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John Brown Russwurm

Easily the most famous Russwurm, this fascinating man of letters and passions is also something of a mystery. I've only been able to discover a little bit about him on the internet; but the research is ongoing. I'm starting to delve into books to get a better picture of the man.

Because John Brown Russwurm was born in Jamaica six years before the birth of Valentin Russwurm in Alsace, his Russwurm forbears had to have departed Europe before Valentin. So although I don't yet know if I can claim a blood relationship with John Brown Russwurm, after reading his "Freedom's Journal" editorial (transcribed below) I believe he was in fact a very a great man, and I feel honored to share his name.

The Latest

The Struggles of John Brown Russwurm: The Life and Writings of a Pan-Africanist Pioneer, 1799-1851
is a new John Brown Russwurm biography by Winston James. From the sneak peak "Look Inside" pages on the Amazon site it sounds very good. I plan to pick this one up as soon as I can. (Getting the time to read it is something else again!)

Another excellent new online resource is the Wisconsin Historical Society archive of the complete run of "Freedom's Journal" Volume 1 includes issues from March 16, 1827 - March 21, 1828 and Volume 2 encompassing April 4, 1828 - March 28, 1829, which are available in PDF form.   Please bear in mind that these are scans of the original Freedom's Journal newspaper and they are not of photographic quality. I suspect that they began as photocopies, and as such large portions are difficult to read, and at some point I hope to transcribe them as I've done with the first page of the first issue below. Although the quality (early high contrast photo copy) is not the best, it is wonderful to be able to access this material at all online.

I discovered the existence of both the archive and the new biography from a historical blog article “In Search of John Brown's Timbucto, Part II” in OffPRINTS: A history blog by Caleb McDaniel. Big thanks go to Mr. McDaniel for an excellent article as well as thoughfully providing links to this source material. (He's a Creative Commons supporter. Cool!)

updated at Wednesday 8 September, 2010

Freedom's Journal: Print your own Broadsheet

The small image of the famous first page of the first issue of “"FREEDOM'S JOURNAL” below is actually a modern day digital mock-up assembled by lothlaurien.ca. I've included links so you can have your own print of this extraordinary document on letter or broadsheet sized paper as it was originally published. (It makes an excellent poster.)

FREEDOM'S JOURNAL - 8½″ x 11″ or 17″ x 22″ (broadsheet size)

This image is available under a Creative Commons License by lothlaurien.ca

A larger version of this John Brown Russwurm Portrait reframed by Lothlaurien PHOTOSYNTHESIS for our presentation is also available. The first time I saw this portrait was on Flickr posted by cliff1066 who photographed the painted portrait of John Russwurm in the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. It's available here under a Creative Commons License Thanks Cliff!

For the following complete transcription of the first page of the very first issue of Freedom's Journal I have left the archaic spelling exactly as it appeared. Also note that there are several words, such as "colour" spelt the British/Canadian way. I don't know if this was the accepted American spelling at the time, not long after the American Revolution after all, or if it's a byproduct of John Brown Russwurm's Canadian education.

For content the only addition I made was adding one absent word in square brackets. And yes, the page does in fact end mid-syllable. Layout was much more difficult in those days when every letter had to be placed by hand.

In presenting our first number to our Patrons, we feel all the diffidence of persons entering upon a new and untried line of business. But a moment's reflection upon the noble objects, which we have in view by the publication of this journal; the expediency of its appearance at this time, when so many schemes are in action concerning our people - encourage us to come boldly before an enlightened publick. For we believe, that a paper devoted to the dissemination of useful knowledge among our brethren, and to their moral and religious improvement, must meet with the cordial approbation of every friend to humanity.

The peculiarities of the Journal, render it important that we should advertise to the world the motives by which we are actuated, and the objects which we contemplate.

We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us. Too long has the publick been deceived by misrepresentations in things which concern us dearly, though in the estimation of some mere trifles; for though there are many in society who exercise towards us benevolent feelings; still (with sorrow we confess it) there are others who make it their business to enlarge upon the least trifle, which tends to the discredit of any person of colour; and pronounce anathemas and denounce our whole body for the misconduct of this guilty one.

We are aware that there [are] many instances of vice among us, but we avow that it is because no one has taught its subjects to be virtuous; many instances of poverty because no sufficient efforts accommodated to minds contracted by slavery, and deprived of early education have been made, to teach them how to husband their hard earnings, and to secure to themselves comforts.

Education being an object of the highest importance to the welfare of society, we shall endeavour to present just and adequate views of it, and to urge upon our brethren the necessity and expediency of training their children, while young, to habits of industry, and thus forming them for becoming useful members of society. It is surely time that we should awake from this lethargy of years, and make a concentrated effort for the education of our youth. We form a spoke in the human wheel, and it is necessary that we should understand our pendence on the different parts, and theirs on us in order to perform our part with propriety.

