David Ruggles was born in Lyme, Connecticut. His parents were David Ruggles, Sr. and Nancy Ruggles, both free blacks. David was the oldest of eight children.
The family moved to Norwich, Connecticut, when David was very young and set up home in Bean Hill, a wealthy suburb of Norwich. The family lived in a small hut owned by Nancy's sister, Sylvia. David Sr. was a blacksmith and woodcutter, while Nancy was a noted caterer, whose cakes were sought after for any social event of consequence.
They were devout Methodists. He was educated at sabbath schools and became so learned that Bean Hill residents paid for a tutor from Yale to teach him Latin.
In 1827, at the age of sixteen, he moved to New York City, the same year New York State abolished slavery. He worked as a mariner before opening a grocery store. At first, he sold liquor, then embraced temperance. He became involved in anti-slavery and the Free Produce Movement. He was an agent for the Liberator and Emancipator newspapers.
He died 10 years before the Civil War began.
|"The Extinguisher", 1934|
In 1835, Ruggles was a founder and secretary of the New York Committee of Vigilance, a radical organization designed to inform enslaved workers in New York about state laws declaring that enslaved workers be emancipated after nine months of residence. With the help of New York City magistrates, kidnappers seized blacks off the street, held a quick hearing to “prove” their identity and within a matter of hours forced their unfortunate victims onto boats headed for Southern ports. Angered by this practice, Ruggles and the rest of the Committee of Vigilance openly confronted slave catchers, demanded that the city government grant jury trials to fugitives and offered legal assistance to them. Backed by the New York Manumission Society, whose members included the lawyer William Jay, son of Chief Justice John Jay, the Committee of Vigilance proved highly effective in protecting the rights of local blacks. On occasion, Ruggles went to private homes where enslaved blacks were hidden, to tell workers that they were free.
|"The Disappointed Abolitionists", Published in 1838 about the Darg Case|
The case remained newsworthy over the next few months. In October, a group of black citizens honored Ruggles by giving him a cane with a golden knob.
|Concert in honor of Ruggles, 1841|
|Lydia Maria Child|
Ruggles worked as a hydropathist until a recurrence of an inflamed optic nerve in his left eye in September 1849, placed him in the care of his mother and sister. Three months later on December 26, 1849, David Ruggles died in Northampton, Massachusetts of a severe case of inflammation of the bowels. His family buried him in their plot in Norwich.
The David Ruggles Center for Early Florence History and Underground Railroad Studies (www.davidrugglescenter.org) was founded on April 8, 2008, the 166th anniversary of the Northampton Association of Education and Industry.