Today we visit Samuel E. Cornish.


Samuel E. Cornish 1795-1858

Samuel E. Cornish 1795-1858

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Samuel E. Cornish was a free black man born in Delaware in 1795. Along with John B. Russworm, Cornish edited Freedom’s Journal, the first black-owned and -operated newspaper in the United States. Freedom’s Journal was the first newspaper to note and publish the important occurrences among the black community, including births, deaths, and marriages. The paper was circulated throughout 11 states, as well as Canada, Europe, and Haiti. The paper also featured stories about notable African Americans as well as providing international and local news stories. This publication in many way anticipated publications like Frederick Douglass’s North Star.

Cornish resigned from the newspaper, but did not relinquish his role as an advocate for African Americans. Among other tasks in the community, Cornish worked on behalf of the New York African Free School, acting as a liaison in the sometimes tense relationship between the school administrators and the parents of young African Americans in the community. According to Charles C. Andrews, Cornish inquired “into the condition of every coloured family in this city.” For Andrews, Cornish’s “services have been of essential use, in stimulating the parents to send their children to school, and in furnishing more minute information relative to our coloured population.” Cornish’s reports to the Manumission Society seemed to indicate that it was not lack of interest that sometimes kept black parents from sending their children to school. Rather, the often crushing poverty families faced rendered it impossible to spare children from the working world. In other cases, families might be willing to send their children to school, but lacked the warm clothing those children would need for the often long walk to class. In response to this need, African American women formed the African Dorcas Society, which worked to supply warm clothing for families in need. Cornish died in New York City in 1858.

Additional Information:


Samuel Cornish was an early Presbyterian minister and a prominent abolitionist. A conservative in religious and social views, he lost influence in the early 1840’s as many black leaders became more militant, although he remained a respected figure. In addition, Cornish was an important newspaper editor, a co-founder of Freedom’s Journal, the first black newspaper, and later editor of the Colored American.

In 1827 Cornish joined John Russworm in editing Freedom’s Journal, which first appeared on March 16. Russworm assumed sole editorial control on September 24, 1827, but Cornish took over the paper in 1829 when Russworm was forced to resign because of his support of the colonization movement. After a two-month hiatus, Cornish continued the paper for less than a year under the name The Rights of All. For a few months in 1832 he served as pastor of the First African Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, founded by John Gloucester.

Cornish further devoted his energies to eradicating the stain of slavery; he joined William Lloyd Garrison in the founding of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833, and helped found a local branch of the New York Anti-Slavery Society. Cornish also joined the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, and spent at least nine years on its executive committee. He was an active member of the American Missionary Society, which incorporated the black Union Missionary Society Cornish had helped found. He was on the AMA’s executive committee for three years and served as its vice-president.

In 1837 Cornish again became a newspaper editor, this time of the Colored American, a paper subsidized by noted white abolitionist Arthur Tappan. His associate on the paper was Philip A. Bell, later a noted California newspaper editor. Cornish held this post until the middle of 1839. Cornish was more conservative in his views than many of his younger contemporaries. For example, in an 1837 editorial he was part of a minority opposing the use of demonstrations and force to resist enforcement of the fugitive slave laws. This controversial opinion led to his estrangement from David Ruggles and the New York Committee of Vigilance, an organization dedicated to helping fugitive slaves.

After his wife died in 1844, Cornish moved his family back to New York City where he organized Emmanuel Church which he led until 1847. His older daughter died in 1846, and his younger daughter became ill in 1851 and died insane in 1855. In this year, Cornish, in very poor health himself, moved to Brooklyn, where he died in 1858.

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