Category Archives: The World of the Christian Recorder

Reconstruction Amendments: Rebuilding America’s Free Black Community

The passage and ratification of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, also known as the Reconstruction amendments were the first sutures designed to sew together the wounds left by the years of fighting on the battlefield and home-font during the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865. The amendments, by ending slavery, enfranchising and enterprising newly freed blacks, and establishing new and stronger federalism, respectively, left many to wonder what the next chapters of American federalism, economy, and freedom would bring. With Federal troops stationed throughout the South immediately following the war and later to enforce this new moral and legal code of equality, blacks, namely former slaves, began to claim a new lifestyle of citizenship in the land where they had previously been enslaved. For these individuals, the first step in creating a new life in freedom was the reconnection and re-cultivation of social networks destroyed by slavery and war.   Slaves were constantly moved away from federal troop advances or raids to discourage runaways.  This, compounded with the ever present break up of families by the sale of slaves (especially during the economic depression faced by the South during the latter portions of the war) spread these friend and familial networks across the country.

Some Social and familial networks were more easily repaired as the individuals were not separated over great distances. Many slaves became “contrabands of war “ as they ran away to refugee camps run by the Union Army and thus remained in nearby environs. Others were sold away and taken great distances still others joined and traveled with the Union Army. These networks that were torn asunder by conflict or other tragic circumstances required other means to restore communities that would help freed slaves in the post-war, reconstruction period. Factors like literacy, access to money, and larger communities all played into one’s ability to connect to greater networks of individuals in the hope of reconnecting with friends and loved ones. Many former slaves placed missing persons ads in newspapers read in black communities across the United States and Canada. One example of a newspaper that carried several hundred of these missing persons ads both during and after the war is the Christian Recorder, published in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. These ads, often placed by one or two individuals would give information based on the missing person or persons last known location, full name, known nicknames, their familial or friendship ties, how the person placing the ad could be reached, their address, and the location from where the ad was being published. This variety of information meant that any of a number of individuals could read or come across this information and communicate any part or segment to any of the parties listed in hopes of reestablishing a connection. It was also common to see ads posted by church groups or by other individuals on behalf of another person, who perhaps did not have the means or literacy to post the ad.

The 700 wanted ads from the Christian Recorder compiled during Villanova University’s Graduate Digital History Practicum offer innumerable research opportunities to historians interested in the Civil War, Reconstruction, Gender studies, African-American history, as well as other fields like Geography and Politics. For my project, I wanted to test the data to see if there was a significant connection between the ratification dates of the first two Reconstruction amendments: the Thirteenth and Fourteenth and a rise in the placement of ads from the states where the amendments had recently been ratified. More specifically, I looked at border and Southern or (formerly) Confederate states and the dates they ratified and adopted each amendment. The hypothesis being: if there was a marked uptick in the amount of ads submitted during this time period it could be deduced that free blacks, more specifically, individuals looking to rebuild social networks, and even more specifically, individuals posting ads in the Christian Recorder felt more comfortable doing so after the amendments were adopted by Southern and border states who otherwise would not assume these protections on their own at the state and local level. Through examining and data-basing 700 wanted ads placed in the Christian Recorder between 1863 and 1869 the following information was gathered:

Below are two timelines, created with the online tool dipity. The first timeline tracks every state’s ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. The Thirteenth Amendment, which was highly contested in the House of Representatives, was passed on January 31, 1865 by that body, certifying its passage and subsequently sending it to the states for ratification. The amendment made slavery illegal in the United States and was a political and military goal of both Radical Republicans and Abraham Lincoln. That is, both wanted to see the amendment passed before the imminent surrender of the South, who would rejoin the Union and the House of Representatives and veto any attempt at the passage of a freedom bill.

Thirteenth Amendment Timeline

The second timeline tracks the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment was a response to the almost immediate resubjugation of recently freed slaves in the South to Black Codes passed in many former-Confederate states. These laws sought to install a system of white supremacy and non-citizenship for blacks. Though Congress attempted to act through the passage of a Civil Rights Act in 1866, it quickly became clear that an amendment enfranchising blacks, granting full citizenship to freed slaves would be necessary. The amendment was adopted July 9, 1868 with little support from Southern states. Later Congress would stipulate that ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment would be required for congressional representatives from former-Confederate states to be readmitted to Congress. The timeline shows both border and Southern states and the time it took to ratify the amendment, even after adoption. One can infer the bitterness with which this amendment was accepted by the Southern states with full ratification taking fully four years.

*Both Timelines exclude extreme outliers like Mississippi or New Jersey who rejected and failed to re-certify the 13th and 14th Amendments, respectively

Fourteenth Amendment Timeline

After establishing a timeline for both amendments two maps were created using the Google map creation tool. The first map looks at ads placed during the timeline representation of the Thirteenth Amendment. More specifically, it looks at ads placed within this time period from individuals reporting their address within border and former-Confederate states. That information comprises layer one which had a total of 55 hits in the entire Christian Recorder wanted ads database from February 1865 to June 1866. Layer two of this data, illustrated by ‘yellow stars’, represents the ads where the month and year of ad placement were significant- within five or six months- to the time the state ratified the Thirteenth Amendment. For example: on February 3, 1866 an unknown male placed an ad looking for Henry Collins. This man listed his address as Princeton, New Jersey—a State that ratified the Thirteenth Amendment on January 23, 1866.   Allowing for some time for communication, or over seasons like winter, I found the total result of this database to be 18 significant hits of 55 or roughly 33 percent of all ads placed during this time coincide with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment.

Similarly, the second map looks at ads placed during the second timeline for ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, July 1866 to June 1869, and excludes outliers like Texas and Mississippi who did not ratify until 1870. Strictly speaking, the timeframe that the amendment took to be ratified took much longer; therefore, layer one, which records all ads from the Christian Recorder from the aforementioned time period lists 84 ‘hits’ for ads placed from individuals listing their address in border or former-Confederate state—roughly 30 more than all ads placed for the Thirteenth Amendment. More significantly, however, is layer two which is, again, illustrated by ‘yellow stars’. This layer records fourteen individual ‘hits’ of ads placed at a date very near- five to six months- ratification date of the state listed by the advertiser. For Example on November 28, 1868 Alice Mitchell posted an ad for her mother, Polly Clark. Alice Mitchell listed her address in Glenville, Barbour County, Alabama—a state where the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified on July 13, 1868. Again allowing for some margin of communication and seasonality I found the total result of the two layers for this database to be 14 significant ‘hits’ from a total of 84, or roughly 17 percent of all ads placed during these years to coincide with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. Geographically, these ads are more spaced out than ‘layer two’ of the Thirteenth Amendment map and show coinciding trends in New Jersey, Washington D.C., Virginia, and the Deep South. Perhaps with more data this geographic information could be more insightful.

