and Rubber Company opens rubber plantation on land granted by government. Rubber production becomes backbone of economy.
1930: A League of Nations report exposing forced-labor practices in Liberia leads to the president's resignation.
The Liberian government comes under international censure for allowing a system of forced labor "hardly distinguishable from slavery." Implicated in the scandal, President Charles D.B. King resigns on December 3 after pressure from the Liberian legislature.
1936 - Forced-labour practices abolished.
1943 - William Tubman elected president.
President Tubman pursues a policy of national unification to draw the indigenous people into the state and society, formally establishing laws to rid Liberia of practices that favor those of settler descent. He encourages economic development through foreign investment, deepened political and economic relations with the U.S., and begins to transform Liberia into a modern African state. Under him, Liberia becomes a founding member of the Organization of African Unity and the United Nations.
1944: Liberia enters World War II, declaring war against Germany and Japan in support of the Allies.
1951 May - Women and indigenous property owners vote in the presidential election for the first time.
1958 - Racial discrimination outlawed.
1955: Tubman crony-turned-political opponent S. David Coleman and his son John are hunted down and killed by Liberian soldiers for allegedly plotting to overthrow Tubman.
The Coleman funeral is meagerly attended, as people are afraid of being considered Coleman sympathizers.
1955: The constitution is amended to allow President Tubman to remain in office well beyond the two-term limit.
1971: President Tubman dies, and Vice President Tolbert takes office.
In office for 27 years, Tubman headed a regime that went from democratic to dictatorial. He is succeeded by his vice president of 19 years, William R. Tolbert, Jr.
1979 - More than 40 people are killed in riots following a proposed increase in the price of rice.
1980 - Master Sergeant Samuel Doe stages military coup. Tolbert is assasinated in his home, and 13 of his aides are arrested, then publicly executed. A People's Redemption Council headed by Doe suspends constitution and assumes full powers.
1984 - Doe's regime allows return of political parties following pressure from the United States and other creditors.
1985 - Doe wins presidential election.
Doe claims victory in a presidential election under a cloud of controversy and charges of vote-rigging. Despite the allegations, the United States accepts the results of the election and offers support to the new president.
1989 - National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) led by Charles Taylor begins an uprising against the government.
1990 - Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) sends peacekeeping force. Doe is executed by a splinter group of the NPFL.
1991 - Ecowas and the NPFL agree to disarm and set up an Interim Government of National Unity.
1992 - The NPFL launches an all-out assault on West African peacekeepers in Monrovia, the latter respond by bombing NPFL positions outside the capital and pushing the NPFL back into the countryside.
1993 - Warring factions devise a plan for a National Transitional Government and a ceasefire, but this fails to materialise and fighting resumes.
1994 - Warring factions agree a timetable for disarmament and the setting up of a joint Council of State.
1995 - Peace agreement signed.
1996 April - Factional fighting resumes and spreads to Monrovia.
1996 August - West African peacekeepers begin disarmament programme, clear land mines and reopen roads, allowing refugees to return.
1997 July - Presidential and legislative elections held. Charles Taylor wins a landslide and his National Patriotic Party wins a majority in the National Assembly. International observers declare the elections free and fair.
1999 January - Ghana and Nigeria accuse Liberia of supporting Revolutionary United Front rebels in Sierra Leone. Britain and the US threaten to suspend aid to Liberia.
1999 April - Rebel forces thought to have come from Guinea attack town of Voinjama. Fighting displaces more than 25,000 people.
1999 September - Guinea accuses Liberian forces of entering its territory and attacking border villages.
2000 September - Liberian forces launch "massive offensive" against rebels in the north. Liberia accuses Guinean troops of shelling border villages.
2001 February - Liberian government says Sierra Leonean rebel leader Sam Bockarie, also known as Mosquito, has left the country.
2001 May - UN Security Council reimposes arms embargo to punish Taylor for trading weapons for diamonds from rebels in Sierra Leone.
2002 January - More than 50,000 Liberians and Sierra Leonean refugees flee fighting. In February Taylor declares a state of emergency.
2003 March - Rebels advance to within 10km of Monrovia.
2003 June - Talks in Ghana aimed at ending rebellion overshadowed by indictment accusing President Taylor of war crimes over his alleged backing of rebels in Sierra Leone.
2003 July - Fighting intensifies; rebels battle for control of Monrovia. Several hundred people are killed. West African regional group Ecowas agrees to provide peacekeepers.
Taylor in exile
2003 August - Nigerian peacekeepers arrive. Charles Taylor leaves Liberia after handing power to his deputy Moses Blah. US troops arrive. Interim government and rebels sign peace accord in Ghana. Gyude Bryant chosen to head interim administration.
2003 September-October - US forces pull out. UN launches major peacekeeping mission, deploying thousands of troops.
2004 February - International donors pledge more than $500m in reconstruction aid.
2004 October - Riots in Monrovia leave 16 people dead; the UN says former combatants were behind the violence.
2005 September - Liberia agrees that the international community should supervise its finances in an effort to counter corruption.
2005 23 November - Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf becomes the first woman to be elected as an African head of state. She takes office the following January.
2006 February - Truth and Reconciliation Commission is set up to investigate human rights abuses between 1979 and 2003.
2006 April - Former president Charles Taylor appears before a UN-backed court in Sierra Leone on charges of crimes against humanity. In June the Netherlands-based International Criminal Court agrees to host his trial.
2006 June - UN Security Council eases a ban on weapons sales so Liberia can arm newly trained security forces. An embargo on Liberian timber exports is lifted shortly afterwards.
2006 July - President Johnson-Sirleaf switches on generator-powered street lights in the capital, which has been without electricity for 15 years.
2007 April - UN Security Council lifts its ban on Liberian diamond exports. The ban was imposed in 2001 to stem the flow of "blood diamonds", which helped to fund the civil war.
2007 May - UN urges Liberia to outlaw trial by ordeal.
2007 June - Start of Charles Taylor's war crimes trial in The Hague, where he stands accused of instigating atrocities in Sierra Leone.
2007 December - UN Security Council extended arms and travel embargoes for another year in response to increased gun violence.
2008 January - Supreme Court rules that the president can appoint local mayors because the government cannot afford to hold municipal elections. Municipal elections have not been held since 1985 because of financial constraints and successive civil wars.
2008 March - Liberia conducts its first census since 1984.