Once upon a time in Black Entrepreneur History was an African American man named David Ruggles who was born in Norwich, Connecticut a free man in March 15, 1810 and went on to be a major abolitionist, journalist and a business owner, credited with opening the very first Black-owned bookstore and library and 1st African American founded Hydrotherapy facility in the nation. He was also a journalist, author, and activist and bold abolitionist.
Ruggles was the son of a free African American blacksmith and woodcutter named David, Sr. and a free African American mother named Nancy Ruggles who was a business owner being a caterer of social events and also co-founder of the Methodist church they attended. His family was well off, and he was a brilliant student, growing up in the suburb called Bean Hill, Connecticut. He had a great education, known as one of the smartest children who lived there, even tutored by Yale alumni.
It was in 1826 that David decided to move to New York and after working as a sailor, he opened his own grocery store in the year 1828 which was the start of his entrepreneurship.
After meeting new people and learning his way around in the area, he became an abolitionist, aiming to assist every enslaved black person he could to escape slavery by hiding what were called “fugitive slaves” as they tried to save their own lives escaping captivity. He did this through helping in the Underground Railroad and even educating enslaved black people who were hidden in the NY area under the homes of their overseers, by educating them on the law so they knew they were free in the state which had just abolished slavery on July, 4 1827 (long before the Emancipation Proclamation).
In New York, even after the abolition of slavery, there was still a large business stemming out of the international slave trade, through the southern states and even Brazil and Cuba. Slave owners and traders in New York continued to amass much wealth from slavery, from the banking institutions and insurance companies, some that are still in business today like Aetna and New York Life. Even groups of Northerners would kidnap and sell free black people back down south for payment..
Not only did David run his own grocery store and fight for the liberation of Black people, even if it meant civil disobedience, he also was a journalist, writing for abolitionist newspapers. He had become so engulfed in the abolitionist movement that he eventually closed his grocery store and founded what is known as the 1st African American bookstore in the USA called the Anti-Slavery Book Store, located on 67 Lespenard Street near Broadway in 1833 or 34. This was also his home.
David Ruggles’s Anti-Slavery Book Store not only sold anti-slavery literature, but it also provided school supplies and even printed and bound books at an affordable rate, promising impeccable service to clientele.
Ruggles also published a book called The Abrogation of the Seventh Commandment in 1835 which blamed and pushed white women to confront their adulterous husbands for keeping enslaved black women in the home as mistresses. In direct, forceful terms, demonstrating his full understanding and their own understanding of the filthiness of slavery, he denounced it and reprimanded the whole institution and white men for their disgusting use of enslaved Black women. The black women could not escape because not even the law would help them.
Unfortunately, his bookstore business was attacked and burned to the ground by a mob as a result of his bold, fearless fight against slavery.
David was known as the most radical abolitionist of his time in the area, even while he was the secretary of the NY Committee of Viligance, a committee he helped found in 1835. This committee was a group of black and white private citizens that did what the government failed to do, protect innocent people, mainly black people, and place law and order where there was none, against criminal behavior toward the innocent. in Though slavery was abolished in the North, black people were still mistreated and abused, many white Northerners still wanting slavery to thrive in the South for their gain.
All of his radical behavior in totality didn’t sit well with those who were for slavery and those who were less radical abolitionists, resulting in the arson attack on his bookstore. Before it burned to the ground, however, he’d already helped over 300 enslaved keep their freedom, including that of Frederick Douglass.
How Frederick Douglass Met Entrepreneur & Activist David Ruggles
Frederick Douglass, known as Frederick Bailey when he escaped and before he changed his name, jumped off of a ferryboat in NY and entered into a new world as he blended in with Northern crowd of people. He’d escaped slavery in the South but didn’t know what to do next until he was informed by another escapee to not trust anyone because Southerners were in the crowd waiting to pounce on escapees, and also Northerners were ready to turn in “fugitives” for the right amount of money.
Therefore, the next day, Frederick Douglass made it immediately to David Ruggles’s Anti-Slavery Book Store. Ruggles took him in with open arms as he was the 1st person Douglass ran into on the Underground Railroad. 
This was the very start of the well known author and abolitionist Frederick Douglass’s freedom journey in the North.
Illness, Hydrotherapy and Death
David Ruggles was a very young man when he started to fall ill, after helping over 600 Black people escape from the bondage of slavery. He relocated to Massachusetts in the city of Florence where he joined a community of abolitionists and placed on the committee of the Northampton Association of Education and Industry.
It was then that he started to treat his illness successfully with hydrotherapy, or water therapy, also known as “water cure” which is a type of treatment alternative to medicine. He then ended up founding the 1st African American founded hydrotherapy facility in the nation in 1847, the first one founded only three years prior.
He treated many people, including well-knowns such as William Lloyd Garrison, another abolitionist. The hydrotherapy cured many of David Ruggles’s ills for a time.
Unfortunately, two years after opening his hydrotherapy building, he passed away due to grave illness from his years of literally fighting slavery continuously. He died on December 16, 1849 in Florence, Massachusetts of a bowel infection.
He was recorded as a Physician in Northampton, Massachusetts Vital Records at the time of his death. Ruggles was buried in Yantic Cemetery in Norwich, Connecticut, back to the state of his birth.
He was also recorded as a Doctor and Proprietor of the Northampton Water Cure of Northampton, Massachusetts in the 10,000 Vital Records of New York.
New York Public Library
David Ruggles Center for History and Education
Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.
Ancestry.com. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.
Genealogical Publishing Co.; Baltimore, Maryland; 10,000 Vital Records of Central New York, 1813-1850