These numbers, 33 and 17 percent, certainly do not represent the type of ‘smoking gun’ for which historians and researchers aiming to publish books and peer-review articles would look. The overall sample size of 700 ads, though it took a team of graduate students half a semester to fully transcribe into a digestible document, is far too small a collection of ads, and other databases would have to be created from similar newspapers and publications from Civil War and Reconstruction periods. Although this project shows empirically that roughly 33 percent of ads posted around the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment and 17 percent of ads posted around the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment appear significant to the original question and hypothesis this project was likely never going to fully draw a parallel between the thought processes of free blacks looking to rebuild communities in the former-Confederacy and border states and the importance or trust in the federal government to guarantee the rights and liberties which had been so viciously fought for over from 1861 to 1865. I hope this project will inspire other researchers, particularly those looking at contraband camps and the rebuilding of black communities after the war, to continue exploring newspaper wanted ads and the window to the past they offer.



For More Information:

National Trust for Historic Preservation: The Forgotten- The Contraband of America and the Road to Freedom

 National Park Service: Living Contraband- Former Slaves in the Nation’s Capital during the Civil War

The Christian Recorder

 Our Documents 13th Amendment

 Our Documents 14th Amendment

Our Documents 15th Amendment. History: Reconstruction

National Humanities Center: Emancipation, 1864-1865

List of States in Order of Ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment

List of States in Order of Ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment

PBS: Slavery by another Name- Black Codes and Pig Laws

History, Art and Archives: The United States House of Representatives, “Historical Highlights: the Civil Rights Bill of 1866”


Mapping Geography and Gender in ‘The Christian Recorder’

During my contributions to the Christian Recorder “Information Wanted” project, I began to wonder about the demographic information involved. So frequently with primary sources, the analysis done by researchers and historians becomes focused almost entirely along certain lines: facts, figures, and statistics, or the (typically) individualized narratives of the persons involved in the events themselves or else in their documentation.

There is no necessary or intentional divide, per se, between these two approaches to data. My hope was to keep this unified perspective in mind as I went forward with my own uses of our collected information. What emerged from my reading of the data sets was a picture of community, scattered and subdivided across various states and territories. They were separated – and indeed the entire notion of the “Information Wanted” columns was a deliberate response to the separation of individuals from their larger groups, typically families. But by using a rapidly-expanding system of communication – the printed periodical –  black Americans, now confronted with their potential roles as citizens and free members of a largely hostile society, could attempt to reach across great spaces to reunite with their fellows and families. As they did so, these communities would simultaneously be developing a system of gendered roles and expected norms for its members. These performances of accepted behaviors would in turn have an effect upon the readership and authorship of The Christian Recorder‘s “Information Wanted” advertisements.

To begin, then, I asked: How much of the geographical spread of interested persons demonstrated within these maps the result of the 19th century’s expansion of print mass media and travel technologies? As I discussed in a previous post, the potential audiences for newspapers, newsletters, and magazines had virtually exploded in scope and scale by the time of the advertisements I’ve sampled. Similarly, railroad networks underwent significant growth in both reach and density by the end of the Civil War, enabling goods, news, and people to travel further and faster than ever before. Consequently, and with the end of slavery now guaranteed by law, how many former slaves took advantage not only of their new freedoms but of these cultural and technological changes to seek out missing loved ones?

By writing in to The Christian Recorder and submitting “Information Wanted” notices, they could hope to tap into the readership of one of the most prominent and powerful black community groups in the country. This increasing connectivity between communities and among social and cultural groups prompted me to wonder what a random sampling of advertiser locations from the final months of the Civil War and its immediate aftermath would look like when mapped out according to the information given in their advertisements. To that end, I created my first map:

‘Christian Recorder’ Advertiser Locations

The sample size comes from all “Information Wanted” pieces published between March 1865 and December 1866, pared down to 197 individuals who provided direct contact information, including city and state. The results were intriguing in their concentrations. The density and frequency of advertisements placed by residents of non-slaveholding states is in fact nearly equal to those from states where slavery continued until the Thirteenth Amendment. Further, while dense population centers are well-represented, a significant number of the advertisements come from persons outside major cities. This would indicate that the extensive readership networks upon which these “Information Wanted” pieces hinged were not as centralized as they might at first appear.

Below is a breakdown of the data along state and territory lines. By far the largest state represented in the advertisements was Pennsylvania, which in itself is no great surprise, considering that The Christian Recorder was based in Philadelphia. This data chart, taken together were the map view above, will hopefully bring curious minds into the fold of understanding the connections between the places represented there and the people attempting to reach across the spaces between.



Obviously, this sample is not intended to be exhaustive, nor is it intended as a demonstration of the entire scope of the “Information Wanted” phenomenon, which ran continuously between 1861 and at least 1902. Rather, it represents a picture of the immediate post-emancipation era, and the geography of those in a position to seek out separated family and friends through a growing web of Christian Recorder readership and black church communities.

Geographic dispersion and the (typically) invisible strands of communication are all well and good, of course, and represent an area which remains more or less un-mined of its incredibly interesting and insightful biographic and demographic information. This approach to developing a more rounded understanding of life in the United States for freedpeople in the second half of the 19th century, one utilizing self-assessed data and very descriptive primary sources, could occupy the careers of countless historians and humanist academics. Ideally, it will. However, there is at least one other serious area worthy of intense study using these same sources: gender dynamics in African American communities.

While the 19th century is often (and rightly) described and understood as a period in which women struggled for authority and status within their social positions, personal relationships, and cultural paradigms, there were nonetheless some communities in which these exertions were less fractious. One of the groups was within African-American churches, within which scholars such as Elsa Barkley Brown[1] and Hannah Rosen[2] have argued that women in the immediate post-emancipation period and for some time afterward enjoyed relative gender equity within the communities. This changed over time for a number of reasons (and according to a number of competing theories), but nonetheless it must be understood that women were often allowed significant autonomy of conduct and organization for years within their churches. As the primary communication organ of the incredibly popular and influential African Methodist Episcopal Church, The Christian Recorder was no different. To that end, I created a second map from the same sampled data, this time broken down along gender lines.

‘Christian Recorder’ Advertiser Genders

Of the advertisers included in my sample, ninety-two were women. Compared to eighty-seven men and four advertisers with an indeterminate gender, this data seems to bear out the notion that women were more likely to attempt to reunite their families, arguably as an extension of the traditional authority of women over the domestic sphere.

What is surprising, then, is not the preponderance of female advertisers, but the comparative balance between men and women within this sample. I would be extremely interested to see the conclusions drawn by a more intensive and long-term research project which could analyze the “Information Wanted” advertisements through the end of the century and track the gender ratio over several decades.

The Tech Portion of the Show

So, having laid out the theoretical side of this project and my motivations in approaching it in the way I have, it seems a good idea to discuss the technical aspects. I used the immensely useful and easy-to-use BatchGeo program. A free service for relatively small projects, BatchGeo simply requires a user to input their collated data into the program, set the appropriate graphing options as desired, and then like glorious digital-humanist magic, a map is produced using GoogleMaps. This map is hosted by BatchGeo, with both public and private display options. I elected to host my information publically, in the hope that someone someday may find it interested, if not entirely useful.

I would recommend BatchGeo for the digital novice, or for those otherwise pressed for time or technical know-how. I found it immensely useful, even with its rather narrow data limits. The functionality is excellent, and for a free service with an approachable interface, this is absolutely nothing to sneeze at.


