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Ira AldridgeIra Aldridge
Charles C. AndrewsCharles C. Andrews
Samuel E. CornishSamuel E. Cornish
Alexander CrummellAlexander Crummell
Henry Highland GarnetHenry Highland Garnet
James McCune SmithJames McCune Smith
John TeasmanJohn Teasman

John Teasman

John Teasman was appointed principal of the New York African Free School (NYAFS) in 1799. His appointment was a tremendously important moment for the still-evolving free black community. Among other things, Teasman's role as principal of the NYAFS, six years before public schools were created for whites, was almost certainly an inspiration to fellow black citizens. His role made it clear that blacks could, and should, occupy important leadership position, and he must have been a powerful role model to the young students he mentored.

Not much is known about his early life. Teasman was born in New Jersey around 1754, so he was already rather advanced in age when he was given the post. He stayed at the New York African Free School for ten years, and by all accounts he fulfilled his duties admirably. Two years after he came to the school, attendance improved by 30 percent. Teasman wasn't content, however, to use his formidable leadership skills solely within the bounds of the school. He went on to begin a night school for adults in the community who wanted to gain an education. Later, Teasman, along with New York African Free School graduates, created the black-run organization, the New York African Society for Mutual Relief, which was officially incorporated by the New York State legislature in 1810. He also helped to organize black celebrations—a point of contention between black New Yorkers and the Manumission Society, who argued strenuously against public gatherings of large numbers of black people.

Teasman was a patriot as well as a tireless advocate for black New Yorkers. As chair of the New York African Society for Mutual Relief, Teasman called upon New York blacks to show their patriotism and help to fortify the city against British attacks during the War of 1812. New York's black population responded to his call by the thousands, and they worked strenuously on the fortifications surrounding Brooklyn Heights. Teasman died in the winter of 1815.