David Ruggles

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Portrait of David Ruggles (center) with Isaac T. Hopper (left) and Barney Corse (right) confronting John P. Darg in 1838

David Ruggles (March 15, 1810 – December 16, 1849) was an African-American abolitionist in Manhattan, New York who resisted slavery by his participation in a Committee of Vigilance and the Underground Railroad to aid fugitive slaves reach free states. He was a printer in New York City during the 1830s, who also wrote numerous articles, and "was the prototype for black activist journalists of his time."[1] He claimed to have led more than 600 fugitive slaves to freedom in the North, including Frederick Douglass, who became a friend and fellow activist.


Ruggles was born free in Lyme, Connecticut in 1810. His parents were David, Sr. and Nancy Ruggles, both free blacks. The family moved to Norwich, when David was very young and set up home in Bean Hill, a wealthy suburb. They lived in a small hut owned by his maternal aunt, Sylvia. His father David Sr. was a blacksmith and woodcutter, while his mother Nancy was a noted caterer, whose cakes were sought after for local social events. They were devout Methodists. David was the oldest of eight children. He was educated at Sabbath Schools, and was so bright that Bean Hill residents paid for a tutor from Yale to teach him Latin.

In 1826, at the age of sixteen, Ruggles moved to New York City, where he worked as a mariner before opening a grocery store. Nearby, other African-Americans ran grocery businesses in Golden Hill (John Street east of William Street), such as Mary Simpson (1752-March 18, 1836). After 1829, abolitionist Sojourner Truth (born Isabella ("Bell") Baumfree; c. 1797 – November 26, 1883) also lived in lower Manhattan. At first, he sold liquor, then embraced temperance. He became involved in anti-slavery and the free produce movement. He was a sales agent for and contributor to The Liberator and The Emancipator, abolitionist newspapers.

After closing the grocery, Ruggles opened the first African American-owned bookstore in the United States. He edited a New York journal called The Mirror of Liberty, and also published a pamphlet called The Extinguisher. He also published "The Abrogation of the Seventh Commandment" in 1835, an appeal to northern women to confront husbands who kept enslaved black women as mistresses.[1][2]

Ruggles was secretary of the New York Committee of Vigilance, a radical biracial organization to aid fugitive slaves, oppose slavery, and inform enslaved workers in New York about their rights in the state. New York had abolished slavery and stated that slaves voluntarily brought to the state by a master would automatically gain freedom after nine months of residence. On occasion, Ruggles went to private homes after learning that enslaved blacks were hidden there, to tell workers that they were free.[1] In October 1838, Ruggles assisted Frederick Douglass on his journey to freedom, and reunited Douglass with his fiance Anna Murray. Rev. James Pennington, a self-emancipated slave, married Murray and Douglass in Ruggles' home shortly thereafter. Douglass' autobiography 'Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass' explains "I had been in New York but a few days, when Mr. Ruggles sought me out, and very kindly took me to his boarding-house at the corner of Church and Lespenard Streets. Mr. Ruggles was then very deeply engaged in the memorable Darg case, as well as attending to a number of other fugitive slaves, devising ways and means for their successful escape; and, though watched and hemmed in on almost every side, he seemed to be more than a match for his enemies."[3]

Ruggles was especially active against "kidnappers," bounty hunters who made a living by capturing escaped slaves. With demand high for slaves in the Deep South, there was also risk from men who kidnapped free blacks and sold them into slavery, as was done to Solomon Northup of Saratoga Springs, New York in 1841. With the Vigilance committee, Ruggles fought for fugitive slaves to have the right to jury trials and helped arrange legal assistance for them.[1]

His activism earned him many enemies. Ruggles was physically assaulted and his business was destroyed through arson. He quickly reopened his library and bookshop. There were two known attempts to kidnap him and sell him into slavery in the South. His enemies included fellow abolitionists who disagreed with his tactics. He was criticized for his role in the well-publicized Darg case of 1838 involving a Virginia slaveholder named John P. Darg and his slave, Thomas Hughes.[1][4]

Ruggles suffered from ill health, which intensified following the Darg case. In 1841, his father died, and Ruggles was ailing and almost blind. In 1842, Lydia Maria Child, a fellow abolitionist and friend, arranged for him to join a radical utopian commune called the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, in the present-day village of Florence, Massachusetts.[1][4][5]

Applying home treatment upon hydropathic principles, he regained his health to some degree, but not his eyesight. He began practicing hydrotherapy, and by 1845, had established a "water cure" hospital in Florence. This was one of the earliest in the United States.[1][5][6] Joel Shew[7][8][9] and Russell Thatcher Trall (R.T. Trall)[8][10] had preceded him in using this type of therapy. Ruggles died in Florence in 1849, due to a bowel infection.



  1. ^ a b c d e f g Hodges, Graham Russell (Spring–Summer 2000). "David Ruggles: The Hazards of Anti-Slavery Journalism". Media Studies Journal 14 (2). 
  2. ^ Hodges, Graham (March 25, 2010). "David Ruggles". The Wall Street Journal. (Book excerpt from David Ruggles, chapter one: "A Revolutionary Childhood"). Retrieved 31 August 2010 
  4. ^ a b Gaffney, Paul (2004). "Coloring Utopia: The African American Presence in the Northampton Association of Education and Industry". In Christopher Clark; Kerry W. Buckley. Letters from an American Utopia: The Stetson Family and the Northampton Association, 1843-1847. Amherst, Mass: University of Massachusetts Press. pp. 239–278. ISBN 1-55849-431-6. Retrieved 16 December 2009. 
  5. ^ a b Sheffeld, Charles A, ed. (1895). "The History of Florence, Massachusetts". Including a complete account of the Northampton Association of Education and Industry. Forence, Massachusetts: published by the author. p. 107. Retrieved 16 December 2009.  Full text at Internet Archives.
  6. ^ Strimer, Steve (July 17, 2006). "David Ruggles in Florence, Massachusetts". Retrieved 16 December 2009. 
  7. ^ Wilson, James Grant, & John Fiske, eds. (1888). "Shew, Joel (biographical sketch)". Appletons' Cyclopedia of American Biography. V. Pickering-Sumter. New York: Appleton & Co. pp. 508–509. 
  8. ^ a b Whorton, James C; Karen Iacobbo (2002). Nature cures: The history of alternative medicine in America. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 89, 90. ISBN 0-19-514071-0. Retrieved 14 December 2009. 
  9. ^ Iacobbo, Michael; Karen Iacobbo (2004). Vegetarian America: A History. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger. p. 74. ISBN 0-275-97519-3. Retrieved 14 December 2009. 
  10. ^ Trall, R.T., M.D. (1956). Drug Medicines (orig. 1862), The Hygienic System (1875) & Health Catechism (1875) (reprint ed.). Mokelumne Hill, California: Reprint by Health Research. p. 4. ISBN 0-7873-1200-2. Retrieved 14 December 2009. 

External links[edit]