As I’ve hinted throughout this piece, my work is at best a brief introduction to the ideas I’ve put forth. There remains an enormous amount of data to process within the annals of The Christian Recorder. My hope in writing this is to spark interest in the roles of concepts such as geography and gender in the discussion of larger topics within social history of the 19th century. These two are not the only useful or intriguing lenses through which to view primary sources, of course, merely to two which struck me most definitively in my reading. There remains, as always, a great deal of difficult and rewarding work ahead of we historians, but armed with powerful new digital tools and a willingness to use them innovatively, our labors can at least be more stimulating than ever.


[1] Elsa Barkley Brown. “Negotiating and Transforming the Public Sphere: African American Political Life in the Transition from Slavery to Freedom.” Public Culture 7 (Fall 1994): 107-46.

[2] Hannah Rosen. Terror in the Heart of Freedom: Citizenship, Sexual Violence, and the Meaning of Race in the Postemancipation South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

African American Women’s Education Before and After the Antebellum Period

While African American women in the antebellum period were far from being treated as equal citizens in the American Republic, they have made great strides in education ever since the end of the Civil War. More women were able to receive an education, although they often confronted hostility and taunt in their attempts. From 1619 through 1862, enslaved population could only have access to education through various religious organizations, slave owners, and other individuals/groups with private funds. As of 1865, only 10% of the African American communities were able to read and write. By 1900, the illiteracy rate of African Americans decreased to 43% from 85% in 1870. At the beginning of the twentieth century, African American children born from 1910 to 1940 started to close the gap between the years of schooling between themselves and white children. By 1940, 8 % of the African American population, age 25 and over, had at least a high school diploma. By 1967, 30% of the African American population, age 25 and over, had at least a high school diploma. As of 2007, 19% of the African American population, age 25 and over, had completed 4 years or more of college.1

Here is an interactive timeline for Milestones in African American Education from 1600s to the year of 2008

Milestones in African American Education, made by Shasha He

Milestones in African American Education, made by Shasha He

To provide the background information for a collaborated project: Information Wanted Ads from the Christian Recorder, this article focuses on the history of African American Women’s education before and after antebellum America. As Diane S. Pollard in “Gender, Achievement, and African-American Students’ Perceptions of Their School Experience” points out, for many years, research on African American ignored the within-group differences, especially with respect to educational attainment. In other words, studies of gender differences in the academic performance of African-American students often treat disparate groups as if they were members of similar, labeling exclusive groups as merely “minorities” or “women”. To acknowledge African American women’s contribution to the cause of education, this article provides a review of the history of African American women’s education before and after the antebellum period.

  • 1700s: Colonial Education for African-Americans

The level of women’s education in colonial America((1492-1763) largely depended on race, class, and location. Although Caucasian girls from affluent families had the privilege to be taught by a governess or sent to a convent school, the primary concern for educating a woman at that time was to make her skillful at household duties and a desirable “product” in the marriage market as well. However, slaves, both men and women, were banned from receiving any level of education. In 1740, North Carolina and other states passed the first laws to prohibit slave education. It was a crime punishable by death. Many blacks, if they were allowed to read, were only permitted to read the Bible. During this period, Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784), a black slave, was marked as the most prominent example of an educated African American woman. Wheatley is the first published African American woman. In 1770, she published her first poem; In 1773, 39 of Wheatley’s pomes were published in London as Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. Wheatley’s education was extremely rare for colonial America. Her owner taught her to read English, Greek, and Latin and even helped her to study astronomy and geography.

Frontispiece and Title Page, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral,  Engraving attributed to Scipio Moorhead, 1773

Frontispiece and Title Page, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral Engraving attributed to Scipio Moorhead, 1773

  • 1800s: African American Women’s Education Made Great Strides 

Through the nineteenth century, higher education became more widely available to women. For a brief review of educational reform in antebellum America, see this video:

However, opening a school for African American students was still condemned as an unacceptable stigma. For instance, in 1833, Prudence Crandall (1803-1890), a schoolteacher raised as a Quaker, was arrested and jailed for teaching African American girls. Although Crandall later won the case on appeal, she ended up closing her school for fear that the outrageous attacks on the school would put her students’ lives into peril.

Oberlin College, founded in 1833 by Presbyterian ministers, is the oldest continuously operating coeducational institution and the first college in the United States to regularly admit African-American students, beginning in 1835. Oberlin College ranked as a National Historic Landmark in 1965, for its seminal significance in admitting African Americans and women.In 1837, Oberlin College began to admit  African-American girls. Between 1835 to 1865, more than 140 African-American women attended Oberlin College, many of whom were former slaves. Most took only a few classes to acquire basic literate skills. Among them, 12 graduated from the Ladies’ Course, which was not as rigorous as the bachelor degree program (for example, it did not include the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew courses requird by the full Collegiate degree). 2

Mary Jane Patterson (1840 -1894) graduated in 1862 as the first Afro-American woman to earn a B.A. degree. Patterson worked her way up to become the principal of a high school for African American students in Washington, D.C.

Founded in 1833, Oberlin Collegiate Institute developed into a socially and politically influential college during the years immediately preceding the Civil War. Oberlin made the education of Blacks and women a matter of institutional policy. The admittance of four women in 1837 marked the beginning of coeducation on the collegiate level in the United States; free Blacks were admitted on the same basis as whites.  Image is of the college chapel and Tappan Hall, both formerly in Tappan Square; circa 1860)

Founded in 1833, Oberlin Collegiate Institute developed into a socially and politically influential college during the years immediately preceding the Civil War. Oberlin made the education of Blacks and women a matter of institutional policy. The admittance of four women in 1837 marked the beginning of coeducation on the collegiate level in the United States; free Blacks were admitted on the same basis as whites.
Image is of the college chapel and Tappan Hall, both formerly in Tappan Square; circa 1860)

Mary Jane Patterson, 1862 Oberlin College Archives

Mary Jane Patterson, 1862
Oberlin College Archives

One of the few African American women teachers during antebellum America was Henriette Delille (1813–1862). A freeborn black in New Orleans, Delille cofounded a biracial mission to inculcate knowledge to free and enslaved blacks. In 1842, Delille also established a girls’ academy under the support of Sisters of the Holy Family  to help New Orleans impoverished African Americans. With the help of other women, Delille continued to set up school, hospitals, and retirement communities in California, Louisianan, Texas, Washington. D.C. and Belize.3

Henriette Delille spent years caring for cast-off slaves, impoverished Africans and people of color in antebellum New Orleans.  Archives of the Sisters of the Holy Family, New Orleans/The Associated Press.

Henriette Delille spent years caring for cast-off slaves, impoverished Africans and people of color in antebellum New Orleans.
Archives of the Sisters of the Holy Family, New Orleans/The Associated Press.