Though not desirous of dictating, we shall feel it our incumbent duty to dwell occasionally upon the general principles and rules of economy. The world has grown too enlightened, to estimate any mans character by his personal appearance. Though all men acknowledge the excellency of Franklin's maxims, yet comparatively few practice upon them. We may explore when it is too late the neglect of these self evident truths, but it avails little to mourn. Ours will be the task of encouraging our brethren on these points.

The civil rights of a people being of the greatest value, it shall ever be our duty to vindicate our brethren, when oppressed and to lay the case before the public. We shall also urge upon our brethren, (who are qualified by the laws of the different states, the expediency of using their elective franchise; and of making an independent use of the same. We wish them not to become the tools of party.

And as much time is frequently lost, and wrong principles instilled, by the perusal of works of trivial importance, we shall consider it part of our duty to recommend to our young readers, such authors as will not only enlarge their stock of useful knowledge, but such as will also serve to stimulate them to higher attainments in science.

We trust also, that through the columns of the FREEDOM'S JOURNAL, many practical pieces, having for their bases, the improvement of our brethren, will be presented to them, from the pens of many of our respected friends, who have kindly offered their assistance.

It is our earnest wish to make our Journal a medium of intercourse between our brethren in the different states of this great confederacy; that through its columns an expression of our sentiments, on many interesting subjects which concern us, may be offered to the publick; that plans which apparently are beneficial may be candidly discussed and properly weighed; if worthy, receive our cordial approbation; if not, our marked disapprobation.

Useful knowledge of every kind, and every thing that relates to Africa, shall find a ready admission into our columns; and as that vast continent becomes daily more known we trust that many things will come to light, proving that the natives of it are neither so ignorant nor stupid as they have generally been supposed to be.

And while these important subjects shall occupy the columns of the FREEDOM'S JOURNAL, we would not be unmindful of our brethren who are still in the iron fetters of bondage. They are our kindred by all the ties of nature; and though but little can be effected by us, still let our sympathies be poured forth, and our prayers in their behalf ascend to Him who is able to succour them.

From the press and the pulpit we have suffered much by being incorrectly represented. Men whom we equally love and admire have not hesitated to represent us disadvantageously, without becoming personally acquainted with the true state of things, nor discerning between virtue and vice among us. The virtuous part of our people feel themselves sorely aggrieved under the existing state of things - they are not appreciated.

Our vices and our degradation are ever arrayed against us, but our virtues are passed by unnoticed. And what is still more lamentable, our friends, to whom we concede all the principles of humanity and religion, from these very causes seem to have fallen into the current of popular feeling and are imperceptibly floating on the stream- actually living in the practice of prejudice, while they abjure it in theory, and feel it not in their hearts. Is it not very desirable that such should know more of our actual condition, and of our efforts and feelings, that in forming or advocating plans for our amelioration, they may do it more understandingly? In the spirit of candor and humility we intend by a simple representation of facts to lay our case before the publick, with a view to arrest the progress of prejudice, and to shield ourselves against the consequent evils. We wish to conciliate all and to irritate none, yet we must be firm and unwavering in our principles, and persevering in our efforts.

If ignorance, poverty and degradation have hitherto been our unhappy lot; has the Eternal decree gone forth, that our race alone are to remain in this state, while knowledge and civilization are shedding their enlivening rays over the rest of the human family? The recent travels of Denham and Clapperton in the interior of Africa, and the interesting narrative which they have published; the establishment of the republic of Hayti after years of sanguinary warfare; its subsequent progress in all the arts of civilization; and the advancement of liberal ideas in South America, where despotism has given place to free governments, and where many of our brethren now fill important civil and military stations, prove the contrary.

The interesting fact that there are FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND free persons of colour, one half of whom might peruse, and the whole be benefited by the publication of the Journal; that no publication, as yet, has been devoted exclusively to their improvement- that many selections from approved standard authors, which are in the reach of few, may occasionally be made-- and more important still, that this large body of our citizens have no publick channel- all serve to prove the real necessity, at present, for the appearance of FREEDOM'S JOURNAL.

It shall ever be our desire so to conduct the editorial department of our paper as to give offense to none of our patrons; as nothing is farther from us than to make it the advocate of any partial views, either in politics or religion. What few days we can number, have been devoted to the improvement of our brethren; and it is our earnest wish that the remainder may be spent in the same delightful service.

In conclusion, whatever concerns us as a people, will ever find a ready admission into the FREEDOM'S JOURNAL interwoven with all the principal news of the day.

