It is difficult to understand now why Henry Clay was met with such honor upon reading his justification for the Fugitive Slave bill. It is especially difficult to see his name on a street in Harpers Ferry, of all places.
It was reported in a fundamentally pro-slavery newspaper in Washington, DC that there was “forcible resistance to the execution of the laws of the United States in Boston,” specifically, some Boston citizens aided in the rescue of a fugitive slave. The President of the United States was called upon to answer the insurrection with regard to what forces were available to quell disturbances of this kind. The fugitive slave’s name was Shadrach Minkins, who was born into slavery in Virginia and had escaped to Boston and who was at the time of his arrest, a waiter.
But I digress … back to the Ruggles connection.
In Seven for a Secret’s Historical Afterword, Lindsay Faye mentions David Ruggles (b. 1810, d. 1849), a real-life abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor who formed the New York Committee of Vigilance to combat kidnapping directly.
To him are attributed many African American firsts, including being the first African American bookseller, the first to open a lending library in the nation, and the first journalist. He personally assisted Frederick Douglas to obtain his freedom, and was mentioned in Mr. Douglass’s autobiography, “My Bondage and My Freedom.”
“Once in the hands of Mr. Ruggles, I was comparatively safe.”
He was considered to be a Radical Abolitionist – someone who demanded immediate emancipation based on moral principles.
As I was reading about David Ruggles, I remembered that the book, “The Accursed” referenced another Ruggles, specifically, a man named Yaeger Washington Ruggles, who was portrayed as Woodrow Wilson’s distant relative. Could this character be based in part on a descendant or distant relative of David Ruggles? Here is an excerpt from “The Accursed” by Joyce Carol Oates:
“Ash Wednesday Eve, 1905
Fellow historians will be shocked, dismayed, and perhaps incredulous — I am daring to suggest that the Curse did not first manifest itself on June 4, 1905, which was the disastrous morning of Annabel Slade’s wedding, and generally acknowledged to be the initial public manifestation of the Curse, but rather earlier, in the late winter of the year, on the eve of Ash Wednesday in early March.
This was the evening of Woodrow Wilson’s (clandestine) visit to his longtime mentor Winslow Slade, but also the evening of the day when Woodrow Wilson experienced a considerable shock to his sense of family, indeed racial identity.
Innocently it began: at Nassau Hall, in the president’s office, with a visit from a young seminarian named Yaeger Washington Ruggles who had also been employed as Latin preceptor at the university, to assist in the instruction of undergraduates.”
Unfortunately, the answer is no. In an interview with Jane Ciabattari, which appeared as an article for The Daily Beast, Oates answered the question:
“At a climactic moment in the scene, Wilson realizes his cousin Ruggles is of mixed race. Is this an invented character?
Ruggles is an imagined relative. And yet, how likely is it that white men, particularly in the South, fathered children with enslaved or otherwise powerless black women, whose progeny might one day mingle with their white ‘kin’?”
Some things are mere coincidences. However, part of me would like to believe that these two wonderful authors conspired, if only psychically, to bring to light, yet again, little known U.S. historical facts.
Note: Further evidence that perhaps there is no such thing as coincidence. Upon further research, I found that David Ruggles was born in Norwich, Connecticut. On March 7, 2014, Jason Edwards, Steam at Harper’s Ferry’s resident artist, opened a solo exhibit in, you guessed it, Norwich, Connecticut!