Ever since 1862, African American women have strived to ask for more legitimate rights of education. One of the widely cited example was Maria Stewart (1803-1879). Stewart is an African American journalist, lecturer, abolitionist, and women’s rights activist. In an 1832 speech in Boston’s Franklin Hall, she declared: “ Oh, do not say you cannot make anything of your children; but say, with the help and assistance of God, we will try. Perhaps you will say that you cannot send them to high schools and academies. You can have them taught in the first rudiments of useful knowledge, and then you can have private teachers, who will instruct them in the higher branches .”   For more information about Maria Stewart, please check out the video made by Abolition News Network:


  •  The Establishment of Segregation

At the end of the Civil War, African Americans’ education remained a highly controversial issue in Southern states. For example, in 1869 Indiana became the first state to explicitly establish a separate set of segregated schools for its Afro-American population; in 1896 the Supreme Court officially established the doctrine of “separate but equal” in the case of Plessy V. Ferguson.

  • 1900s: A Great Leap Forward

During the middle of the twentieth century, several major Supreme Court decisions and legislation provided substantial opportunities for African Americans. In 1954, the Supreme Court overturned the findings of Plessy V. Ferguson with its landmark Brown V. Board of Education, concluding that the doctrine of “separate but equal” is inherently unequal and unethical in that it violated “the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment”.4

At the same time two divided opinions about what kind of education African Americans should obtain emerged. W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963) believed that African Americans were entitled to take the same courses and curriculum as White People in order to enhance the educational quality. Booker T. Washington (1856 – 1915), in contrast, advocated for practical vocational training designed for African Americans. In line with Washington’s theory, African American girls should learn essential skills such as cooking, washing, and sewing, which were beneficial for them to find jobs available to them.

Following Washington’s theory, Mary McLeod Bethune ((1875 – 1955) founded Daytona Educational and Industrial School  for Afro-American girls in 1904. The girls were taught basic academics and also learned how to do laundry, clean houses, make brooms and raise chickens. Besides teaching academics and technical skills, Bethune also instilled in her students a sense of self-respect and confidence––she believed that girls were able to be excel at everything they did in life. Over time, Bethune’s school was expanded to a high school, junior college, and finally to a college that was renamed Bethune-Cookman University, and still exists today.

Cooking class, Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for African American Girls.  State Archives of Florida

Cooking class, Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for African American Girls. State Archives of Florida

At the same time, Nannie Helen Burroughs (1879–1961) started a similar school called the National Training School for Girls and Women in Washington D.C.  However, Burroughs stirred intense controversy in that she required her students to take a course in African American History in order to reinforce racism.

It should be noted that in this period,  Zora Neale Hurston(1891–1960), an eminent female writer in African-American literature, is the first African American woman to be admitted to Barnard college in 1925. Hurston was closely associated with the Harlem Renaissance  and has influenced writers such as Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Gayle Jones, Alice Walker, and Toni Gade Bambara.


  • 2000s: African American Women Gradually Outperform African American Men in Education Achievement

After the Affirmative action took place in the 1972, more positive steps adopted to strengthen the representation of women and minorities employment, education, and culture, where they have been historically excluded. In 2014  a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S Census Bureau Data shows that females outpace males in college enrollment, in particular with Hispanics and African Americans.


Further Readings about African American Women’s Education After the Year of 2000

“Fact Sheet: The State of African American Women in the United States” by Maria Guerra

Degrees conferred by sex and race

Educational Attainment by Race and Hispanic Origin, 1940–2010

Black Males Missing From College Campuses


1 Data obtained from “A Timeline For The Education Of African Americans In the United States: 1600-2007”

2 Data obtained from “Women in Antebellum America”

3  Information extracted from “1800’s: The Education of African American Women”

4  Supreme Court Of the United States: Brown V. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483(1954) (USSC+)


Primary Sources
“Gender, Achievement, and African-American Students’ Perceptions of Their School Experience” by Diane S. Pollard

Equity In Elementary and Secondary Education: Race, Gender, and National Origin Issues, made by University of Michigan

“Education Reform in Antebellum America” by Barbara Winslow

(1832) Maria W. Stewart Advocates Education for African American Women

 Timelines of the History of Women and Education

 Milestones in African American Education

American Educational History: A Hypertext Timeline

Affirmative Action


Secondary Sources
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)

Black Student College Graduation Rates Remain Low, But Modest Progress Begins to Show

Black (African-American) History Month: February 2012

Debunking Education Myths About Blacks

The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861 by Carter Godwin Woodson

African-American education

Flashback:African-American Education


Websites to Visit

History Central

The History of Women and Education Presented by National Women’s History Museum

Abolition News Network

History of African-American Education

Laboring for Freedom: Emancipation in Philadelphia before the Civil War

Philadelphia, 1741-1780: The Fall of Slavery

Slavery remained a part of the fabric of the United States well in the middle of the nineteenth century.  The thirteenth amendment abolishing slavery was not passed until 1865; however, Pennsylvanians – more specifically Philadelphians – because of the influence of the Quakers, had begun eschewing slavery long before then.  Author Gary Nash, in Forging Freedom: The Formation of Philadelphia’s Black Community, 1720-1840, claims that “ideally, Quakers hoped they might fit African slaves into a system of Christian servitude where familial relations would prevail – a “fraternal relationship of unequals.”[1]  Unfortunately, the reality proved quite different from the ideal.  The antislavery advocates protested slavery as incompatible with the Quaker credo, which pronounced the “unity of all mankind, the evil of and from violence in human affairs, and the sinfulness of ostentation and pride.” [2] For the Quakers, the ownership of fellow human beings signified all of those things.  At the Quaker Yearly Meeting in 1776, the Friends issued their epochal edict vowing “disownment of all members who did not free their slaves.” [3]  This pronouncement led the abolition movement in Pennsylvania.

Indentured Record; Pennsylvania Abolition Society Manumission and Indenture Records; Microfilm from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Indentured Record; Pennsylvania Abolition Society Manumission and Indenture Records; Microfilm from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

At this point, it is beneficial to establish the differences between African-Americans in 1740 and African-Americans in 1800.  These differences help chart the progression of African American’s rising freedom.  According to Nash, “by 1767 about 1,400 slaves lived within no more than about twenty blocks of developed urban space.”[4]  This number represents only a certain amount within a small area, not the whole of Philadelphia, but one can imagine just how large the figure would be for the entirety of the city.

In the early 1770s, before the American Revolution, the total black population in Philadelphia was in decline, yet the number of freed African-Americans grew.  Philadelphia manumissions (the freeing of slaves by owners), as well as the arrival of freed blacks from other parts of the Delaware River Valley contributed to this increase.[5]  As Nash claims, “it appears that the free black population had reached 200 or 300 by 1770.  In the remaining six years before the outbreak of revolution, this free black population probably doubled.  At least 175 slaves in Philadelphia received their freedom between 1771 and 1776.  Many free blacks probably moved to Philadelphia from outlying areas, where Quakers were freeing their slaves in large numbers.”[6]  The social fabric, racial landscape, and population of Philadelphia was changing rapidly.

