The meeting drew men of consequence even from points outside of New York City. Black clergyman, as a group the brains and muscle of most of the antebellum reform movements, were there.

     Based on what we know of the activities of certain individuals during the succeeding years in behalf of Freedom's Journal, it is likely that the following leaders attended the founding meeting and were instrumental in launching the periodical at winter's end: the Reverend Nathaniel Paul, an Albany, New York, Baptist minister, a persevering abolitionist fund-raiser, and a faithful agent for Freedom's Journal for its full two years; William Hamilton, popular anti-slavery orator and thespian, who was selected as meeting chairman of the People of Colour of New York; Thomas L. Jennings, regular secretary and later chairman of the same organization and chairman of the "stockholders" of Rights of All, the successor to Freedom's Journal; Bishop Richard Allen, the man of fiery zeal ministering to the congregation of Bethel A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia, pioneer in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and an unwavering supporter of emancipation over colonization; the Reverend Samuel E. Cornish, pastor of the first Negro Presbyterian Church in New York, active in educational and anti-slavery movements; and John B. Russwurm, a promising young man who had distinguished himself the year before as one of the first two Black graduates of an American college.

     Finally, there was the host, a caterer and oysterman, Boston Crummell, product of schools in New York and England, a veteran advocate of self-improvement, and founder of the Phoenix Society.

     Cornish and Russwurm became the editors and co-proprietors of the new publication that began operations at 6 Varick Street in New York City. Cornish, highly regarded in both Philadelphia and New York City for his platform and writing talents, would, at the age of 32, be senior editor. Russwurm, four years younger and an articulate leader in his adopted New York, would be junior editor.

     Before Freedom's Journal appeared, there had been published works by both enslaved and free Negroes since colonial days. These included a book of poems by Phyllis Wheatley, religious verse by Jupiter Hammon, and an autobiography by Gustavas Vasa, a slave who recorded details of his capture in Nigeria, life aboard ship during his voyage to America, and slave experiences in Virginia. For 10 years a Maryland free Negro, Benjamin Banneker, one of three men commissioned by President George Washington to plan the city of Washington, D.C., published an almanac with information about the moon, sun, tides and crops. Sermons, broadsides, and biographical narratives also came from the hands of Black writers in colonial and antebellum America. But Freedom's Journal was the first newspaper owned, operated, edited, and published by Black Americans.

 

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February 2000