The Struggles Of John Brown Russwurm

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“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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814742891
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/2010
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Winston James is professor of history at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of A Fierce Hatred of Injustice: Claude McKay’s Jamaica and His Poetry of Rebellion; Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia: Caribbean Radicalism in Early Twentieth-Century America, which won the Gordon K. Lewis Memorial Award for Caribbean Scholarship from the Caribbean Studies Association; and the co-editor of Inside Babylon: The Caribbean Diaspora in Britain.

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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments xi

A Note on Quotations xiv

Part I John Brown Russwurm 1

Prologue: The Man Out of Place 3

1 From Boy to Man 5

2 Freedom's Journal: Pleading Our Own Cause 26

3 Quitting America and Its Cost 44

4 "We Have Found a Haven": In the Land of His Fathers 59

5 Governor Russwurm: The Cape Palmas Years 85

Epilogue: Russwurm in His Rightful Place 108

Part II Selected Writings of John Brown Russwurm 127

Editorial Note 129

1 Early Writings 131

The Condition and Prospects of Hayti 132

2 Writings from Freedom's Journal 135

Part A Uplift, Abolitionism, and Opposition to Colonization 135

To Our Patrons 135

Proposals for Publishing the Freedom's Journal: Prospectus 139

[Raising Us in the Scale of Being] 140

Haytien Revolution 141

Mutability of Human Affairs 143

People of Colour 150

[A Trip through New England] 157

Betrayed by Our Own Brethren: On Fugitive Slaves, Kidnapping, Man-Stealing, and Action 177

Self-Interest: [Betrayed by Colored Persons] 177

Self-Interest: [Shaming and Naming Names] 179

Land of Liberty 180

Engaging the Colonizationists 181

[An Exchange with "Wilberforce"] 182

[An Exchange with Dr. Samuel Miller] 187

Travelling Scraps: To Philadelphia, Delaware, Baltimore, and Washington 190

Part B Our Views Are Materially Altered: Looking toward Liberia 200

Liberia: [Casting His Eyes Elsewhere] 201

Liberia: [Unanswerable Argument] 202

Our Vindication 204

Colonization 207

To Our Patrons 209

3 Writings from Liberia 213

Part A First Impressions: Two Early Letters from Liberia 213

Extract of Letter to Rev. A. R. Plumley, Agent of the ACS, November 18, 1829 213

Extract of Letter to Edward Jones, March 20, 1830 216

Part B Writings from the Liberia Herald 218

To Our Readers: [Inaugural Editorial] 218

Union 221

[We Have Found a Haven] 222

To Our Readers: [Taking Stock-One Year On] 223

Every Man the Architect of His Own Fortune 225

To Our Readers: [Let the Experiment Be Tried on Africa's Soil] 229

[Facts Speak Louder Than Words] 230

Part C Letters Home from Afar to a Brother 231

Letter to Francis Edward Russwurm, March 31, 1834 231

Letter to Francis Edward Russwurm, September 27, 1835 232

Part D Governor Russwurm: Departing from the Old and Beaten Paths 234

Letter Accepting Appointment as Agent and Governor of Maryland in Liberia 234

Part E Sometimes We Despond a Little: Some Candid and Private Thoughts on the Liberian Project 235

Letter to Rev. I. A. Easter, June 2, 1837 235

Letter to Judge Samuel Wilkeson, January 4, 1840 236

Part F Home from Home: A Visit to Maine and After 238

We Are Now Ready to Return to Africa: Letter to Dr. James Hall 238

Back in Our "Free Home" in Liberia: Letter to John H. B. Latrobe 239

The Arrival and Departure of Russwurm: A Contemporary Report 240

Russwurm in Baltimore: A Reminiscence John H. B. Latrobe 242

Part G "None in Your Employ Eat the Bread of Idleness in Africa": A Governor's Dispatches 243

Dispatch from Harper, Cape Palmas, ca. December 1838 243

Dispatch from Harper, Cape Palmas, December 8, 1839 246

Dispatch from Cape Palmas, December 30, 1845 250

Notes 255

Index 293

About the Author 305

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