The Tennessee branch of the American Colonization Society, which sought to free slaves and repatriate them to Africa, was organized as a debating society in Nashville in December 1829. Josiah F. Polk, an agent of the American Colonization Society, recruited members throughout Tennessee, and Philip Lindsley, head of the University of Nashville, was named president.
Although the society suffered from a lack of money, Lindsley worked throughout the state to convince slaveholders to free their slaves and send them to Africa. In 1833, as a result of lobbying by colonization leaders, the Tennessee General Assembly voted to pay the society ten dollars for every freed slave transferred to Liberia from Tennessee, up to five hundred dollars per year. That same year, however, the Tennessee Colonization Society disbanded as a result of the lack of interest.
The enduring record of the Tennessee Colonization Society is mixed. Although the society was largely abandoned in 1833, and only fifty-five freed slaves emigrated from Tennessee to Liberia prior to 1841, Lindsley continued his work for colonization. Years later, Lindsley influenced large slaveholders like Logan Douglas and Montgomery Bell to free many of their slaves and send them to Liberia. Approximately seven hundred blacks left Tennessee for Africa between 1830 and 1860 as a direct result of the influence of the Tennessee Colonization Society.