William Newman1 (1815-1866) was born a slave in Richmond, Virginia, but escaped in the 1830s. He eventually settled in Ohio, and attended Oberlin College between 1842 and 1843, where he was made a Baptist clergyman. Within the next two years, he was a pastor for the Union Baptist Church in Cincinnati. He was also involved in Ohio anti-slavery activities, attended two state conventions, and served as a subscription agent for David Jenkins’ The Palladuin of Liberty, a short-lived, civil rights paper devoted to the interests of African Americans.
In 1845, Newman was offered an appointment in Canada West from the American Baptist Free Mission Society. He arrived in the Dawn Settlement in June of that year, and was given secretarial duties within the settlement’s executive committee. Eventually, financial accountability issues led to confrontations with Hiram Wilson and Josiah Henson, who were both agents of the Dawn Settlement. Newman resigned in 1846 due to frustrations he had with these men. He went on to criticize the conduct of Hiram Wilson and Josiah Henson and brought the condition of the Dawn Settlement to the public’s attention. Afterward, he returned to Cincinnati, served their congregation, and briefly aided the Colored Orphan Society.The British Committee of a Meeting of Blacks eventually took responsibility for the Dawn Settlement in 1850, and Newman returned to Canada West to assist Reverend Samuel H. Davis in managing the British American Institute. Newman’s work at the Dawn Settlement ended in 1852, when John Scoble, a British abolitionist, took control of the settlement.
Newman settled in Toronto and pastored Baptist congregations for the next seven years. He was also involved in anti-slavery and civil rights work, and served as secretary of the Canadian Anti-Slavery Baptist Association and the Provincial Union Association and helped lead the movement for equal access to provincial public schools. In 1855, he became the editor of the Provincial Freeman, which allowed him to express his political conservatism, opposition to begging practises, and militant abolitionism. Sadly, he became pessimistic of the abolitionist movement in the 1850s. Black minority status, persistence of racial prejudice, and the Canadian climate, convinced him that African Americans would benefit more beyond the North American continent. He looked to the Caribbean and travelled to Haiti as a member of the American Baptist Foreign Missionary Society in 1859 to investigate the feasibility of black immigration to the island. However, he soon learned of Haiti’s dictatorial military government, Catholic majority, and liberal social customs, which led to his decision to return to Canada in 1861. He later promoted Jamaican settlement in the early years of the civil war.
Newman returned to Cincinnati in 1864, attended the National Convention of Colored Men and served as an officer for the National Equal Rights League. His vision was to merge black and white Baptists into an interracial, egalitarian denomination. Sadly, he never saw his vision come true. He died of cholera in 1866.
1.”New research on old connections:William Newman and the Black Abolitionist Movement.” Blog at WordPress.com. March 13, 2013