Mar 29, 2018 - Sale 2471

Sale 2471 - Lot 39

Price Realized: $ 8,125
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 6,000 - $ 9,000
HELPING "OUR BRETHREN WHO TAKE REFUGE AT THE NORTH FOR SAFETY AND PROTECTION" (SLAVERY AND ABOLITION.) Ruggles, David. Letter urging the establishment of a Committee of Vigilance in Syracuse. Letter Signed as "David Ruggles" to Ezra Styles [Stiles], with postscript signed "DR"; the body of the letter was written in an unknown secretarial hand. 2 pages, 12 3/4 x 7 3/4 inches, with address panel, docketing and inked Skaneateles postmark on integral blank; separations at folds, some stabilized with tape, minor wear at edges and one fold with minimal loss of text, more wear and uneven toning to address leaf. New York, 1 June 1838

Additional Details

David Ruggles (1810-1849) was one of the leading abolitionists of the 1830s and 1840s. Born into a free African-American family in Connecticut, he came to New York City as a young man. In 1835, he helped form the New York Committee of Vigilance as a way to aid fugitive slaves and protect the city's free black community. The committee helped make New York a major hub in the Underground Railroad. Frederick Douglass was one of the fugitives personally assisted by Ruggles, just a few months after this letter was written.
Ruggles wrote this letter to Ezra Stiles (1799-1844) of Syracuse, NY, a white man who would be described in his obituary as "one of the first and firmest Abolitionists in this village and county." Syracuse was already by this point a major hub of the Underground Railroad. Ruggles wrote on behalf of the New York Committee of Vigilance "upon the subject of establishing a kindred association in Syracuse," explaining that "the great utility of such associations in certain places in the northern and eastern states, were so highly appreciated by the friends of human rights" that they had been endorsed by the American Antislavery Society as a way to "aid refugees in finding liberty and safety, and to protect them in the vindication of their rights whenever they are invaded." He argued that "the existence of such associations are I think indispensable to the safety and protection of the inhabitants on the non-slaveholding states, and essential to the legal protection of our brethren who take refuge at the North for safety and protection." He states with pride that his New York committee had agitated for "the sacred question of right to trial by jury for all persons claimed as fugitive slaves" and "restored liberty to more than five hundred fellow citizens"--a cause "of vital importance to the protection and safety of every inhabitant of this state whose complexion is the presumptive evidence of slavery."
Ruggles goes on to discuss the celebrated case of William Dixon, who had been seized by slave catchers. Efforts to free Dixon were still working their way through the courts, led by the Committee of Vigilance. Ruggles urges Stiles to "lay the matter before our friends in Syracuse collectively and urge them to give individually in aid of this most important cause." His postscript warns that without further financial support, his committee will be "compelled to acknowledge our inability longer to occupy the field in defence of liberty against southern aggression."
While Stiles did not immediately form a Vigilance Committee for Syracuse, this letter perhaps planted a seed, as the city did form an active committee in 1850, shortly after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law. This letter demonstrates the networks among abolitionists as they built the Underground Railroad and brought the fight against slavery to the courts. Furthermore, we have not traced any other Ruggles manuscripts at auction--this letter may be the only opportunity to acquire the signature of this important early activist.