Jennings used the wealth from patent royalties to help promote social change for equal rights. He was a key member of the first three National Conventions of the People of Colour and trustee of the Abyssinian Baptist Church. In 1827, he along with several other black business leaders was instrumental in establishing Freedom’s Journal, the nation’s first African American newspaper.
Jennings died in 1859 at the age of 68. In his eulogy to him in the Anglo-African newspaper, Frederick Douglass called Jennings, “a bold man of color” who led an “active, earnest and blameless life.”
The epitaph on his headstone in Cypress Hills Cemetery sums up his life succinctly “Defender of Human Rights.”
Jerry Mikorenda is a writer living in Northport. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, Newsday, and The Boston Herald, among other magazines and blogs. He recently completed a biography of Elizabeth Jennings, entitled The First Freedom Rider.
*In 1836, a massive fire destroyed the US Patent House in Washington D.C. The patents lost during the blaze, including Jennings’, are known as the X-patents.
Aptheker, Herbert. “The Negro in the Abolitionist Movement,” Science & Society 5.2 (1941): 148–172. Web.
Sterling, Dorothy, ed. Speak Out in Thunder Tones: Letters and Other Writings by Black
Northerners, 1787–1865. New York: Doubleday, 1973.
New-York Gazette & General Advertiser, March 13, 1821, p. 4.
New York American, December 6, 1821
Anglo-African, April 1859, vol. 1, pp. 126-28.
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