The Underground Railroad stop in Tribeca

David Ruggles (right) was a brave man. Born a free African American in Connecticut in 1810, he moved to New York in the 1820s as a seaman and grocer.

A decade later, he became a leader in the city’s burgeoning abolitionist movement.

From his three-story home at 36 Lispenard Street, he operated a bookstore, printed his own anti-slavery pamphlets, and wrote for African-American newspapers.

He also opened his house to slaves fleeing the South who needed a place to stay before typically going upstate or to New England.

Through the 1830s and 1840s, an estimated 600 slaves hid out in his townhouse on Lispenard Street, one of a handful of known New York City stops on the Underground Railroad.

His most famous guest, in 1838, was Frederick Douglass, who wrote in The Century in 1882, “With Mr. Ruggles, on the corner of Lispenard and Church Streets, I was hidden several days. . . .”

Ruggles died in 1849 in Massachusetts, his work to end slavery in a city divided by the issue close to forgotten.

[Above left: 36 Lispenard Street today, a different building on the historic site. A plaque notes its history.]

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6 Responses to “The Underground Railroad stop in Tribeca”

  1. Bob_in_MA Says:

    Hey, I live just a few blocks from the David Ruggles Center. He became a “doctor of hydropathy” here and provided guests of his establishment with a water cure. A lot of Southerners came up here for the water cure, but I don’t know if any patronized Ruggles’ place.

    Sojourner Truth lived about two blocks from us.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Interesting…Ruggles was ahead of his time in more ways than one.

  3. chas Says:

    I still hate the fact that NY had it’s supporters of the slave trade…regardless of the time, you want to believe the north was better than that.

  4. Nikki Parsons Says:

    JHS 258 in Bed-Stuy on Marcy Ave is (was?) named after him.

  5. The past lives of a modest 1808 house in Tribeca | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] house wouldn’t have been far from the home of abolitionist David Ruggles on Lispenard Street, an Underground Railroad stop that over two decades sheltered about 600 runaway […]

  6. The abolitionist history of a little house on Riverside Drive | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] community thrived before the Civil War. Underground railroad stops are thought to have existed at 36 Lispenard Street, 339 West 29th Street, and 227 Duffield Street in […]

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