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The Struggles of John Brown Russwurm

The Struggles of John Brown Russwurm: The Life and Writings of a Pan-Africanist Pioneer, 1799-1851

Winston James
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 288
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    The Struggles of John Brown Russwurm
    Book Description:

    If I know my own heart, I can truly say, that I have not a selfish wish in placing myself under the patronage of the [American Colonization] Society; usefulness in my day and generation, is what I principally court.Sensible then, as all are of the disadvantages under which we at present labour, can any consider it a mark of folly, for us to cast our eyes upon some other portion of the globe where all these inconveniences are removed where the Man of Colour freed from the fetters and prejudice, and degradation, under which he labours in this land, may walk forth in all the majesty of his creation - a new born creature - a Free Man! - John Brown Russwurm, 1829.John Brown Russwurm (1799-1851) is almost completely missing from the annals of the Pan-African movement, despite the pioneering role he played as an educator, abolitionist, editor, government official, emigrationist and colonizationist. Russwurm's life is one of firsts: first African American graduate of Maine's Bowdoin College; co-founder of Freedom's Journal, America's first newspaper to be owned, operated, and edited by African Americans; and, following his emigration to Africa, first black governor of the Maryland section of Liberia. Despite his accomplishments, Russwurm struggled internally with the perennial Pan-Africanist dilemma of whether to go to Africa or stay and fight in the United States, and his ordeal was the first of its kind to be experienced and resolved before the public eye.With this slim, accessible biography of Russwurm, Winston James makes a major contribution to the history of black uplift and protest in the Early American Republic and the larger Pan-African world. James supplements the biography with a carefully edited and annotated selection of Russwurm's writings, which vividly demonstrate the trajectory of his political thinking and contribution to Pan-Africanist thought and highlight the challenges confronting the peoples of the African Diaspora. Though enormously rich and powerfully analytical, Russwurm's writings have never been previously anthologized.The Struggles of John Brown Russwurm is a unique and unparalleled reflection on the Early American Republic, the African Diaspora and the wider history of the times. An unblinking observer of and commentator on the condition of African Americans as well as a courageous fighter against white supremacy and for black emancipation, Russwurm's life and writings provide a distinct and articulate voice on race that is as relevant to the present as it was to his own lifetime.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-4372-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  4. A Note on Quotations
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  5. PART I John Brown Russwurm

    • Prologue: The Man Out of Place
      (pp. 3-4)

      He is almost completely missing from the annals of the Pan-African movement. The two leading studies of the movement do not even mention him, let alone register or analyze his contribution.¹ A third mentions him only briefly and in passing, devoting four sentences to the pioneer in a book almost three hundred pages long.² The great George Padmore, in his Olympian, if polemical, historical overview of the Pan-African movement, correctly registers his name among the New World pioneers of Liberia but has him leading twenty-one African American emigrants to the settlement almost a decade before he actually left the United...

    • 1 From Boy to Man
      (pp. 5-25)

      Born in Port Antonio, capital of the eastern Jamaican parish of Portland, on October 1, 1799, John Brown Russwurm was the son of a black mother and a white American merchant on the island, John R. Russwurm. Virtually nothing is known of the mother, not even her name. Russwurm himself was surprisingly silent on the subject. A number of nineteenth-century sources referred to her as a “Creole” woman, which is hardly helpful. An 1848 report in thePortland Transcript(Maine) informed its readers that Russwurm’s father had, as was “very common” in the West Indies, “married a colored lady, from...

    • 2 Freedom’s Journal: Pleading Our Own Cause
      (pp. 26-43)

      Two bright, young black men became editors ofFreedom’s Journal. The senior editor, Samuel Cornish (1795?–1859), who was about thirty-two years old, was born in rural Delaware of free parents. Little is known about his youth except that it was largely spent on the land, which remained in his affections to the end of his life. In 1815 he went to Philadelphia and there received training for the ministry by the pastor of the First African Church, Presbyterian. Licensed to preach in 1819, he spent the next six months as a missionary to slaves on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Living...

    • 3 Quitting America and Its Cost
      (pp. 44-58)

      For Russwurm, doubt and disillusionment about African Americans’ prospects in the United States soon set in. Even at his most combative, he had asked difficult questions that were not merely rhetorical and to which he did not have answers: “Can thejusticeof God tolerate so much iniquity andinjustice?” and “When will the monster, prejudice, be done away, even from among the Christians?”¹ Under his sole editorship, Russwurm’sJournal, to the astonishment and with the objections of some subscribers, began to provide an increasing amount of space to the advocates of colonization. Although the journal had always provided space...

