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First Ruggles Biography!

David Ruggles: A Radical Black Abolitionist and the Underground Railroad in New York City

by Graham Russell Gao Hodges

University of North Carolina Press. Cloth available in March 2010.  Click on image to pre-order.

David Ruggles (1810-1849) was of one of the most heroic–and has been one of the most often overlooked–figures of the early abolitionist movement in America. Graham Russell Gao Hodges provides the first biography of this African American activist, writer, publisher, and hydrotherapist who secured liberty for more than six hundred former bond people, the most famous of whom was Frederick Douglass. A forceful, courageous voice for black freedom, Ruggles mentored Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and William Cooper Nell in the skills of antislavery activism. As a founder of the New York Committee of Vigilance, he advocated a “practical abolitionism” that included civil disobedience and self-defense in order to preserve the rights of self-emancipated enslaved people and to protect free blacks from kidnappers who would sell them into slavery in the South.

Hodges’s narrative places Ruggles in the fractious politics and society of New York, where he moved among the highest ranks of state leaders and spoke up for common black New Yorkers. His work on the Committee of Vigilance inspired many upstate New York and New England whites, who allied with him to form a network that became the Underground Railroad.

Hodges’s portrait of David Ruggles establishes the abolitionist as an essential link between disparate groups–male and female, black and white, clerical and secular, elite and rank-and-file–recasting the history of antebellum abolitionism as a more integrated and cohesive movement than is often portrayed.

About the author: Graham Russell Gao Hodges is George Dorland Langdon Jr. Professor of History and Africana and Latin American Studies at Colgate University. He is author or editor of more than a dozen books, including Root and Branch: African Americans in New York and East Jersey, 1613-1863.

Reviews: “Graham Russell Gao Hodges has brilliantly captured the life of David Ruggles, whose mad courage and street-fighting savvy advanced ‘a mighty revolution’ against slavery. Once a hero to the enslaved and a terror to enslavers, Ruggles reclaims through this splendid biography his rightful place in American memory.”
–Marcus Rediker, author of The Slave Ship: A Human History

“In this exciting story of New York African American activist David Ruggles, Graham Hodges paints a dramatic picture of the nineteenth-century struggle against slavery. This captivating and brilliantly written chronicle fuses the activities of the interracial radical abolition movement and the underground railroad in the northeast.”
–James Oliver Horton, coauthor of Slavery and the Making of Americaand coeditor of Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory

“A worthwhile and overdue biography, this is the only book-length work on one of the most influential black abolitionists of the antebellum period.”
–C. Peter Ripley, editor of The Black Abolitionist Papers