George Lewis Ruffin

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George Lewis Ruffin

George Lewis Ruffin (16 December 1834 – 19 November 1886) was an American attorney and judge. In 1869, he was the first African American to graduate from Harvard Law School, and was elected as the first African American to serve on the Boston City Council.[1] Ruffin was elected in 1870 to the Massachusetts Legislature. In 1883, he was appointed by the governor as a judge to the Municipal Court, Charlestown district in Boston, making him the first African American judge in the United States.


Ruffin was born to George W. (1800–1863) and Nancy Lewis Ruffin (1816–1874) in Richmond, Virginia as a free person of color, of African and European ancestry. The city had a large free black community. His parents were George W. and Nancy Lewis Ruffin. His family moved to Boston in 1853, where he was educated in the public schools.[2][3]

Marriage and family[edit]

In 1858, he married Josephine St. Pierre, who was of Afro-Caribbean, French and English descent. Together they had four sons and a daughter.[1] Their children were Hubert, who became an attorney; Florida Ridley, a school principal and co-founder with her mother of the newspaper The Woman's Era; Stanley, an inventor; George, a musician; and Robert, who died in his first year of life.


He became a barber to support his family and read law books on the side[1] and studied law with the partnership of Harvey Jewell and William Gaston[2] He started publishing articles in a law journal and was admitted to Harvard Law School. and saved enough money to enroll. After graduating in 1869, the first African American to earn a law degree Harvard University, he practiced with success in Boston.[1] He was politically active and attended the National Negro Convention of 1864 in Syracuse, New York and of 1872 in New Orleans.[2]

He was elected to the state legislature in 1870 as a Republican and served one term.[3] Ruffin was elected as the first man of African descent to the Boston City Council, where he served two terms, 1875–1876 and 1876–1877.[2]

He supported Benjamin F. Butler in Butler's 1871 campaign for governor, and November 7, 1883, he was appointed by then Governor Butler as a judge of the Municipal Court, Charlestown district. He was the first African American justice to hold office in New England.[2][3] That year he was also made consul resident for the Dominican Republic.[2] At the time the Dominican President was Ulises Heureaux who was also of mostly West African descent.

He died in Boston, Massachusetts[3] and is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery.[4]

Legacy and honors[edit]

  • 1984, the George Lewis Ruffin Society was founded in his honor at Northeastern University to support minorities studying in the Massachusetts criminal justice system.

See also[edit]

  • Macon Bolling Allen is believed to be both the first black man licensed to practice law and to hold a judicial position in the United States.

External links[edit]

  • "Finding aid for Heslip-Ruffin Family papers, 1822–1946". Amistad Research Center.


  1. ^ a b c d Stephanie Knight, "George Lewis Ruffin", Black Past, accessed 14 April 2012
  2. ^ a b c d e f Simmons, William J., and Henry McNeal Turner. Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive and Rising. GM Rewell & Company, 1887. p740-743
  3. ^ a b c d "George Lewis Ruffin". Appleton's Cyclopedia. Ruffin, George Lewis, lawyer, born in Richmond, Virginia, 16 December 1834; died in Boston, Massachusetts, 19 November 1886. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  4. ^ "African American Heritage Trail". Mount Auburn Cemetery. Retrieved 24 June 2014.