In the early 1780s, a manumitting sentiment struck many of Pennsylvania’s slaveholders, leading to the release of hundreds of slaves.[7]  With these masters looking for a way to cure the new nation of the most noxious cancer that was slavery, manumitted African-Americans could enjoy immediate freedom.  Or, if not immediate, they could now at least look forward to a date when they would be free.  Yet those manumitted almost always took places at the bottom rung of society, having little to no personal property; that did not stop these African-Americans from wanting freedom.  By 1820, “almost all slaves had been manumitted.”[8] (See manumission record above right.)

Table of Indentures of Freed Blacks. “Freedom by Degrees: Emancipation in Pennsylvania and Its Aftermath,” Gary Nash.  Oxford University Press, 1991. Page 174.

Table of Indentures of Freed Blacks. “Freedom by Degrees: Emancipation in Pennsylvania and Its Aftermath,” Gary Nash. Oxford University Press, 1991. Page 174.

Many African-Americans signed indentures as a condition of their emancipation and manumission, indenturing themselves until the age of twenty-eight.  The rationale for this condition most likely stems from the 1780 gradual abolition law that specified “children born to slaves after March 1, 1780, should serve their mother’s owner for twenty-eight years.”[9]  Technically, this law freed not a single slave.  It held in slavery “for life all children born up to the day the law took effect.”[10]  However, signing themselves into indentured servitude, meant for slaves, that their children would not be born into slavery.[11]  In a ten-year period, the number of indentured African-Americans increased tenfold. (See table above left.)


Philadelphia, 1760-1813: The Rise of the Labor Market

Even though slavery continued to exist in the North, strides were taken in the favor of freedom, with the manumission of many slaves.  However, just because Philadelphians were attempting to avoid the use of slaves does not mean those homes were free of help.  This new, rising moral objections to slavery coincided, as Nash points out, with a “growing preference for free labor in the economic slump of the 1760s.”[13]  Many homes enlisted the assistance of this new labor market by employing servants, both free and indentured, to aid in the running of the household.

In this investigation into the rising labor market, it is important to distinguish between the terms slave, indentured servant (indenture), servant, and worker.  Too often these words are used interchangeably, but they are very much different and distinct; their meanings should be distinguished; it is also important to understand the definition of free, particularly in contrast to slave/indentured/servant/and worker.  Their definitions also prove useful in the discussion of the labor market of Philadelphia between 1760 and 1820.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines these terms as such:

  • Slave: One who is the property of, and entirely subject to, another person, whether by capture, purchase, or birth; a servant completely divested of freedom and personal rights;[14]
  • Indenture: To bind by indentures, esp. as an apprentice or servant:[15]
  • Servant:  One who is under the obligation to render certain services to, and to obey the orders of, a person or a body of persons, esp. in return for wages or salary;[16]
  • Worker: One who works or does work of any kind; esp. one who works in a certain medium, at a specified trade or object of manufacture, or in a certain position or status; in early use also a maker or manufacturer; one who is employed for a wage, esp. in manual or industrial work;[17]
  • Free: Of or designating workers who are not slaves. Esp. in free labour.[18]

These terms and their subsequent definitions become integral to the discussion of the rising labor market in Philadelphia in the second half of the 1700s.  According to Robert Morris, indentured servants comprised the bulk of contract labor, with white immigrant indentures totaling almost eighty percent of the total British and continental immigration to America.  Convicts and thieves also helped populate this fledgling market.  If unable to make restitution, a prisoner was normally bound to service by the court.  Similarly, the courts helped contribute to the labor market by penalizing absentee or runaway servants, and requiring them to serve as many as ten days for every day’s unauthorized leave.  This law made no distinction between runaway indentured servants and free workers under contract.[19]

The terms of indentures curbed mobility and certain personal liberties, for some than others.  White bound labor existed in a nebulous space between freedom and slavery.  Both white and black indentures received no wages.  White servants were given certain amenities upon release, which could include clothing, a gun, and a hoe; African-Americans were lucky to receive enough land for a garden.[20]

Free laborers and workers, and even servants, had a seemingly easier time of service and work than did the indentured servants.  Both laborers and servants operated under a wage system similar to today’s standards.  However, in addition to money, employment contracts often included rum and food, and perhaps housing, depending on the employer or task.  These wage earners could contract themselves either seasonally or annually.[21]

It is extremely crucial to point out that African-Americans during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were indentured.  However, these people were not indentured as apprentices, with the intentions of learning a new trade to then start their own businesses; they were indentured as cheap, free laborers.  Even though it was extremely rare that African-Americans could themselves “free workers,” they worked equally as hard – if not harder – than whites, carving out a sense of freedom over their own lives.  They most certainly labored for their freedom.


[1] Nash, Gary B. Forging Freedom: The Formation of Philadelphia’s Black Community, 1720-1840. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988. 24.

[2] Nash, Forging Freedom, 25.

[3] Ibid, 31.

[4] Ibid, 14.

[5] Ibid, 34.

[6] Ibid, 36.

[7] Nash, Gary B., and Jean R. Soderlund. Freedom by Degrees: Emancipation in Pennsylvania and Its Aftermath. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. 167.

[8] Nash, Freedom by Degrees, 173.

[9] Ibid, 177.

[10] Nash, Forging Freedom, 63.

[11] Nash, Freedom by Degrees, 167

[13] Nash, Forging Freedom, 32-3.

[14] Simpson, J. A., and E. S. C. Weiner. The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989. Accessed March 19, 2014.

[15] Simpson, J. A., and E. S. C. Weiner. The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989. Accessed March 19, 2014.

[16] Simpson, J. A., and E. S. C. Weiner. The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989. Accessed March 19, 2014.

[17] Simpson, J. A., and E. S. C. Weiner. The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989. Accessed May 2, 2014.

[18] Simpson, J. A., and E. S. C. Weiner. The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989. Accessed March 25, 2014.

[19] Morris, Richard B. “U.S. Department of Labor – History – The Emergence of American Labor.” U.S. Department of Labor –History –The Emergence of American Labor. Accesses May 2, 2014.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.


Primary Sources

Historical Society of Pennsylvania


Pennsylvania Abolition Society Papers

Indentured and Manumissions Records, series 4 reel 3

Oxford English Dictionary

Simpson, J. A., and E. S. C. Weiner. OED. Accessed May 2, 2014.       redirectedFrom=worker#eid.

Simpson, J. A., and E. S. C. Weiner. The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989. Accessed March 19, 2014.

Simpson, J. A., and E. S. C. Weiner. The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989. Accessed March 19, 2014.

Simpson, J. A., and E. S. C. Weiner. The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989. Accessed March 19, 2014.

Simpson, J. A., and E. S. C. Weiner. The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989. Accessed March 25, 2014.

Secondary Sources


Morris, Richard B. “U.S. Department of Labor — History — The Emergence of American Labor.” U.S. Department of Labor — History —      The Emergence of American Labor. Accessed May 02, 2014.


Nash, Gary B., and Jean R. Soderlund. Freedom by Degrees: Emancipation in Pennsylvania and Its Aftermath. New York: Oxford     University Press, 1991.

Nash, Gary B. Forging Freedom: The Formation of Philadelphia’s Black Community, 1720-1840. Cambridge, MA: Harvard   University Press, 1988.

