In l8l2 young John's father left the West Indies and settled in Portland, Maine, where he died three years later. The youth then attended Hebron Academy, a college preparatory school in the same state. There he stayed until he was 20. Then he moved to Boston, where he taught Black youngsters five years in the home of Primus Hall (later the Smith School). He entered Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine as a junior and received the bachelor of arts degree after two years on September 6, 1826. While there he associated with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and became a fraternity brother of James Russell Lowell in the Athenaeans, the first American college fraternity to admit a Negro. At the commencement exercises Russwurm delivered the class oration, the first graduate to do so.

     However, he missed by 14 days the distinction of being the first Negro to receive a baccalaureate degree from an American college. That honor went to Edward Jones, whose degree was conferred by Amherst College in Massachusetts on August 23, l826. Russwurm evened the score three years later when he won his master's degree at Bowdoin a year ahead of Jones.

     After college Russwurm settled in New York City with its concentration of progressive, well-educated free Blacks. Joining the select circle of abolitionists and activists there, he quickly won recognition as an articulate and dedicated leader in the anti-slavery crusade.

A Salutatory for Patrons

     Freedom's Journal was born on the l6th of March in l827. The first issue bore the imprint of the disturbing inroads that social, economic, and political changes were making in the daily lives of free Negroes. A five-point salutatory addressed "To Our Patrons" and signed "The Editors" occupied nearly three-fourths of the front page. It charted the course the Journal had set for itself in helping the colored population to lead exemplary lives and become upstanding citizens.

     First, the editors announced that in order to offset any misrepresentations in publications originating from others who "Too long have spoken for us," often "to the discredit to any person of colour," the Journal aspired to provide the Negro with his own forum. It said, in short, "We wish to plead our own cause."


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February 2000