And while everything in our power shall be performed to support the character of our Journal, we would respectfully invite our numerous friends to assist by their communications, and our coloured brethren to strengthen our hands by their subscriptions, as our labour is one of common cause, and worthy of their consideration and support. And we do most earnestly solicit the latter, that if at any time we should seem to be zealous, or too pointed in the inculcation of any important lesson, they will remember, that they are equally interested in the cause in which we are engaged, and attribute our zeal to the peculiarities of our situation, and our earnest engagedness in their well-being.


From the Liverpool Mercury


“On the first of the present month of August, 1811, a vessel arrived at Liverpool, with a cargo from Sierra Leone; the owner, master, mate and whole crew of which are free blacks. The master, who is also owner, is the son of an American slave, and is said to be very well skilled both in trade and navigation, as well as to be of a very pious and moral character. It must have been a strange and animating spectacle to see this free and enlightened African, entering as an independent trader with his black crew into that port, which was so lately the nidus of the slave trade.” - Edinburgh Review for August 1811

We are happy in having an opportunity of confirming the above account, and at the same time of laying before our readers an authentic memoir of Captain Paul Cuffee, the master and owner of the vessel above alluded to, who sailed from this port on the 20th ult. with a license from the British Government, to prosecute his intended voyage to Sierra Leone. - The father of Paul Cuffee was a native of Africa whence he was brought as a slave into Massachusetts. He was there purchased by a person named Slocum, and remained in slavery a very considerable portion of his life. He was named Cuffee, but as it is usual in those parts, took the name Slocum, as expressing to whom he belonged. Like many of his countrymen he possessed a mind far superior to his condition; although he was diligent in the business of his master, and faithful to his interest, yet by great industry and economy he was enabled to purchase his personal liberty. At the time the remains of several Indian tribes, who originally possessed the right of soil, resided in Massachusetts. Cuffee became acquainted with a woman descended from one of those tribes, named Ruth Moses, and married her. He continued in habits of industry and frugality, and soon afterwards purchased a farm of 100 acres at the point of Massachusetts.

Cuffee and Ruth had a family of ten children. The three eldest sons, David, Jonathan, and John, are farmers in the neighborhood of West Point; filling respectable situations in society, and endowed with good intellectual capabilities. They are all married, and have families to whom they are giving good educations. Of six daughters four are respectably married, while two remain single. Paul was born on the Island of Cutterhunkker, one of the Elizabeth Islands, near New Bedford, in the year 1759- when he was about fourteen years of age, his father died, leaving a considerable property in land, but which being at that time unproductive, afforded but little provision for his numerous family, and thus the care of supporting his mother and sisters devolved upon his brothers and himself. At this time Paul conceived that commerce furnished to industry more ample rewards than agriculture, and he was conscious that he possessed qualities which under proper culture, would enable him to pursue commercial employments with prospects of success- he therefore entered at the age of sixteen, as a common hand on board of a vessel destined to the bay of Mexico, on a whaling voyage. His second voyage was in the West Indies, but on his third he was captured by a British ship during the American war, about the year 1776 after a three month detention as a prisoner, at New York, he was permitted to return home to Westport, where owing to the unfortunate continuance of hostilities he spent about two years in his agricultural pursuits. During this interval Paul and his brother John Cuffee, were called upon by the collector of the district, in which they resided, for the payment of a personal tax. It appeared to them, that by the laws and constitution of Massachusetts, taxation and the whole rights of citizenship were united. If the laws demanded of them the payment of the personal taxes, the same laws must necessarily and constitutionally invest them with the right of representing and being represented in the legislature. But they had never been considered as entitled to the privilege of voting at elections, nor of being elected to places of trust and honor. Under these circumstances they refused payment of the demands. The collector resorted to the force of the laws, and after many delays and detentions, Paul and his brother deemed it most prudent to silence them by paying the demands; but they resolved, if it were possible to obtain the rights which they believed to be connected with taxation. They presented a respectful petition to the state legislature. From some individuals it met with a warm and almost indignant opposition. A considerable majority was, however, favorable to their object. They perceived the propriety and justice of the petition, and with an honorable magnanimity, in defiance of the prejudice of the times, they passed a law rendering all free persons of color liable to taxation, according to the established ratio, for white men, and granting them all the privileges, belonging to the other citizens. This was a day equally honorable to the petitioners and the legislature- a day which ought to be gratefully remembered by every person of color within the boundaries of Massachusetts, and the names of John and Paul Cuffee, should always be united with its recollection.

To Be Continued

COMMON SCHOOLS IN NEW YORK - It appears from the report of the Superintendent of Common Schools in the state of New York presented last week to the House of assembly, that of the 723 towns and wards in the state, 721 have made returns according to the law : That in these towns there are 8114 school districts, and of course the same number of schools; from 7544 of which returns have been received; That 341 new school dis-

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