Camp William Penn: Creating United States Colored Troops in Pennsylvania

Company E of the 4th U.S.C.T.

Company E of the 4th U.S.C.T. (Library of Congress)

By January of 1863 the Civil War was well under way. Hundreds of thousands of troops were enlisted in the Union Army to preserve the Union! Yet, the government would not enlist any African-Americans, whether they were runaway slaves or free men. By the end of year this would change, with thousands of African-Americans enlisting in the army. Camp William Penn would be Pennsylvania’s only training camp of African-American Troops and would become one of the nation’s largest and most important training grounds for these troops.

Initially, Abraham Lincoln resisted the enlistment of African-American troops in the Union Army. That was in 1861 when everyone hoped that the war would be short.  By September of 1862 the war was well over a year old and the Union had suffered a string of losses at the hands of the Confederacy. The Emancipation Proclamation that Lincoln issued on September 22, 1862 changed that. Today we remember the proclamation as the act by which Lincoln freed all the slaves (which isn’t technically true but that is for another article), but near the bottom of the document there was a single sentence about using African-Americans as soldiers. “And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.” With this single statement, Lincoln started the country towards using African-American troops. Once the Emancipation Proclamation took effect on January 1st, 1863 states started to form African-American regiments. The first and most famous of the state regiments was the 54th Massachusetts, which was formed in March of 1863 but there was no system in place for the Federal government to recruit African-American troops.

The attack on Fort Wagner by the 54th Massachusetts (Knox University)

The attack on Fort Wagner by the 54th Massachusetts (Knox University)

General Order 143 changed all that. When Secretary of War E. D. Townsend issued this order in May of 1863, it created the United States Colored Troops. This was the organization that was created for enlisting and organizing African-American into regiments.  Already in March of 1863 a group of men formed a committee, with former cavalry officer Colonel William Frismuth as head of the committee, for the recruitment of African-American soldiers into regiments. Originally, it seems as though the committee wanted to use these troops to form Pennsylvania state regiments. This proposal was originally backed by Governor Curtain but had trouble getting support from the War Department. In May a new committee, dubbed the Citizen’s Bounty Fund Committee, formed and petitioned the new Secretary of War Stanton to recruit for and form colored regiments in Pennsylvania. This committee in turn formed a sub-committee, called the Supervising Committee for Recruiting Colored Troops, which would not only recruit troops but also help to administer the new training camp for these troops. On June 22nd this committee received word from the War Department:

“I am instructed by the Secretary of War to inform you that you are hereby authorized as the representative of your associate petitioners to raise in Philadelphia, or the eastern part of Pennsylvania, three regiments of infantry, to be composed of colored men, to be mustered into the service of the United States for three years or during the war. To these troops no bounties will be paid.

They will receive $ 10 per month and one ration, $ 3 of which monthly pay may be in clothing.

It must be distinctly understood that but one regiment is to be recruited at a time; thus, the organization of the first regiment must be completed and the regiment mustered into service before the recruiting of the second is commenced.

The troops raised under the foregoing instructions will rendezvous at Camp William Penn, Chelten Hills, near Philadelphia, where they will be received and subsisted as soon as they are enlisted, and an officer will be assigned to duty at that post to take command of them on their arrival and make the necessary requisitions for supplies.”

Camp William Penn (Library of Congress)

Camp William Penn (Library of Congress)

Camp William Penn officially open on June 26th, 1863. The response by the Philadelphia African-American community was overwhelming and immediate. By the end of July a full regiment of 800 men had been recruited and formed into the 3rd United States Colored Troop. By the end of August enough officers had been found and the 3rd U.S.C.T. was officially mustered into the Union Army. (Mustered in means they were officially sworn in and were a part of the army) The response only slowed slightly after the formation of the 3rd U.S.C.T. The 3rd U.S.C.T. was the first of eleven regiments that would pass through Camp William Penn. Besides the 3rd U.S.C.T., the 6th U.S.C.T., the 8th U.S.C.T., the 22nd U.S.C.T., the 24th U.S.C.T., the 25th U.S.C.T., the 32nd U.S.C.T., the 41st U.S.C.T., the 43rd U.S.C.T., the 45th U.S.C.T., and the 127th U.S.C.T. all were formed and trained at Camp William Penn. If you would like complete regimental histories of these units, they are in Samuel Bates’ History of Pennsylvania Volunteers 1861-5; Prepared in Compliance with the Acts of the Legislature Volume V. When Camp William Penn closed in May of 1865  about 11,000 enlisted men and 400 officers had been trained in camp. Considering only about 80,000 African-Americans enlisted during the Civil War, Camp William Penn trained almost 1/8 or about 13% of all African-Americans that served in the Union Army during the course of the war.

Troops on parade at Camp William Penn (National Archives)

Not only was Camp William Penn one of the largest camps for training African-American troops but it also acted as a link to the African-American community. Thousands of men from Philadelphia and other states flocked to the camp creating a link between it and the African-American community. Some of the most visible connections appear in issues of the Christian Recorder. The Christian Recorder was one of the most popular African-American newspapers in the country and was based out of Philadelphia. In issues of the newspaper you see articles written about the camp and letters sent by soldiers from regiments that were formed in Camp William Penn. Recruiting ads were placed in the newspaper as well. There were many soldiers from U.S.C.T. regiments, whether they were formed at Camp William Penn or not, that were subscribers of the paper. With the prevalence of sharing newspapers and reading aloud, this would greatly increase the number of people who would be exposed to the paper. Probably the biggest advantage to this would be the added exposure for the information wanted ads. Information wanted ads were people advertising trying to find long lost friends and family, usually separated by slavery. Not only were soldiers sometimes the people posting these ads but were sometimes the people being looked for in the ads. With these soldiers being spread out around the country both North and South, it greatly helped to boast the chances of the people in the ads being found.

The 3rd U.S.C.T. Battle Flag (Library of Congress)

The 3rd U.S.C.T. Battle Flag (Library of Congress)

Camp William Penn was one of the most influential training camps of African-American soldiers. Not only did it train a large chunk of these soldiers who served during the war but its’ connection with the African-American community and the Christian Recorder made it a large part of the African-American culture during that time period.


Additional Reading about Camp William Penn:

Camp William Penn 1863-1865: America’s First Federal African American Soldiers’ Fight for Freedom by Donald Scott, Sr.

