Location: Bowdoin / Library / Special Collections & Archives / Manuscript Collections / John Brown Russwurm Collection

John Brown Russwurm Collection 1819-2000, n.d.



0.25 linear feet.

Catalog Number: M158

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Agency History / Biographical Note:
John Brown Russwurm (1799-1851), Bowdoin's first African-American graduate (Class of 1826), is thought to be the third African-American graduated from an American college. He was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica, the illegitimate son of a white planter and a black slave. His father, John Russwurm, of a wealthy Virginia family, went to Jamaica after completing his education in England. He sent his son, John Brown Russwurm, to Quebec at age eight so that he might receive a good education. Soon after moving to Maine, his father married Susan Blanchard. Russwurm then came to live with his father's family, where he was accepted by his step-mother as one of her own. Russwurm stayed with the family even after his father died, continuing his education at Hebron Academy in Hebron, Maine. His step-mother and her new husband helped him to enroll at Bowdoin in 1824.

After graduation, Russwurm taught at Primus Hall, a school for black children in Boston. In 1827, he became junior editor of The Freedom's Journal, the first newspaper in the United States owned, operated, published and edited by African-Americans. The journal opposed the idea of African-American colonization of Africa until Russwurm became senior editor. He was forced to resign his position (1829) for expressing strong views on colonization that antagonized many. The same year Russwurm emigrated to Liberia where he worked for the American Colonization Society, serving as colonial secretary (1830-34) and as editor of The Liberia Herald. He then joined the Maryland Society, which recognized the importance of black leadership in their colony, and made him governor in 1836, a post he held until his death.

In 1833, Russwurm married Sarah McGill, daughter of Lieutenant-Governor McGill of Monrovia. They had three sons and a daughter.

Scope and Content:
This collection of material about Russwurm was assembled by the College. It includes late-19th- and 20th-century biographical sketches and articles, Bowdoin College news releases, clippings, and other material, as well as copies of letters from the John Sumner Russwurm Papers at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. The collection also includes photocopies of Russwurm items from other locations in the Bowdoin College Special Collections & Archives: an 1819 Russwurm letter in the Rowland Bailey Howard Collection; several archival items, including his 1826 Commencement Part speech, "The Condition and Prospects of Hayti" and his note accepting membership in the Athenaean Society.

Cite as: John Brown Russwurm Collection, George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College Library.
Access Restrictions: None.

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