Freedom’s Journal

By Eilene Lyon — March 16, 2021

This date in 1827 saw the publication of the first issue of Freedom’s Journal in New York City. It was the first newspaper produced by and for Blacks in the United States. A group of free men of color, primarily clergymen, met at the home of community organizer Boston Crummell (an oysterman by profession) to develop the newspaper.

At the meeting were Rev. Peter Williams, Jr. an Episcopal priest; abolitionist William Hamilton, purportedly the son of Alexander Hamilton and a free woman of color; Samuel Cornish, who established the African-American Presbyterian Church – chief editor and proprietor; and John Russwurm, a recent graduate of Bowdoin College – assistant editor and proprietor; among others.

Rev. Peter Williams, Jr. (Public domain)

Rev. Williams, the second ordained Black priest in the Protestant Episcopal Church, was the son of a Methodist minister. He had the charge of St. Philip’s Episcopal, then located 31 Centre St. between Worth and Leonard. Though he personally advocated abolition and the advancement of Blacks, his superiors in the church curtailed his political activities.

Williams and Russworm, who had been born in Jamaica, favored free Blacks from America colonizing Haiti. Haiti, after the successful slave revolt in 1804, had become the second republic in the western hemisphere.

Russworm also supported the American Colonization Society’s (ACS) efforts to remove Blacks from America to Liberia. This put him at odds with the senior editor, Cornish, who vehemently opposed the Society’s aims. Cornish wanted full freedom for Blacks in America. Russworm eventually moved voluntarily to Liberia and became involved in politics there.

John Brown Russwurm (Wikimedia Commons)

The opening editorial of the inaugural issue expressed the religious bent of its founders: “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 in humanity.”

The editors explained that a Black-run newspaper was necessary to promote their own causes. “Too long have others spoken for us. Too long has the publick been deceived by misrepresentations in things which concern us dearly…” They endeavored to change Americans’ perceptions about the character of the people who had been oppressed by slavery, prejudice, and ignorance.

Aside from its politics, the editors published local, national and international news; birth, marriage and death announcements for the Black community; and even poetry and literature. They advertised educational opportunities, as well.

The launch of Freedom’s Journal appears to have been little noted in the New York City press. However, the Philadelphia-based The United States Gazette did publish an article about the newspaper a week later. Though it generally supported the paper and had some laudatory remarks, it also found room to criticize. The Journal did find an appreciative audience in England, however.

Even some in the southern press took note, with compliments.

Free Press (Halifax, N. Carolina), April 14, 1827.

When Cornish left the paper after six months at the helm, Russwurm began asserting his support for the ACS. This unpopular position cost him substantial readership. In 1829, Cornish returned upon Russwurm’s departure and renamed the paper. He failed to revive it and it folded for good in 1830.

Feature image: Image of the front page of the third issue of Freedom’s Journal (Wikimedia Commons)

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom%27s_Journal

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Williams_Jr.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Hamilton_(abolitionist)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Cornish

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Brown_Russwurm

https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Article/CS4415 (PDFs of all issues)

Woodson, Carter G. c1921. The History of the Negro Church. Associated Publishers, Washington, D.C. pp. 94-97.

The United States Gazette (Philadelphia), March 23, 1827 p. 2 c. 1 – via Newspapers.com.

Free Press (Halifax, NC), April 14, 1827 p. 3 c. 1 – via Newspapers.com.

30 thoughts on “Freedom’s Journal

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  1. A very interesting piece of history. When I was researching in Nova Scotia newspaper archives, I found several 19th century publications from the Black community. It is too bad that Freedom’s Journal was so short-lived.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. At least that’s how it appears from my reading. Even Abe Lincoln favored transporting American-born Blacks to Liberia. It’s no surprise to me that those people didn’t want to go, any more than Dreamers want to be deported to the countries their parents came from.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I first learned of this paper a couple years ago when I was doing a timeline on racism in the U.S. Here I was a history major in college and I never heard of it! Interesting what led to its decline.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh! I guess I didn’t mention that! It was a work-related thing. They were studying racism as they had their planning meetings. I wasn’t at the meetings of course, but they said they found it very educational — as did I!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you, Eilene, for publishing this post: The Negro Press was a crucial part of Black culture until fairly recently, and filled a needed gap that was left by the mainstream papers of the time.