Camp William Penn and the Black Soldier by Jeffry D. Wert (JSTOR access required)

Camp William Penn by Pennsylvania 150th Anniversary of the Civil War

Camp William Penn in Historic La Mott

National Archives Records on Camp William Penn

Additional Reading about the United States Colored Troops

 United States Colored Troops by the National Archives and Records Administration

Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers by Joseph T. Glatthaar

United States Colored Troops by the National Park Service

Print Media & Mass Communication in 19th Century America

When discussing communication technology and mass media in the era before the internet and immersive digital multimedia projects, it is all too easy (and sadly, all too typical) to write off the entire period as hopelessly slow, full of mis-communication and as incomprehensible as Einstein would have been to Newton.  This entire notion is, of course, patently false. The nineteenth century was, much like today, a time of constant and barrier-shattering technological and social innovation.  Buoyed by new and improved technologies that transformed the transmission of information and population alike, the nineteenth century saw an astounding surge in both the printing and distribution of printed media in the United States.  Mass media, though present and reasonably available in the early 1800s, underwent an explosive growth in readership and diversity of content by the second half of the century that forever transformed the nature of mass communication. To put this growth in perspective, consider these statistics: In 1820, there were just over 500 newspapers printed in the United States, with a regular audience of roughly 300,000.  Within four decades, there were almost 3,000 newspapers being read by approximately 1.5 million people.  Magazines grew at an even more phenomenal rate than newspapers, jumping from just a dozen at the turn of the 19th century to more than a thousand at the outbreak of the Civil War.[1]  Coupled with the advent of other mass-market technologies, such as the first functional telegraph line in 1844[2] and the expansion of railroad networks nearly four-fold in the last quarter of the century[3], information and news could be transmitted throughout the United States with previously undreamt-of speed.   These developments, concurrent with a rapid rise in the population of the United States (growing from 5.3 million to 39.8 million between 1800 and 1870[4]), enabled news and communications in the form of mass print media to reach vast audiences. Within these increasing audiences, new markets opened for the consumption of more specialized news, information, and entertainment.  This proliferation was already in evidence by the 1820s and 1830s, with a new variety of inexpensive daily newspapers — the “penny paper” — aimed at niche markets: “workers, free blacks, women, immigrants, and Native Americans, … religious denominations, professions, [and] political causes like abolition and temperance”[5].  In addition to targeting specific audiences, the penny press could also provide a diverse range of content, typified by New York papers like the Sun, Herald, and Tribune, each of which boasted reporting on politics, crime, and scandals, along with classified ads[6], excepts and reviews of books[7], lectures, and poetry.[8] When discussing print media in the 19th century, researchers are truly spoiled for choice.  The diversity contained in works of the period is simply too immense to discuss without definite restrictions.  To that end, consider The Christian Recorder as an excellent representation of the role of print media in some of the broader social trends of the 19th century.  The Christian Recorder, a weekly publication of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, debuted on July 1, 1852, as a tool of mass communication and identity within the black population of the United States.[9] The centrality of the church within African American communities in the post-emancipation era has been exhaustively studied.  The accepted understanding is that the church served as “a foundation of the black public sphere”, serving as a venue for mass meetings, educational and recreational programs, social services, and communal bulletin boards.[10]  This position at the heart of community life made black churches ideal conduits for disseminating news and information.  Consequently, publications such as The Christian Recorder were able to reach wide audiences, through both direct readership and word-of-mouth. The Christian Recorder covered news and public interest stories deemed pertinent to its readership, and to the membership of its parent organization, the AME Church.  These included transcripts of sermons and theological studies, of course, but also more socially-oriented pieces.  One such piece, appearing in the April 14, 1866 issue, discussed the cultural differences and similarities in employing household servants both in the United States and in Great Britain, with citations of domestic and British news agencies alike.[11]  Another human interest piece, appearing in the March 31, 1866 edition, discussed the artistic exploits of Miss Edmonia Lewis, a black female sculptor cited by an English newspaper as now working in Rome, having previously lived and gained recognition in Boston.[12] Such an international sequence of events and its subsequent reporting within a Philadelphia-based national newspaper indicates the extensive global and regional communications networks made possible with the advent of effective international telegraphy and inexpensive, readily-available print media already discussed.

Left: Edmonia Lewis (1844-1907) Right: “Forever Free” (1867) Source: QLiC Press

  This same nexus of global and interpersonal contact is much in evidence within the dense archive of public notices, advertisements, and announcements published in The Christian Recorder. In trying to understand just how extensive communications had become between distant communities, the pieces known as “Information Wanted” advertisements are of particular interest. These pieces were drafted by readers inquiring after the whereabouts and well-being of their family and friends. Separations within families and community groups were common in the antebellum era and the following upheavals of Reconstruction, largely as a consequence of the slave market and the displacement of civilians, respectively. With the “Information Wanted” ads, concerned citizens could call on the collective readership of The Christian Recorder to gather information on their missing loved ones. Often those placing the ads would request that ministers of member churches read the notices to their congregations, in an effort to cover more ground than would otherwise be possible. Consequently, persons now living as far away as Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Iowa could seek information from sources and about persons in Virginia, Mississippi, and Louisiana. As a direct result of the profusion of print media in the mid- to late-19th century, communities of free blacks and former slaves could work to find their missing friends and family with more hope of success than ever before. Drawing on available media to help develop and preserve their existing sense of community, African Americans were representative of the larger social and cultural developments during and after the Civil War. Reading and discussing had always been a part of American cultural even long before the Revolution, but it was in the 19th century that mass communication began to develop along a distinctly democratic notion that every citizen was free to participate in the discussion.


For further reading:

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, The Church in the Southern Black Community

The Library of Congress, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers Accessible

Archives: Collections  (Requires subscription)


Resources Cited:

[1] Copeland, David. “Setting the Agenda in the Antebellum Era.” . (accessed July 22, 2014).

[2] Gray, Thomas. “The Inventors Of The Telegraph and Telephone.” In Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1893. (accessed July 22, 2014).

[3] Library of Congress. “Railroads in the Late 19th Century.” (accessed July 22, 2014).

[4] U.S. Bureau of the Census. “Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1970, Part 1.” (accessed July 22, 2014).

[5] University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, “American Newspapers, 1800-1860: City Newspapers.” Accessed July 21, 2014.

[6] New-York Daily Tribune, June 7, 1852. (accessed July 22, 2014).

[7] New York Daily Tribune, April 22, 1842. (accessed July 22, 2014).

[8] Library of Congress, “Chronicling America: New-York daily tribune.” Accessed July 22, 2014.

[9] The Christian Recorder, “The Christian Recorder History.” Accessed July 22, 2014.

[10] Elsa Barkley Brown, “Negotiating and Transforming the Public Sphere: African American Political Life in the Transition from Slavery to Freedom,” Public Culture, no. 7 (1994): 107-146.

[11] “House Servants: Discussion of the Great Domestic Trouble.” The Christian Recorder, April 14, 1866. (accessed July 22, 2014).

[12] “The Colored Genius at Rome.” The Christian Recorder, March 31, 1866. (accessed July 22, 2014).

African American Newspapers in the 19th Century

“We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us. Too long has the publick been deceived by misrepresentations, in things which concern us dearly.” [1]

Inaugural issue of Freedom's Journal (March 16, 1827)

Inaugural issue of Freedom’s Journal (March 16, 1827)

Free African American communities in the United States began to publish newspapers early in the nineteenth century to plead their own cause as asserted by Samuel E. Cornish and John Brown Russworm in the Freedom’s Journal’s inaugural issue on March 16, 1827. Cornish and Russworm wrote two programmatic statements for this issue, one an article entitled “To Our Patrons,” the other a prospectus:

Daily slandered, we think that there ought to be some channel of communication between us and the public through which a single voice may be heard, in defence of five hundred thousand free people of colour. [2]

Although the Journal is sometimes described as an abolitionist platform, it was first and foremost a vehicle for the “diffusion of knowledge” and the elevation of the free African American community into “respectability.” [3]  The blight of the brothers in “the iron fetters of bondage” is only mentioned in passing in the editors’ letter to their patrons. [4]

Edward Williams Clay. "How you find yourself dis hot weader Miss Chloe?" Life in Philadelphia. Philadelphia: S. Hart, [1830].

