John Brown Russwurm

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John B. Russwurm
Born John Brown Russwurm
(1799-10-01)1 October 1799
Port Antonio, Jamaica
Died 1851 (aged 51–52)
Cape Palmas, Liberia
Education Hebron Academy and Bowdoin College
Occupation Publisher, journalist
Notable credit(s) Freedom's Journal
Liberia Herald
Spouse(s) Sarah McGill

John Brown Russwurm (1799–1851) was an 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 years[edit]

Russwurm was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica, to an English[1] merchant father and an unknown black slave.[2] The family stayed in Jamaica until 1807 when Russwurm was sent to Quebec. In 1812, father and son moved to Portland, Maine, where the elder Russwurm married widow 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 remarried to become Susan Hawes. The John B. Russwurm House[3] in Portland was owned by the family and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


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,[4] Russwurm became the first African American to graduate from Bowdoin College and third African American to graduate from an American college.[5]


Editor of 'Freedom's Journal[edit]

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.[6] 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 alienated many of the readers and ultimately resulted in Russwurm's resignation in March 1829, after which he immigrated to Liberia.[4]

Emigration to Liberia[edit]

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.[7]

In 1836 he became the first black governor of Maryland in Africa, later part of Liberia, a post he held until his death, encouraging the immigration of African-Americans to Africa and supporting agriculture and trade. During his time in Liberia, Russwurm learned several of the native languages, encouraging trade and diplomatic relations with neighboring countries as well as whites.

Personal life[edit]

In 1833 he married Sarah McGill, the daughter of the Lieutenant-Governor of Monrovia, with whom he had a daughter and three sons.[4]

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.[7]


There is a statue of John Russwurm at his burial site at Harper, Cape Palmas, Liberia.[2] In 2002, scholar Molefi Kete Asante listed John Brown Russwurm on his list of 100 Greatest African Americans.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sagarin (1970), p. 14.
  2. ^ a b The World Book encyclopedia. Chicago: World Book. 1996. ISBN 0-7166-0096-X. 
  3. ^ "John B. Russworm House." From the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Retrieved March 4, 2013.
  4. ^ a b c "John Brown Russwurm Collection, 1819-2000, n.d.". Bowdoin College. n.d. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  5. ^ Calhoun, Charles (1993). A small college in Maine: two hundred years of Bowdoin. Brunswick, Me: Bowdoin College. ISBN 0-916606-25-2. 
  6. ^ Bourne, Wendell (2006-06-22). "Power of the printed word: Freedom's Journal--the first black newspaper.". HighBeam Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2008-01-31. [dead link]
  7. ^ a b Lear, Alex (2006-12-07). "Crossing the color line". The Community Leader. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  8. ^ Asante, Molefi Kete (2002). 100 Greatest African Americans: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-963-8. 


  • Alexander, Leslie M. African or American? Black Identity and Political Activism in New York City, 1784–1861, (University of Illinois: 2008).
  • Sagarin, Mary, John Brown Russwurm: The story of Freedom's journal, freedom's journey, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1970.

External links[edit]