LibPositives Historical Spotlight 'Matida Newport'
Who is Matilda Newport? Liberian Hero or Murderer?
Matilda Newport was a Liberian woman who in 1822 helped repel an attack by the Dei/Dey and Vai warriors on the first struggling settlements in Monrovia. The November attack came to be known as the Battle of Crown Hill. She fired a cannon using coal from her pipe, killing virtually all the native people and chasing away survivors.
For a while, many historians were unsure if Matilda Newport existed. However, doubts were put to rest after research was done by historian Siahyonkron Nyanseor. Based on his research, Nyanseor found that Matilda Newport was a formerly enslaved 25 year old woman who migrated to Liberia on the “Elizabeth” on March 9, 1820, under the name Matilda Spencer, along with her 32 year old husband, Thomas Spencer. According to records, when she arrived in Liberia, Matilda was classified illiterate because she could neither read nor write. Two years after her arrival, Matilda took part in the Battle of Crown Hill. Her husband, Thomas, became a casualty in the battle. Matilda Spencer remarried Ralph Newport sometime after 1822 and later changed her name to Matilda Newport.
For generations Matilda was celebrated throughout Liberia. December 1st was a public holiday in her honor as Liberian school children paraded the streets. Things have changed over the years. This generation hardly knows the story of Matilda Newport as the controversial holiday was abolished about 30 years ago. It has not truly been discovered who abolished the Matilda Newport holiday, however there have been some speculations that Samuel K. Doe and his comrades abolished the holiday, which they hated because it symbolized the political and social division of Liberia. Other sources believe that the holiday was abolished by President William R. Tolbert as his way of unifying the country.