David Ruggles was born in the March of 1810 in Lyme, Connecticut. His parents were free blacks, and after moving to Norwich, Connecticut at a young age, members of his society, or “Bean Hill” as it were, paid a Yale graduate to tutor him in the basics. He was well educated, and the oldest of eight children. Shortly after his seventeenth birthday, Ruggles moved to New York City, “where he operated a grocery and, later, the nation’s first African-American bookstore” (The David Ruggles Center).
The Project-Based Learning group will briefly discuss David Ruggles’ background.
The young Ruggles was indeed way ahead of his time. Like the many other names that are associated with abolition and civil rights, Ruggles experienced hardship and discrimination, and would consequently become involved in an underground world that aimed to expose and eliminate slavery. Mapping the African American Past (MAAP) argues that Ruggles was “the most hated activist of his day” because he was one of the few controversial African-American printers in New York City during the 1830s. In his “The Hazards of Anti-Slavery Journalism,” Graham Russell Hodges identifies Ruggles as the “prototype for black activist journalists of his time.”
The group will then discuss Ruggles’ activism and introduce Graham Russell Hodges who is the foremost expert on the obscure individual.
Ruggles was an intelligent and effective leader against slavery. He was determined—he recognized how dangerous the City was for runaway slaves who had spent days, months, and perhaps even years making their way to the North. In 1835, Ruggles co-founded the New York committee of Vigilance. While he aided fugitive slaves and fought the viscous men who were charged with the task of capturing runaways, David Ruggles continued to write articles and direct anti-slavery campaigns across New York.
The group will identify the New York Committee of Vigilance and continue to evaluate Ruggles’ determination to combat human bondage.
Ruggles never received the praise and notability achieved by the more prominent activists of the day but in his short, two-decade long career, Ruggles produced hundreds of newspaper articles and released several issues of his magazine, Mirror of Liberty. The young abolitionist surely capitalized on the potentials of the penny press and was able to effectively communicate his message to others. “Abolitionists organizing the battle against slavery during the 1830s quickly mastered the potentials of the penny press and the post office in their campaign to compel Americans to examine their consciences about the South’s peculiar institution” (Hodges 1). Abolitionist organizations would effectively produce and distribute “fiery” anti-slavery propaganda throughout the North. In comparison to activists such as Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, David Ruggles continues to receive little praise. He lived and orchestrated anti-slavery campaigns well before the cause caught fire. The group will talk about the use of the penny press and how Ruggles’ used the device to his advantage.
In order to effectively combat slavery and bounty hunters, David Ruggles traveled quite a bit. He visited Underground Railroad locations in Connecticut and Massachusetts frequently. In doing so, David Ruggles met and worked with many prominent individuals, whose names continue to be associated with the Underground Railroad to this day. He was one of the first men to speak with the young Frederick Douglass. Ruggles’ helped Douglass get married, and also made sure he did not become “a slave to the bottle.” Additionally, Ruggles worked closely with Henry Foster as well as many other church officials of the greater Hartford area.