David Ruggles

David Ruggles: A Radical Black Abolitionist and the Underground Railroad in New York City

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    David Ruggles
    Book Description:

    David Ruggles (1810-1849) was one of the most heroic--and has been one of the most often overlooked--figures of the early abolitionist movement in America. Graham Russell Gao Hodges provides the first biography of this African American activist, writer, publisher, and hydrotherapist who secured liberty for more than six hundred former bond people, the most famous of whom was Frederick Douglass. A forceful, courageous voice for black freedom, Ruggles mentored Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and William Cooper Nell in the skills of antislavery activism. As a founder of the New York Committee of Vigilance, he advocated a "practical abolitionism" that included civil disobedience and self-defense in order to preserve the rights of self-emancipated enslaved people and to protect free blacks from kidnappers who would sell them into slavery in the South.Hodges's narrative places Ruggles in the fractious politics and society of New York, where he moved among the highest ranks of state leaders and spoke up for common black New Yorkers. His work on the Committee of Vigilance inspired many upstate New York and New England whites, who allied with him to form a network that became the Underground Railroad.Hodges's portrait of David Ruggles establishes the abolitionist as an essential link between disparate groups--male and female, black and white, clerical and secular, elite and rank-and-file--recasting the history of antebellum abolitionism as a more integrated and cohesive movement than is often portrayed.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0421-3
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xiv)
    (pp. 1-10)

    The euphoria that Frederick Augustus Bailey felt after escaping from slavery on September 3, 1838, evaporated soon after his coming to New York City. At two o’clock in the morning on the night of his arrival, Bailey was stranded on the docks. He worried about slave catchers and saw in “every white man an enemy and in every colored man cause for distrust.” Broke, lonely, and homeless, Bailey spent the night sleeping among the wharf barrels. He had planned to find a black man named David Ruggles, who headed the New York Committee of Vigilance, an organization famous among enslaved...

  4. CHAPTER ONE A Revolutionary Childhood
    (pp. 11-32)

    David Ruggles was born free in Connecticut, a state with a rich revolutionary heritage. Those facts affected his later life immensely. Born on March 15, 1810, in Lyme, a small fishing village near Norwich, Connecticut, Ruggles was the first of eight children of free blacks David and Nancy Ruggles. David Sr. was born in Norwich in 1775; his wife was born in 1785 in either Norwich or nearby Lyme. Sylvia, the only one of Nancy’s sisters who is known, was baptized in the First Congregational Church of Norwich in 1773. The origins and extended family remain obscure.¹

    Sometime after David’s...

  5. CHAPTER TWO An Apprentice Abolitionist in Post-Emancipation New York City
    (pp. 33-62)

    David Ruggles’s seafaring brought him to New York City as early as 1825. He probably shuttled back and forth between New York and Norwich, as he had no recorded address in the big city. By 1827 he was listed in the city directory as a mariner. Unless he was on a voyage, Ruggles was in New York for the celebrations marking the extinction of slavery on July 4 and 5, 1827.Freedom’s Journal, the nation’s first black American newspaper, which began publication on March 16, 1827, heralded the festivities for months in advance. On July 4, New York City blacks...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Making Practical Abolitionism
    (pp. 63-102)

    New York City’s simmering racial tensions burst into flame in the July 1834 riots against black New Yorkers. These riots against the black community were hardly the first. Rioters had trashed black churches, theaters, and small businesses and had set dogs against black students at the African Free School. But the 1834 riots were more coordinated, widespread, and dangerous. This time, racist groups accelerated broader battles to overpower and drive out the black community and silence white and black abolitionists, especially religious leaders. Months of incendiary articles in such Democratic newspapers as theMorning CourierandNew York Enquirerand...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Melding Black Abolitionism and the Underground Railroad
    (pp. 103-154)

    David Ruggles had argued strenuously for support of abolitionist newspapers and pamphlets. He was among the movement’s most active authors. In early 1837, New York’s black community and the black abolitionist movement in particular received an enormous boost with the establishment of the city’s second black newspaper. Edited by Robert Sears and Philip A. Bell, theWeekly Advocate, soon renamed theColored American, started publication in January 1837. The weekly fast became a leading forum for the Committee of Vigilance and for Ruggles’s letters and editorials. He supported the venture from the beginning. When Samuel Eli Cornish was named editor...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Abolitionist and Physician
    (pp. 155-198)

    Forced from his position as secretary of the New York Committee of Vigilance, Ruggles seemed forsaken by erstwhile allies. Despite his departure from the Committee of Vigilance, Ruggles could find satisfaction from his accomplishments. He had, by his own count, enabled six hundred fugitives to gain freedom. One, Frederick Douglass, was beginning to attract attention in the movement, albeit as a lowly paid agent of theLiberator. Ruggles could see the effects of his efforts in mainstream politics. In 1841, New York State governor William Seward signed a bill ensuring the right of habeas corpus for escaped slaves, mandated that...

    (pp. 199-204)

    David Ruggles did not live to see the enactment of the Compromise of 1850. Its portion known as the Fugitive Slave Act, which opened the northern states to slave catchers and kidnappers, mandated that white citizens help them and drove sizable percentages of black citizens into exile in Canada. There were immediate consequences. On September 26, 1850, Alexander Gardiner, the local commissioner to the law, ordered the arrest of James Hamlet, at the request of Mary Brown, a Maryland slaveholder, as the first case of the new Fugitive Slave Law. Hamlet, who had lived in New York City for several...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 205-230)
    (pp. 231-252)
    (pp. 253-254)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 255-266)