Edward Williams Clay. “How you find yourself dis hot weader Miss Chloe?” Life in Philadelphia. Philadelphia: S. Hart, [1830].

Faced on a daily basis with slander, discrimination, poverty and violence, abolition was not the foremost concern of the free African American communities in the North East. As their numbers grew, so did the attacks by their white neighbors and the press. “Uppity negroes,” a.k.a. free and educated African Americans, were popular targets in the press. William Summers and Edward W. Clay’s stereotypical depictions of free African Americans in a series of etchings entitled Life in Philadelphia portray them imitating white society while lacking taste, intelligence, and proper English grammar.


John B. RusswormPenn, The Afro-American Press and Its Editors, 24.

John B. Russworm
Penn, The Afro-American Press and Its Editors, 24.

Access to the press gave the free African American community a public voice which it had lacked before. Existing newspapers felt no obligation to represent the opinions of the free African American communities. In 1845, Willis A. Hodges, a free African American, had to pay the New York Sun fifteen dollars to print his opinion on the so-called “colored clause,” which barred many African Americans from voting. An employee of the Sun told him that “the Sun shines for all white men, and not for colored men,” when he protested. Willis was so outraged over his lack of publishing opportunities in New York City, that he took matters into his own hands and started a newspaper in 1847. The Ram’s Horn was one of many short lived African American newspaper published in New York. [5] While Hodges was tenacious and had the financial resources to get his opinions printed, writing letters to the editors or opinion pieces and submitting them to a white editor would have been fairly intimidating for most African Americans, especially when one considers that these very same editors wrote or accepted articles which slandered the African American communities.

Samuel E.

Samuel E. Cornish

While African American newspapers played an important role in their communities, most of them folded after a few years because of financial struggles. Russworm and Cornish, the two editors of the Journal, may have been overly optimistic in their estimate of “five hundred thousand free persons of colour, one half of whom might peruse, and the whole be benefited by the publication of the Journal.” [6] The census put the free African American population in the North East at three hundred thousand and Hutton estimated that only about ten percent of free African Americans were literate and likely to subscribe to the Journal. [7] The Journal had over thirty agents in the U.S., Canada, England and Haiti and at least eight hundred subscribers, but few advertisers. [8] The number of African American businesses that regularly advertised in the Journal was relatively small. David Ruggles, one of the subscribers of the Journal and later a well known journalist and editor in his own right, ran ads for his grocery store in the Journal, informing his customers that the sugar he sold was produced by free people and not by slaves.

Freedom's Journal (February 14, 1829, p. 363)

Freedom’s Journal (February 14, 1829, p. 363)

The fact that African American businesses located in Boston and in Philadelphia placed ads in the Journal, shows that the Journal’s readers over a wide geographical area as intended by Russworm and Cornish: “It is our earnest wish to make our Journal a medium of intercourse between our brethren in the different states of this great confederacy.” [9] The “Information Wanted” ads in the Christian Recorder are another indicator of the reach of these newspapers. Dispersed families from all over the country used the Philadelphia based newspaper after the end of the Civil War to search for lost family members as far away as Louisiana, confident that the Recorder would be distributed and read in the African American communities there as well.


Information Wanted adsThe Christian Recorder (January 3, 1889, p. [7])

Information Wanted ads
The Christian Recorder (January 3, 1889, p. [7])

In the end, the Journal ceased publication not because of lack of funds, but because Russworm emigrated to Libera. Russworm’s fervent support for the African colonization movement drove a wedge between him and his readers who mostly opposed plans to repatriate African Americans to Liberia, a plan which many whites supported. Cornish tried to salvage the Journal and its subscriber list with a new paper under the going by the title Rights of All, but only managed to keep it going for five month. In the coming years, African American-owned newspapers cropped up all over the North East, many of them short-lived, but all of them building stones for a new African American print culture.

Over forty African American newspapers were founded before the Civil War. [10] Among them the Colored American (1837-1841), the Christian Recorder (1852-1902), and the three papers published by Frederick Douglass, the North Star (1847-1851), the Frederick Douglass Paper (1851-1855), and the Douglass Monthly (1859-1863). Although they were all printed in the North East, they did circulate in the South as well. The Freedom’s Journal had agents in four southern states:Virginia, North Carolina, Louisiana, Maryland. The Christian Recorder, as the official organ of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was distributed and read in many African American churches. Over a hundred new newspapers were published in the United States during the war and until the end of the era of reconstruction. [11]  The Christian Recorder is to this day published by the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

newspapers 1880

Locations of African American journals published in 1880
Penn, The Afro-American Press and Its Editors, p. 113.

Cited References

Samuel E. Cornish and John B. Russworm, “To Our Patrons,” Freedom’s Journal 1, no. 1 (March 16, 1827), p. [1].
Samuel E. Cornish and John B. Russworm, “Prospectus,” Freedom’s Journal 1, no. 1 (March 16, 1827), p. 4.
Cornish and Russworm, “To Our Patrons,” [1].
I. Garland Penn, The Afro-American Press and Its Editors (Springfield, Mass.: Willey & Co., 1891), 61-63.
Cornish and Russworm, “To Our Patrons,” [1].
Frankie Hutton, The Early Black Press in America, 1827-1860 (Westport, Ct.: Greenwood Press, 1993), xii.
Bella Gross, “Freedom’s Journal and the Rights of All,” The Journal of Negro History 17, no. 3 (1932), 249.
Cornish and Russworm, “To Our Patrons,” [1].
Charles E. Simmons, The African American Press (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1998), 13.
Ibid., 15.

Primary Sources

Samuel E. Cornish and John B. Russworm. “Prospectus.” Freedom’s Journal 1, no. 1 (March 16, 1827): 4.
Samuel E. Cornish and John B. Russworm. “To Our Patrons.” Freedom’s Journal 1, no. 1 (March 16, 1827): [1].
Summer, William. Life in Philadelphia, 1828.
Clay, Edward Williams. Life in Philadelphia, 1830.

Secondary Sources

Gross, Bella. “Freedom’s Journal and the Rights of All.” The Journal of Negro History 17, no. 3 (1932), 241-86.
Hutton, Frankie. The Early Black Press in America, 1827-1860. Westport, Ct.: Greenwood Press, 1993.
Penn, I. Garland. The Afro-American Press and Its Editors. Springfield, Mass.: Willey & Co., 1891.
Pride, Armistead S. A Register and History of Negro Newspapers in the United States: 1827-1950, Ph. D. Dissertation, Northwestern University, 1950.
Pride, Armistead S. and Clint C. Wilson II. A History of the Black Press. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1997.
Simmons, Charles E. The African American Press. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1998.