Jamaican John Brown Russwurm was one of the co-founders of the first Black-owned and operated newspaper in the United States. Together with Samuel Cornish, Russwurm founded the abolitionist newspaper, Freedom’s Journal.
Born in Port Antonio in 1799 to an English father and an unknown, enslaved mother, Russwurm lived in Jamaica until 1807, when his merchant father was sent to Quebec in Canada. They moved to Portland, Maine in 1812, and his father married Susan Blanchard in 1813, who insisted Russwurm’s son be acknowledged and receive his father’s family name. After his father died in 1815, John Brown Russwurm attended the Hebron Academy in Maine and graduated when he was in his early 20s. He then taught at an African American school in Boston before returning to Maine to live with his stepmother and her new husband. They helped him pay for his education at Bowdoin College, where he enrolled in 1924. He graduated in 1826, the first Black person to graduate from the college and only the third to graduate from an American college.
In 1827, Russwurm moved to New York City, which at the time had the largest Black population of any northern US city, with about ten percent of the 150,000 free Black people living in the north. The free Blacks and escaped enslaved people lived there with their own churches, schools, and clubs. In this environment, in March of 1827, Russwurm and his co-editor Samuel Cornish, published the first edition of the abolitionist paper, Freedom’s Journal. During his time as editor, Russwurm included information about the ancient and modern history of Africa in his newspaper and furthered the education of his readers by including the foundational texts of an English literary education. Following the resignation of Cornish in September 1827, Russwurm began to promote the voluntary emigration of Black people from the US to Africa. He himself resigned from the newspaper in March of 1829 to move to Liberia.
Russwurm worked as the colonial secretary for the American Colonization Society in Liberia between 1830 and 1834. He married Sarah McGill, the daughter of Monrovia’s lieutenant governor, and they had four children together. Russwurm was also the editor of the Liberia Herald, but resigned in 1835 to protest the colonization policies of the US. In 1836, he became the first Black governor of Maryland in Africa, a colony that became part of Liberia in 1857. He remained governor until he died in 1851. Throughout his term as governor, Russwurm encouraged African Americans to emigrate to the Republic of Maryland in Africa.
There is a statue of Russwurm on the site of his burial in Harper, Cape Palmas, in Liberia. He was listed among the 100 Greatest African Americans by African American professor and philosopher Molefi Kete Asante in 2002.