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David Ruggles (1810 - December 16, 1849) was an anti-slavery activist who was active in the New York Committee of Vigilance and the Underground Railroad. He claimed to have led over six hundred people, including friend and fellow abolitionist Frederick Douglass, to freedom in the North.


Ruggles was born in Norwich, Connecticutmarker. At the age of sixteen, he moved to New York Citymarker where he worked as a mariner before opening a grocery store. When his grocery failed, he opened the first African-American bookstore in the United States. He also published a pamphlet called The Extinguisher and contributed to abolitionist newspapers such as The Emancipator and The Liberator.

One of Ruggles' activities on behalf of the vigilance committee was to inform enslaved workers in New York about state laws declaring that enslaved workers be emancipated after nine months of residence. Ruggles would patrol elite neighborhoods and enter the homes there, by force if necessary, to tell workers that they were free.

Ruggles was especially spiteful of "kidnappers," bounty hunters who made a living by capturing escaped slaves. With the vigilance committee, he fought for these fugitives to have the right to jury trials and legal assistance.

His activism earned him many enemies. Ruggles was physically assaulted and his business was destroyed through arson. 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, including his participation in the well-publicized Darg case of 1838 involving a Virginia slaveholder named John P. Darg and one of his slaves, Thomas Hughes.

Ruggles suffered from ill health which intensified following the Darg case. In 1842, a fellow abolitionist and friend, Lydia Maria Child, arranged for him to join a utopian community in Florence, Massachusettsmarker, called the Northampton Association of Education and Industry. He died there in 1849.


Gaffney, Paul (2004) "Coloring Utopia: The African American Presence in the Northampton Association of Education and Industry". In Letters from an American Utopia: The Stetson Family and the Northampton Association, 18430-1847, pp. 239-278. Edited by C. Clark and K.W. Buckley. Amherst: University of Massachusetts.

External links

 The David Ruggles Center [427931]

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