    Stay safe,
    -S. Destinie Jones
    aka Shira

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for this post. It shows how ‘Blacks’ who blame ‘White’s’ for their social disadvantage should research more about appropriations after so-called ‘Black Enslavement’ of Blacks being repatriated from America to places like Haiti and Liberia. They’ll learn about members of their classification were at odds as well as to where former ‘Black Slaves’ should be relocated. From reading this blog, I learned two so-called friends became nearly enemies over who should now control the former slave since ‘Whites’ no longer had the authority to do so

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    1. That’s an interesting take on the story. I see them as two people who differed in their ideas more than it being about who should “control” the formerly enslaved people. You seem to suggest that Blacks weren’t really enslaved, which is patently untrue. These publishers weren’t looking to control freed Blacks – they wanted them to have full rights as citizens. One felt that could not happen in this country and the other felt it could happen in the U.S. Given present day struggles, the latter view was apparently wrong.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re absolutely correct. I misread you research. I for some reason looked at as one wanting the newly freed slaves (as you all call them) to go to Liberia which some did and the other wanting them to go to Haiti. Wow! The brain. However, you are absolutely correct that I do not believe in slavery because history told us that Blacks were first treated as indentured servants just as indentured Whites. Also, the Black man, initially, was never enslaved. Rather it was the ‘one drop rule’ that implied any child born of a woman deemed negro was considered negro and reduced to Jim Crowe’s segregationists state laws. The movie Harriette about Harriette Tubman gives some insight into that fact! Harriette’s husband was free and her father, according to the movie, was never enslaved (?) but his wife was given the reason he stayed on the plantation. But No! they were not slaves which is a confederate term. Rather they became prisoners of war. Good read nonetheless, after re-reading. Thanks! 🙋🏽‍♂️

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  5. retraction: I thought I read you blog right the first time. because in it you wrote “this put him (Russworm) at odds with the senior editor, Cornish, who vehemently opposed the Society’s aims. Cornish wanted full freedom for Blacks in America.” which goes back to my point of Blacks wanting control what free slaves (prisoners of war) as to where they should live when there should had been no “odds” between the two but options for the newly free slaves.

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    1. You seem to have found some fuzzy semantics to twist reality to your own liking. Indentured servants served a master for a fixed term to pay a debt. The indenture (not the person) could be sold – much like subletting an apartment. When their term expired, they were free to go. Prisoners of war are sometimes forced to do unfree labor, but again, their bodies aren’t never sold, and most are freed upon the end of hostilities. Enslaved people, on the other hand, have no expiration to their term of service, and are bought and sold, bodily, via bills of sale or through inheritance – they are chattel property. That is an important difference. You can ignore the truth of that, but it doesn’t change the facts.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. People seem to know the length of time a prisoner of war is held … Therefore, can you please tell us how long is a prisoner of war held? you touch on a very good point ‘Fixed Terms’ was not slavery as you say a ‘fixed term’? perpetuity is a fixes term. The same model that was practiced throughout Africa was the same model the U.S. used for its practices of transferring bodies for sale. Many people claim the first slaves arrived in America in 1619 despite the Virginia Statutes at Large alleging merchants had with them 20 odd negroes not slaves. You all mean to tell me the founders at that time did not know the word ‘slave’. Further, was it not until the 1640s that the ‘One-Drop Rule’ was the law, although not found, that concluded any child born of a negro woman would be reduced to involuntary servitude perpetuity? Therefore, if slavery in America was not instituted until 1640 or so, then what were the negros prior to that? Because from what I know, Africans (All prisoners of war) and Whites (some prisoners of war) were treated as ‘indentured servants’ with both living on a plantation prior to the 1640s. What about the Negro men, the one drop rule had nothing to do with them and most stayed on the plantations because they had no where else to go because their families were in Africa. Do you know why the one drop rule was instituted?

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