John Brown Russwurm

John Brown Russwurm

Infobox Person
name = John Brown Russwurm

caption = John Brown Russwurm
birth_date = 1799-10-01
birth_place = Port Antonio, Jamaica
death_date = 1851
death_place = Cape Palmas, Liberia

John Brown Russwurm (1799-1851) was an African American abolitionist from Jamaica, known for his newspaper, "Freedom's Journal". He moved from the United States to govern the Maryland section of an African American colony in Liberia, dying there in 1851.

Early life

Russwurm was born on October 1st, 1799, in Port Antonio, Jamaica to a white merchant father and an unknown black slave.cite book |author= |title=The World Book encyclopedia |publisher=World Book |location=Chicago |year=1996 |pages= |isbn=0-7166-0096-X |oclc= |doi=| url =] The family stayed in Jamaica until 1807 when Russwurm was sent to Quebec for his education. In 1812, father and son moved to Portland, Maine, where the elder Russwurm married widower Susan Blanchard in 1813. Blanchard (now Russwurm) insisted her husband grant 'John Brown', as he was then known, his full birth name. His father did so, and the now named 'John Brown Russwurm' lived with his father, stepmother and her children from a previous marriage, accepted as part of the family. The elder Russwurm died in 1815 but his son stayed close to his stepmother, even after she re-married to become Susan Hawes.


Russwurm attended Hebron Academy in Maine, focusing on his studies to finish his education and earning the nickname "Honest John". Graduating in his early twenties, he taught at an African-American school in Boston. Several years later he re-located back to Maine to live with his stepmother and her new husband, and they helped Russwurm pay for further education when he enrolled in Bowdoin College in 1824. Upon graduation in 1826,cite web | url = | title = John Brown Russwurm Collection, 1819-2000, n.d. | publisher = Bowdoin College | date = n.d. | accessdate = 2008-01-31 ] Russwurm became first African American to graduate from Bowdoin College and third African American to graduate from an American college. [cite book |author=Calhoun, Charles |title=A small college in Maine: two hundred years of Bowdoin |publisher=Bowdoin College |location=Brunswick, Me |year=1993 |pages= |isbn=091-6606-25-2 |oclc= |doi=]

Freedom's Journal

Russwurm moved to New York City in 1827. On March 16 of that year, Russwurm, along with his co-editor, Samuel Cornish published the first edition of "Freedom's Journal", an abolitionist newspaper dedicated to opposition of slavery. "Freedom's Journal" was the first newspaper in the United States to be owned, operated, published and edited by African Americans.cite web | url = | title = Power of the printed word: Freedom's Journal--the first black newspaper. | last = Bourne | first = Wendell | publisher = HighBeam Encyclopedia | accessdate = 2008-01-31 | date = 2006-06-22 ] Upon becoming senior editor in September 1827, Russwurm used his position to change the paper's initially negative stance on the colonialization of Africa by African Americans to a positive advocacy for this position. These strong views forced Russwurm's resignation in March 1829, after which he emigrated to Liberia.


Upon emigrating to Liberia, Russwurm started work as the colonial secretary for the American Colonization Society between 1830 and 1834. He worked as the editor of the "Liberia Herald", though he resigned his post in 1835 to protest America's colonization policies. Russwurm also served as the superintendent of education in Liberia's capital, Monrovia.cite news | url = | title = Crossing the color line | last = Lear | first = Alex | date = 2006-12-07 | publisher = The Community Leader | accessdate = 2008-01-31 ] In 1833 he married Sarah McGill, the daughter of the Lieutenant-Governor of Monrovia, with whom he had a daughter and three sons. In 1836 he became the first black governor of the Maryland section of Liberia, a post he held until his death, encouraging the immigration of African-Americans to Maryland and supporting agriculture and trade. In 1850, shortly before his death, Russwurm returned to Maine for a visit, bringing two of his sons with him. They were enrolled at North Yarmouth Academy between 1850 and 1852 where they lived with their step-grandmother, Susan Hawes.

During his time in Liberia, Russwurm learned several of the native languages, encouraging trade and diplomatic relations with neighboring countries as well as whites. There is a statue of John Russwurm at his burial site at Harper, Cape Palmas, Liberia.


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