Skip to main content

David Ruggles to Frederick Douglass and Martin R. Delany, January 1, 1848

1

DAVID RUGGLES1David Ruggles (1810–49), a free black man, was born and educated in Norwich, Connecticut. In 1827 he moved to New York City, where he worked as a grocer antil 1834, when he opened a printing and book shop that specialized in abolitionist literature. Ruggles became active in the New York anti-slavery movement, serving as a writer, lecturer, and traveling agent for the reform publication Emancipator and Journal of Public Morals. He also was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, editor of the Genius of Freedom and the Mirror of Liberty, and secretary to the New York Vigilance Committee. His career in the antislavery movement ended abruptly in 1842 when intermittent blindness, a condition that would plague him for the remainder of his life, forced him to curtail his activities and seek medical attention. At the Northampton Association of Education and Industry in Florence, Massachusetts, he underwent hydropathy, which temporarily restored his sight. Soon thereafter he began a new career as a hydropathist in Northampton, Massachusetts, treating such celebrated individuals as Sojourner Truth and William Lloyd Garrison. His reputation as a hydropathist rivaled his stature as an abolitionist. NASS, 20 December 1849; Lib., 21 December 1849; New York Evangelist, 27 December 1849; ASB, 29 December 1849; NS, 1 February 1850; Penn, Afro-American Press, 118; Dorothy B. Porter, “David Ruggles, An Apostle of Human Rights,” JNH, 28:23–50 (January 1943); DANB, 536–38. TO FREDERICK DOUGLASS AND MARTIN R. DELANY

Northampton, [Mass] 1 Jan[uary] 1848.

DEAR FRIENDS DOUGLASS & DELANY:—

The specimen number of the North Star, is just what it should be—a beacon light of liberty, to illuminate the pathway of the bleeding, hunted fugitive of the South; and to arouse our disfranchised fellow countrymen and women of the North, who are lulled to sleep by the syren song of Liberty, while we are slaves, to all intents, purposes, and constructions, in any State within this SLAVEHOLDING UNION. Let it be seen and felt, that while our brethren and sisters of the South are slaves to individuals, we, of the North, are slaves to the mass. Let the whole truth in regard to our real condition be so clearly shown, that our colored brethren, who believe themselves free, may understand, that in the United States of America, there are no “free colored men;” and that there never can be, so long as there is no concert of action; and our neutrality continues to clog the wheels of the car—EMANCIPATION. On this subject, may the light of the North Star be like that of the inflexible Sirius,2Sirius, otherwise known as Canis Majoris or the Dog Star, is the brightest star in the sky. It lies 8.7 light years from the Earth and is located in a direct line southwest of Orion’s belt. Martin Ince, Dictionary of Astronomy (Chicago, 1997), 156; Stephen P. Maran, ed., The Astronomy and Astrophysics Encyclopedia (New York, 1992), 644–45, 662–63. that never waxes nor wanes, until our brethren, who are sleeping in calm security, shall awake to the dangers which surround them, and take such observations from the beacon-light as shall point them to the haven where they should be, in the full enjoyment of freedom, not slavery; rights, not privileges.

Since yours is a permanent press, and the STAR shines for all, the necessity of the “National Press,” called for by the Troy Convention, is superseded;3The National Convention of Colored People and Their Friends held its annual conference in Troy, New York, on 6-9 October 1847. Douglass attended the meeting as a delegate from Massachusetts. Debate over the practicality of a national black press began on the afternoon of the third day, with Douglass arguing against the proposition and in favor of supporting a multitude of black newspapers. Thomas Van Rensselaer, William C. Nell, and William Wells Brown backed Douglass. Bell, “1847-—Troy: Proceedings of the National Convention of Colored People,” in National Negro Conventions, 3–8. and, until it be shown that there is a sincere devotedness—nay, a united effort, on the part of the whole people, to sustain the most able, free, and INDEPENDENT PRESS ever established and controlled by colored men, in this country, the plea for a “National Press” can be made only on sectarian grounds; and, since sectarianism has made us all Ishmaelites,4The Ishmaelites were a nomadic group appearing in the Old Testament. Like the Hebrews, the Ishmaelites traced their lineage to Abraham, but descended from the Egyptian-born handmaiden Hagar. 1 Chron. 27:30, Ps. 83:6; Freedman, Anchor Bible Dictionary, 3:513–15. the true friends of humanity, at home or abroad, can never listen to such a plea.

When I reflect upon the tremendous influence of the press in freedom's cause, since WM. LLOYD GARRISON sounded the first note for immediate emancipation, and consider the important position you occupy, and that the destiny of enslaved millions depends upon the existence of a free and independent press, and that every man and woman, whose complexion bears the presumptive evidence of slavery, is under a moral obligation to

2

sustain such an engine in our cause—my word to all is, Let him who would be a slave, refuse to sustain it!

Ever yours for Human Freedom,

DAVID RUGGLES.

PLSr: NS, 28 January 1848.

Creator

Date

January 1, 1848

Type

Publication Status

Published