Edmund Ruffin

Edmund Ruffin (1794–1865). Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Digital ID # cwpbh.00486

A native of Prince George County, Virginia, Edmund Ruffin (1794–1865) was celebrated among fellow secessionists as one of the chief proponents for Southern nationalism.  In 1811, he married Susan Travis, who bore him eleven children before dying in 1846. Following six months’ service in the Virginia militia during the War of 1812, Ruffin spent most of his adult life involved in agriculture. Aware that decades of tobacco cultivation had depleted the farmlands of Tidewater Virginia, he developed new techniques of using calcium carbonate-rich marl to revitalize the soil and increase crop production. Ruffin’s contributions in agricultural science were reflected in his writings and editorship of the Farmers Register, a journal he founded in 1833.  As a slaveowner with a long history of distrusting the national democratic process, Edmund Ruffin increasingly became an advocate of states’ rights and secession. His hatred of abolitionism was so strong he made a special request of the Virginia Military Institute to allow him to join the ranks of cadets for one day to view the hanging of John Brown after Brown’s abortive raid on Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in 1859.  Ruffin was present at Charleston Harbor when South Carolina forces initiated the bombardment of Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, where the then sixty-seven-year-old Virginian claimed to have fired the first shot.  Though he was present for the fighting at First Bull Run (First Manassas) and witnessed the effects of the Peninsula campaign on the Ruffin family estates in the area, poor health gradually forced Edmund Ruffin to withdraw from the public arena as the Civil War progressed. Shortly after learning of Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House, a distraught Ruffin confided his undying hatred for “Yankee rule” in the final entry of his voluminous diary and committed suicide by a gunshot to the head.

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