John Newton Templeton - First African-American Graduate of Ohio University
By Henry Robert Burke
Copyright 1999. Henry Robert Burke - Marietta, Ohio
Colonel John Means was born in South Carolina, March 14, 1770. He was a planter, officer of the state militia, and member of the South Carolina state legislature. Over time, Col. Means changed his views about slavery . In 1819, he had a bitter disagreement with his church in South Carolina, so he moved to Adams County, Ohio, and brought his twenty-four slaves with him. Upon arrival in Ohio, Col. Means quickly freed his slaves.
Means was a pioneer in the iron industry in Adams County, and was involved in building and operating the first iron furnace in Ohio. He was a member of the Ohio legislature 1825-27, and was married to Ann Williamson who traced her ancestry to Sir Isaac Newton. Col. Means died near Manchester, Ohio, March 15, 1837.
Dyer Burgess was a minister at the Constitution Presbyterian Church about 1840-42. Burgess' second wife was Mrs. Elizabeth Means Voris, the daughter of Colonel John Means. Wilbur Siebert lists Rev. Dyer Burgess as a conductor on the Underground Railroad in Adams County, Ohio. Dyer Burgess lived in West Union, Adams County, prior to moving to Constitution in 1840. While in Constitution, he lived in a brick house on the hill behind the Cutler's Old Stone House. This house burned down in July 1881.
Ephriam Cutler, the founder of Constitution, was also a trustee of Ohio University and in my view Ephriam played the central role in establishing the Underground Railroad along the Ohio River. Burgess' stepdaughter, Elizabeth Voris, married William P. Cutler on November 1, 1849. The Cutler family letters and diaries have many interesting notes concerning Dyer Burgess. Burgess was definitely an eccentric fellow, who was always excited or angry about one cause or another. In 1865, following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Burgess felt sure that he, too, would be assassinated! He died August 31, 1872, and is buried in the Gravel Bank Cemetery.
So from this association came John Newton Templeton, the first African American in Ohio to earn a college degree. He was born on the plantation in South Carolina owned by Colonel John Means. Means freed Templeton's family in 1813, and they moved to Adams County, Ohio with Colonel Means. With the aid and encouragement of Rev. Robert G. Wilson, president of Ohio University (1824-1839), Templeton enrolled at the University in 1824. It is noteworthy that Ohio University, unlike many institutions of higher education at this time, had no restrictive clauses pertaining to race; any male youth who qualified for acceptance was admitted. While working his way trough college, Templeton maintained a superior academic record and was an especially active member of the Athenian Literary Society.
Ohio University can indeed be proud of John Newton Templeton, the first Black American to receive a college degree in the State of Ohio and in the entire area encompassing the old Northwest Territory. On a national scale, Templeton is the fourth Black college graduate, preceded by Edward A. Jones (Amherst College, 1826), John B. Russwurm (Bowdoin College, 1826), and Edward A. Mitchell (Dartmouth College, 1828). In Ohio, Oberlin College began to admit Afro-Americans in 1835.
There are some point that I wish to make concerning information in this article. First it proves that Ephriam Cutler had connections with other Underground Railroad people around the Ohio. Not only did Ephriam and his friends, relatives and associates share a mutual interest in the abolition of slavery, they also clearly believed that African Americans were capable of achieving good education when given the chance.
A lot of credit for this article goes to Linda Showalter of Marietta, and Michel and Connie Perdreau, Web Site http://www.seorf.ohiou.edu/~xx057. These folks and many others, have been of tremendous help in my personal struggle to establish the fact that the Ohio River Underground Railroad network was started by Ephriam Cutler at Constitution around 1810, and then spread from there across Ohio.