Samuel Cornish

(c. 1795—1858)

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(1795–1858), evangelist, educator, social activist, journalist, and editor of America's first African American newspaper.

Samuel E. Cornish's many antebellum social, religious, and political involvements aimed at ameliorating the condition of African Americans in the United States. Born in Sussex County, Delaware, Cornish was ordained in the New York Presbytery as an evangelist (1822) and served various churches intermittently until 1847. During his thirty-year public career, he was associated with over eighteen organizations for racial uplift, including four New York City newspapers: Freedom's Journal, the Rights of All, the Weekly Advocate, and the Colored American. In March 1827 he started Freedom's Journal, the first African American newspaper, to counter racist propaganda and provide a forum of communication among African Americans. After about six months Cornish left the journal in the hands of his coeditor, John Browne Russwurm, but resumed editorial responsibilities in March 1828 when Russwurm emigrated to Liberia, changing the paper's name in May 1829 to the Rights of All. Cornish's editorial policy, which continued until the paper's death on 29 October 1829, reflects his dislike of the colonization movement.

Cornish is credited with editing the Weekly Advocate from January 1837 until 4 March 1837, when its name was changed to the Colored American. He continued as editor until 18 April 1838, advocating nonpartisan responsible journalism and optimism regarding the future of African Americans. Cornish's other involvements included the African Free Schools, the Negro Convention movement, the American Anti-Slavery Society, and the American Missionary Society.

Cornish's life was saddened by the death of his wife Jane Livingston in 1844, the emigration of his son William to Liberia, the death of his oldest daughter, Sarah, in 1846, and the mental derangement of his daughter Jane in 1851. Cornish nevertheless remained active in public life until his death in 1858.

I. Garland Penn, The Afro-American Press and Its Editors, 1891; rpt. 1969.Frankie Hutton, The Early Black Press in America, 1827–1860, 1993.

Marilyn D. Button

Subjects: United States History — Literature.

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