Lewis Ruffner

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Lewis Ruffner (October 1, 1797 – 1883) was a salt manufacturer from Malden in Kanawha County in the area near what is now Charleston, West Virginia. He was a community leader and a member of the Virginia General Assembly in the years before the American Civil War. He served in the West Virginia House of Delegates and was commissioned in the local militia by the new state as a major general. In the years after the War, for a time, General Ruffner was in charge of the Lock and Dam Improvement Project of the U.S. Government on the Kanawha River.[1] He died in 1883 after falling from a horse while extremely drunk.[2]

Ruffner's daughter, Patti Ruffner Jacobs, became a prominent suffragist in Birmingham, Alabama.

Booker T. Washington[edit]

General Ruffner became widowed and he and his second wife Viola (née Knapp) Ruffner (1820–1904), a schoolteacher whom he married in 1843, are remembered for employing a young Booker T. Washington as a houseboy in the years shortly after Emancipation. Mrs. Ruffner inspired Washington to seek an education and the couple and famous African American educator became lifelong friends.

Young Booker came to Malden, West Virginia with his mother Jane after Emanicipation in late 1865. Following other jobs of manual labor including working in the salt wells, he served as the Ruffner family's houseboy. He lived there until 1872, when he left to attend Hampton Institute at the age of sixteen.[3]

According to the first of his autobiographies, Up From Slavery, Mrs. Ruffner had a harsh reputation for her rigid and strict manner, was feared by her servants and could only keep temporary employees due to her demands and expectations. She was a conservative and hardworking person who valued education, cleanliness, promptness, and honesty above all else. She taught Washington the value of a dollar, and encouraged him to further his schooling, allowing him to attend school for an hour each day. Washington expresses his extreme respect and utmost regard for Ruffner, calling her "one of the best friends I ever had."

Viola and Lewis Ruffner remained key benefactors of Washington's political and civil efforts, with Viola and Booker T. Washington continuing their strong friendship after the General died in 1883 until her death 21 years later.[4]

In modern times, the Ruffner and Washington families are still good friends, and had a reunion in Charleston, West Virginia in 2002.[5] It is also noted that the Ruffners attend the Washington family reunion at Hampton annually, and both families still contribute to causes for the growth of society.


  • Washington, Booker T. (1901). Up From Slavery: An Autobiography