Ruggles, David

Life Span
    Full name
    David Ruggles
    Place of Birth
    Birth Date Certainty
    Death Date Certainty
    Sectional choice
    Free State
    Doctor, Dentist or Nurse
    Relation to Slavery
    Free black
    Other Affiliations
    Abolitionists (Anti-Slavery Society)

    David Ruggles (American National Biography)

    In 1835 Ruggles founded and headed the New York Committee of Vigilance, which sought to shield the growing number of fugitive slaves from recapture and protect free blacks from kidnapping. Cooperating with white abolitionists Lewis Tappan and Isaac T. Hopper, Ruggles and other black leaders were daring conductors on the Underground Railroad and harbored nearly 1,000 blacks, including Frederick Douglass, before transferring them farther north to safety. A fearless activist, he raised funds for the committee, served writs against slave catchers, and directly confronted suspected kidnappers. In frequent columns for the Colored American, he exposed kidnapping incidents on railroads. In 1839 he published the Slaveholders Directory, which identified the names and addresses of politicians, lawyers, and police in New York City who "lend themselves to kidnapping." His bold efforts often led to his arrest and imprisonment, which contributed to his failing health and eyesight.
    Between 1838 and 1841 Ruggles published five issues of the Mirror of Liberty, the first African-American magazine. Circulated widely throughout the East, Midwest, and the South, the magazine reported on the activities of the Committee of Vigilance, kidnappings and related court cases, antislavery speeches, and the activities of black organizations. Despite its irregular appearances, its publication was a significant achievement. In 1844 Ruggles attempted unsuccessfully to establish a second magazine, entitled the Genius of Freedom. In 1838 he attacked colonization once more in An Antidote for a Poisonous Combination.
    Graham Russell Hodges, "Ruggles, David," American National Biography Online, February 2000,

    David Ruggles (May, 1869)

    David Ruggles first became known to me as a most active, adventurous, and daring conductor on the underground railroad. He helped six hundred slaves to escape from one and another of the Southern States into Canada, or to places of security this side of the St. Lawrence. So great were the dangers to which he was often exposed, so severe the labors and hardships he often incurred, and so intense the excitement into which he was sometimes thrown, that his eyes became seriously diseased, and he lost entirely the sight of them. For a while he was obliged to depend for his livelihood upon the contributions of his antislavery friends, which they gave much more cheerfully than he received them. Dependence was irksome to his enterprising spirit. So soon, therefore, as his health, in other respects, was sufficiently restored, he eagerly inquired for some employment by which, notwithstanding his blindness, he could be useful to others and gain a support for himself and family. Having a strong inclination to, and not a little tact and experience in the curative art, he determined to attempt the management of a Water-cure Hospital. He was assisted to obtain the lease of suitable accommodations in or near Northampton, and conducted his establishment with great skill and good success, I believe, until his death.
    Samuel J. May, Some Recollections of our Antislavery Conflict (Boston: Fields, Osgood, & Co., 1869), 285-286.

    David Ruggles (Brown, 1874)

    OF those who took part in the anti-slavery work thirty-five years ago, none was more true to his race than David Ruggles. Residing in the city of New York, where slaveholders often brought their body servants, and kept them for weeks, Mr. Ruggles became a thorn in the sides of these Southern sinners. He was ready at all times, in dangers and perils, to wrest his brethren from these hyenas, and so successful was he ingetting slaves from their masters, and sending them to Canada, that he became the terror of Southerners visiting northern cities. He was one of the founders of the celebrated underground railroad.
        Harassed by the pro-slavery whites, and betrayed and deserted by some of his own color, David Ruggles still labored for his people.
        He was deeply interested in the moral, social, and political elevation of the free colored men of the North, and to that end published and edited for several years the "Mirror of Liberty," a quarterly magazine, devoted to the advocacy of the rights of his race.
        As a writer, Mr. Ruggles was keen and witty, — always logical, — sending his arrows directly at his opponent. The first thing we ever read, coming from the pen of a colored man, was "David M. Reese, M. D., used up by David Ruggles, a man of color." Dr. Reese was a noted colonizationist, and had written a work in which he advocated the expatriation of the blacks from the American continent; and Mr. Ruggles's work was in reply to it. In this argument the negro proved too much for the Anglo-Saxon, and exhibited in Mr. Ruggles those qualities of keen perception, deep thought, and originality, that mark the critic
    and man of letters.
        He was of unmixed blood, of medium size, genteel address, and interesting in conversation.
        Attacked with a disease which resulted in total blindness, Mr. Ruggles visited Northampton, Massachusetts, for the benefit of his health. Here he founded a "Water Cure," which became famous, and to which a large number of the better classes resorted. In this new field, Mr. Ruggles won honorable distinction as a most successful practitioner, secured the warm regard of the public, and left a name embalmed in the hearts of many who feel that they owe life to his eminent skill and careful practice. Mr. Ruggles was conscientious, upright, and just in all his dealings. He died in 1849, universally respected and esteemed.
    William Wells Brown, The Rising Son (Boston: A. G. Brown & Co., 1874), 434-435.

    David Ruggles (Water-Cure Journal)

    BY S. ROGERS, M.D.
        A NOBLE worker in the great field of Hydropathic and hygienic reform has laid aside the habiliments of earth, and gone to receive the reward of that diligence, perseverance, and honesty of purpose, which characterized his earthly career.
        DR. RUGGLES was born at Norwich, Conn., 3d mo., 1st, 1810.  He studied medicine with Dr. Swain, in the city of New York, until he was nearly deprived of his sight.  By his great exertions and privations, his constitution became impaired, and his health so precarious that the most skillful physicians lost all hope of his recovery.  Blind, sick, and destitute, this remarkable man struggled thus along in the world, till taken under the protections of kind friends at Bensonville, Northampton, where he learned something of the Water-Cure, which was then in its infancy in this country.  He determined to try its reputed power, and accordingly, under competent medical advice, pursued a thorough course of at home, which, after many hard struggles, resulted in the restoration of health.  But his sight never returned. 
        Encouraged by the success which attended the use of water upon himself, and having carefully watched its effects, Dr. Ruggles commenced its application upon others.  He soon evinced a degree of skill, prudence, and admirable penetration which brought him patients from all parts of the Union.
        But it is not for me to tell the friends of Hydropathy of the enviable reputation which the indomitable perseverance, guided by sound judgment, gained for our lamented brother.  He will long live in the grateful remembrances of the many who have sought the blessings of health at his hands, and his reputation is based upon that foundation which will endure forever.
        Of the immediate cause of Dr. Ruggles’ death, I have not been informed.  He died at his residence in Northampton, on the 16th of December, 1849.
    S. Rogers, “Death of Dr. David Ruggles,” Water-Cure Journal 9, no. 2 (February 1850): 54.
    Chicago Style Entry Link
    Falk, Leslie A. "Black Abolitionist Doctors and Healers, 1810-1885." Bulletin of the History of Medicine 54, no. 2 (1980): 258-272. view record
    Porter, Dorothy B. "David Ruggles, 1810-1849: Hydropathic Pioneer." Journal of the National Medical Association 48 (1957): 67-72, 130-34. view record
    Porter, Dorothy B. "David Ruggles, An Apostle of Human Rights." Journal of Negro History 28 (1943): 23-50. view record
    Young, R. J. "The Political Economy of Black Abolitionists." Afro-Americans in New York Life & History 18, no. 1 (1994): 47-71. view record
    How to Cite This Page: "Ruggles, David," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,