Historic, but not famous

John Brown Russwurm, abolitionist, publisher

John Brown Russwurm (1799–1851) was an abolitionist, newspaper publisher, and colonizer of Liberia where he moved from the United States.  He moved from Maine to New York City, where he was a founder with Samuel Cornish of the abolitionist newspaper, Freedom’s Journal, the first paper owned and operated by African Americans.

Mr. Russwurm was born in Jamaica to an English Merchant and an enslaved woman. He was sent to Quebec when he was young for his education. He reunited with his father in 1812 and moved to Maine with his father and stepmother. The stepmother kept him with the family after the death of his father in 1815.

He graduated from school in Maine and began to teach at an African school in Boston. His stepmother and her new husband helped him pay for his college education at  Bowdoin College from 1824 – 1826. He became the first African American to graduate from Bowdoin College and third African American to graduate from an American college.

He moved to NYC in 1827 and published the first edition of Freedom’s Journal that March. His position on Africans moving back to Africa was controversial and he quit the paper in 1829 to lead colonization by African Americans in Liberia. In 1836 he became the first black governor of Maryland in Africa, a colony that later became part of Liberia in 1857. He held this post until his death in 1851.

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Historic, but not famous

Victoria Woodhull, first female stockbroker
Cabinet card of Woodhull by Mathew Brady

Victoria Woodhull (1838 – 1927), was an American leader of the women’s suffrage movement. In 1872, she ran for President of the United States as the candidate from the Equal Rights Party, supporting women’s suffrage and equal rights; her running mate was black abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass. She was an  activist for women’s rights and labor reforms, Woodhull was also an advocate of “free love”, by which she meant the freedom to marry, divorce and bear children without social restriction or government interference.

With her sister, Tennessee Claflin, she was the first woman to operate a brokerage firm on Wall Street making a fortune. The firm ran with the assistance of  Cornelius Vanderbilt, an admirer of Woodhull’s skills as a medium. Newspapers called them “the Queens of Finance” and “the Bewitching Brokers.”

They were among the first women to found a newspaper in the United States, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly, which began publication in 1870 in New York City. The women used their earnings from their work on the stock exchange to start the paper. The paper ran for 6 years with feminism as the primary interest, but it became notorious for publishing controversial opinions on taboo topics, advocating among other things sex education, free love, women’s suffrage, short skirts, spiritualism, vegetarianism, and licensed prostitution. The paper was the first to print  the first English version of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto in its edition of December 30, 1871, and the paper argued the cause of labor skillfully.

Ms. Woodhull was involved in American Women’s Suffrage, politics and publishing until she and her sister moved to England in 1877. In England, she gave lectures, published a magazine and married a third time. She also went on to call for reform in British schools by advocating for Kindergarten education. She eventually retired to a quiet farm near Worcestershire where she died in 1927.

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Historic, but not famous

Guido Bruno, Bruno’s Garrett

Guido Bruno (1884–1942) was a well-known Greenwich Village character, and small press publisher and editor, sometimes called ‘the Barnum of Bohemia’. He emigrated to the United States from Prague as a second cabin class passenger under the name Kurt Kisch in December 1906. He was based at his “Garret on Washington Square” where for an admission fee tourists could observe “genuine Bohemian” artists at work. He staged “bohemian” working environments with painters, writers and models” and charged admission for the expectant visitors. He produced a series of little magazine publications from there and sold them to the tourists and others.

From July 1915 to December 1916, Bruno’s Weekly published poems, short stories, essays, illustrations and plays, as well as special sections, such as “Children’s House,” and “In Our Village.” His support for young unknown talent and his continuing battle for a freer American press were at the forefront of his work. He lost a lot of his own and others work,including unpublished manuscripts by Bernard Shaw and Mark Twain, when a fire tore through the building he lived at on Washington Square Park (no. 58) in 1916.


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Historic, but not famous

James Rivington (1724 – July 1802) was an English-born American journalist who published a loyalist newspaper in the American colonies called Rivington’s Gazette. Some scholars in the 1950s determined that despite all outward appearances, Rivington was a member of the American Culper Spy Ring.

Rivington was one of the sons of the bookseller and publisher Charles Rivington and inherited a share of his father’s business, which he lost at the Newmarket races. In 1760 he sailed to North America and resumed his occupation in Philadelphia. In 1761, he came to NYC and opened a print-shop at the foot of Wall Street.

In 1773 he began  to publish a newspaper, the first of a number of newspapers throughout the NorthEast. Initially impartial, as the Revolution loomed he began siding with the British and advocating drastic restrictions on the Americans. Many of the colonists cut off communication with him. His press and home were eventually invaded and his letter press letters melted down into bullets by the Americans for the Revolution. He and his family fled the city and returned to England where he became the King’s official printer.

In 1777, after the secure British occupation of that city, he returned with a new press and resumed the publication of his paper under the title of Rivington’s New York Loyal Gazette, which he changed on 13 December 1777, to The Royal Gazette, with the legend ““Printer to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty”.  Rivington opened a drug shop along with his press.

He would have been the last New Yorker suspected of playing the part of a spy for the Continentals, but he furnished General George Washington with important information. Rivington’s silent partner was Robert Townsend, alias “Samuel Culper, Jr.,” one of the principal agents of the American Culper Spy Ring. They sent information to the American troops hidden on book cover boards. The carriers of the books having no idea they were sending messages.

The date Mr. Rivington changed side is unknown, but no one knew of his role until after his death and when he stayed after the Revolution in NYC, his businesses were shunned and he died in poverty.

James Rivington is portrayed by actor John Carroll Lynch on the AMC period drama Turn: Washington’s Spies.

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