History of Cape Mount
A Brief History of Grand Cape Mount County
Grand Cape Mount County, originally a district of Montserrado County, was
elevated to the status of county in 1924. The county received its name from the
Portuguese navigator Pedro de Sintra who reached the Cape and promontory
along the West African Coast in 1461, and named it Carbo de Monte (Cape
Mount). The area was known as the Grain Coast because of the local cultivation
of melegueta pepper, the “grain of paradise”,which was as valuable as gold and
the principal item of trade at the time. Cape Mount is considered the earliest
known and recorded landmark of the Liberian Coast. It has a promontory which
rises 1068 feet above sea level, the highest natural landmark on the Liberian
Coast. The peak of the promontory is visible from the Ducor Place Hotel in
Monrovia on a clear and sunny day. At the base of the mountain, on the opposite
side from the Atlantic Ocean, is Lake Piso, which is about ten miles long and five
miles at its widest breadth. It is the largest lake in the country and flows into the
Atlantic Ocean by a narrow outlet known as the bar. Lake Piso was used as a
seaplane base by the United State during World War II.
Along the shores of Lake Piso and not far from the promontory is Robertsport, a
beach city that is surrounded by tropical green hills. The city was founded April
17, 1855, by President Roberts, in whose honor it was named, when he and
seventeen volunteers from Montserrado County journeyed to Cape Mount on the
Liberian Schooner Lark. It is the county seat of government and was named
Wakolor by the Vai inhabitants.
The combination of the promontory, with its dense green foliage sloping
downward to the Atlantic Ocean, rocky intrusions along the coast to the west,
Lake Piso to the east, and several small islands creates topography of breath
Sir Harry Johnston, the multi-talented British explorer, botanist and colonial
administrator, who sailed along the West African Coast many times, described in
his book “Liberia the Narrow Cape”, bulging hills and mountains, intrusion of
rocks, the most fascinating and noteworthy features on the coast of Liberia. He
is said to have observed that he found it difficult to understand why such a
splendid site on a mountainous peninsular with a large lagoon to the east and a
half-formed seaport to the west did not tempt the nucleus of the American
Settlers of 1822, to choose it for their future capital instead of the less attractive
Cape Mesurado. He christened the area the Gibraltar of Liberia.
The principal inhabitants of the area are the Vais and the descendants of settlers
that came from North America, the Caribbean and the African Diaspora. There
are also communities of other ethnic groups, including, Bassa, Gola, Fanti, Kru
and Mende, and others located in Robertsport and other parts of the county. The
majority of the people live in the rural areas in Garwula, Gola Koneh, Pokpa,
Tewor and Tombe districts. The interior of the county has large tracts of prime
land for future cities and agricultural and industrial activities.
The history, customary laws, folkways, and legends, of the Vais, and the
descendents of black American settlers who have lived in the county since it was
established, along with those of other ethnic groups in Liberia, were preserved in
the Tubman Center for African Culture in Robertsport. Also included in the
collections were specimens of Vai Writing and a phonetic chart of the characters
of the Vai language and script invented by Mr. Dwalu Bukele.
Scholars from various parts of the country and abroad visited the Center until it
was looted during the civil war. Efforts are said to be underway to rehabilitate the
Center and retrieve some of the valuable items that were removed. A team of
Liberian and American scholars is currently working with Dr. John V. Singler,
Professor of Linguistics at New York University and a former teacher and
Librarian at the Episcopal High School in Robertsport, to prepare a desktop
arrangement of the Vai language, hoping that a computer keyboard for the
language will be developed within a year.
Center of Learning
For many decades the county was a major center of learning in the country.
Students came to Grand Cape Mount from various parts of Liberia and
neighboring Sierra Leone to attend school. The House of Bethany for girls and
Saint Johns for boys, boarding institutions of the Episcopal High School in
Robertsport, provided quality education, and Saint Timothy’s Hospital served as
a good medical center for the area. Father E. Boling Robertson, a great
educator, disciplinarian and missionary was principal of the institution. He and
his wife, Mother Roberson, who survived him and lives at St. Johns,
Robertsport, together with Ms. Marywood Mckenzie, former principal of the
House of Bethany, and other missionaries contributed greatly to the academic
and spiritual growth of the county.
Reverend Urias B. Freeman, Principal of the Robertsport High School, another
great teacher and disciplinarian who was subsequently elected to the Liberian
Senate, and his staff of excellent teachers also operated one of the finest high
schools in the area. There were also very important preparatory schools at
Bendu and Baloma, in the interior of the county. Additionally, buildings were
constructed for a technical college at Singe, Gawular District. There are plans for
the reconstruction of most of the institutions mentioned above.
The traditional view of the area as an important center of learning, seems to have
provided and important inspiration and impetus for the many prominent leaders,
public servants, scholars and professionals who had their origins in the county.
Cape Mountainians in the United States
In recent years, the National Association of Cape Mountainians in the Americas,
an organization in the United States comprising highly motivated and qualified
citizens from Grand Cape Mount, with representatives from Robertsport and
most of the districts of the county, has been making important contributions to
reconstruction efforts in Grand Cape Mount. And many members have indicated
their intent to return home to contribute to the reconstruction and development of
the county and the Liberian nation.
Potential for Tourism and Investment
Today, there is a steady increase in the number of Liberian and foreign visitors
who find their way to the banks of Lake Piso and the pristine beaches and good
surfing conditions at Robertsport. They seem to be alerting the nation to the
significant tourism potential of the area. Paving the approximately 44-kilometer
road from Medina to Robertsport would be a giant step for tourism. Also, the
discovery of iron deposits at the Bea Mountain, part of the Western Cluster
initiative, and gold mining activities in the interior of the county, are likely to
provide new and important attractions for investment in the area.
Grand Cape Mount County is slowly recovering from the destruction and
devastation of the civil war and conflict years. The Department of Public Works
and the Engineering Battalion of the United Nations Mission in Liberia have
begun a project for the rehabilitation of the Medina-Robersport Road. The
government, leaders, youth and friends of the county, are working for the
reconstruction and advancement of both Grand Cape Mount County and the
Liberian State. There is also evidence that they are planning a warm welcome
and Grand Cape Mount hospitality for the President.