- This entry for Black History 365 presents the story of David Ruggles. Leave a like if you’ve learned something new and give the page a follow so you can stay up to date with my future posts. As always, peace and keep it real.
David Ruggles was an abolitionist, businessman, journalist, hydrotherapist, and the first owner of a black bookstore in the United States. Ruggles was born in 1810 in Norwich, Connecticut, and attended the Sabbath school for the poor which began admitting people of color in 1815. Moreover, in 1827 he left Connecticut for New York City and pursued a steady job at a grocery store. He would work at that job for the next four years. Ruggles is widely accepted to be known as the first African American bookseller. While working at his bookstore, he extended many publications and prints that promoted the abolition of slavery in opposition to the efforts of the American Colonization Society which announced a black settlement in Liberia. This promotion was the catalyst for black settlement to leave the US (Mississippi to Africa) and make a significant impact on Liberia. Furthermore, Ruggles would later take on a printing job, letterpress work, picture framing, and bookbinding to augment his income. Unfortunately, in September 1835, a white anti-abolitionist mob burned down his store.
In 1833 Ruggles began his travels across the Northeast promoting the Emancipator and Journal of Public Morals, an abolitionist weekly. Not only did Ruggles write articles and pamphlets, but he also gave lectures denouncing slavery and Liberian colonization. This gave him notoriety and made him a figure of rising prominence in abolitionist circles in the late 1830s. Equally important, when the Underground Railroad was in effect, Ruggles was active during it from 1835 to 1838. In 1835, when the New York Vigilance Committee was organized, Ruggles became the secretary of this rare interracial organization. His work with the committee led to his involvement in numerous court cases where he helped organize the legal defense against fugitive slaves who fled up North. In the first year of the organization’s existence, Ruggles intervened in over 300 fugitive slave cases. In September 1838, Ruggles took on the case of an escaped Maryland slave by the name of Frederick Washington Bailey. Later Bailey changed to what everyone knows him as today Frederick Douglas.
Fast forward to 1842 and David Ruggles is a shell of himself and in poor health. At this time virtually blind and his physician didn’t think he would live more than a few weeks. Lydia Maria Child, a prominent white abolitionist, learned about Ruggles’ health and brought him to Northampton, Massachusetts where the Northampton Association of Education and Industry was located. It was composed of fellow abolitionists, and they accepted him as a member. In addition, while he was recuperating, he learned about hydrotherapy. He was said to be able to diagnose ailments by his sense of touch, called “cutaneous electricity”. Ruggles’ first patients included wealthy members of the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, which further enhanced his reputation as a healer. Not to mention, On January 1st, 1846, Ruggles purchased land and a building so he could conduct hydropathic treatments. He became famous in the field and modestly wealthy, offering a cure for ailments claimed by conventional medicine to be incurable. William Lloyd Garrison was one of his notable patients. Ruggles continued his profession as a hydropathist up until he began experiencing an inflamed optic nerve in his left eye in September 1849. From there he was placed in the care of his mother and sister. Three months later on December 26th, 1849, David Ruggles, died in Northampton, Massachusetts of a severe case of inflammation of the bowels.