    • 4 “We Have Found a Haven”: In the Land of His Fathers
      (pp. 59-84)

      Russwurm arrived in Monrovia on November 12, 1829, fifty-eight days after leaving Baltimore. As he wrote afterwards, it was an “uncommonly long passage,” even for the age of sails. This was largely because his ship entered the doldrums twice: twelve days the first time and another ten days off the Cape Verde Islands. Still, Russwurm had no complaints, the captain treated him with the “greatest politeness,” and everyone landed in good health. He rejoiced on arriving in the “land of [his] fathers.” “I cannot describe what were my first sensations upon landing,” he wrote to a friend less than a...

    • 5 Governor Russwurm: The Cape Palmas Years
      (pp. 85-107)

      While the crisis was brewing in Monrovia, John Latrobe and the board of the Maryland State Colonization Society (MSCS), having gathered disturbing and damning information about the problems of governance in Liberia, were busily but quietly taking steps to establish a colony under their own auspices that would be quite separate from the ACS and its colony at Monrovia. The colony, known as Maryland in Liberia, was established in 1834 at Cape Palmas, about three hundred miles south and a week’s sail away from Monrovia.

      This was the culmination of significant and growing differences between the MSCS and the ACS....

    • Epilogue: Russwurm in His Rightful Place
      (pp. 108-126)

      In many ways, Russwurm’s long absence from the Pan-African pantheon stems from three sources: ignorance of, and misunderstanding and distortions about, his life and achievements; misunderstandings about the colonization project; and controversy over the status of Liberia in the Pan-Africanist enterprise.

      In a pioneering biographical portrait of the editors ofFreedom’s Journal, the distinguished Afro–Puerto Rican scholar and bibliophile Arturo Schomburg averred that “John B. Russwurm was a very brilliant journalist and teacher.” But, he continued, “the question that is pertinent to ask now is, did he sell his birthright for a mess of pottage?” Schomburg answered his own...

  6. PART II Selected Writings of John Brown Russwurm

    • Editorial Note
      (pp. 129-130)

      The following selection has been guided by a desire to provide the reader with a broad sampling of Russwurm’s own writings, reflecting his preoccupations, mode of thinking, and style of expression over the course of a lifetime. The larger objective, however, is to make available to the interested reader the relatively sustained expression of the richness and complexity of Russwurm’s thoughts and emotions over time.

      Starting with his earliest known writings, which, significantly, revolved around the subject of the Haitian Revolution and its meaning, the anthology follows Russwurm as he thinks and writes in the pages ofFreedom’s Journaland...

    • 1 Early Writings
      (pp. 131-134)

      On September 6, 1826, Russwurm, the first black graduate of the college, delivered the following address as his contribution to the commencement exercise at Bowdoin College. The subject matter revealed Russwurm’s profound and abiding interest in the history, symbolism, and fate of the Haitian Revolution. The speech was extensively covered and praised in the local and national press. It was his first public pronouncement, on this or any other subject. But Russwurm had in fact being thinking, reading, and writing about Haiti for years before his commencement and at least up to the years he lived and taught school in...

    • 2 Writings from Freedom’s Journal
      (pp. 135-212)

      Freedom’s Journal,the first black-run and -owned newspaper in the United States, commenced publication on Friday, March 16, 1827. In the first three items below, the editors, Samuel E. Cornish and John B. Russwurm, outlined their rationale and hopes for the paper. Unless otherwise indicated, the other articles in this section are attributed to Russwurm.

      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...

    • 3 Writings from Liberia
      (pp. 213-254)

      My Dear Sir,

      I embrace this opportunity by the departure of the Susan for the Leeward trade, to address you and a few other friends in the U.S. We arrived here on the 12thinst[ant], after the uncommonly long passage of 58 days, all in good health. In the high latitudes we were becalmed during 12 days and off the Cape De Verds, 10 days more; but I feel thankful to our Maker that we suffered for nothing. By Capt. Woodbury and his officers and crew I have been treated with the greatest politeness. Should you pass through Beverly, I...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 255-292)
  8. Index
    (pp. 293-304)
  9. About the Author
    (pp. 305-305)