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Edmund Ruffin Edit Profile

Agriculturist , editor , planter , slaveholder

Edmund Ruffin was an American editor and publisher and a prominent scientific agriculturist as well as his period's most renowned advocate of establishing an independent Southern nation.


Ruffin was born on January 5, 1794, at Evergreen Plantation just east of Hopewell in Prince George County, Virginia. He was born into Virginia's planter class aristocracy and inherited large tracts of land along the James River.


Educated at home until he was 16, he attended the College of William and Mary for a year before he was dismissed.


He saw brief military service in the War of 1812 and then began a life as a Southern planter. Agriculture in Virginia was in a depressed state, largely because of the dominant farming practices of the time. Ruffin developed methods of restoring the fertility of soils and described them in "An Essay on Calcareous Manures. " This discovery and others, which Ruffin announced in his publication, the Farmer's Register, were adopted by large numbers of Virginia planters and led to an agricultural revival. Thereafter he contributed systematically to agricultural science-popularizing, distributing, writing, speaking, and informing Southern farmers of theoretical as well as practical, progressive agricultural methods. In 1841 Ruffin was appointed a member of the Board of Agriculture of Virginia and became its secretary, and a year later he became agriculture surveyor of South Carolina. His detailed and clearly written Report of the Commencement and Progress of the Agricultural Survey of South Carolina became a landmark in the agricultural history of the state. On his estate, Malbourne, in Hanover County, Virginia, he applied his scientific farming ideas so successfully that the plantation became a showplace where record harvests were almost commonplace. Ruffin is most widely known as a radical spokesman for Southern nationalism. Early in his career he became convinced that blacks were inferior and that a slave system was necessary and generally superior. He was the first outspoken advocate of Southern secession, viewing the competition of the North and South for advantage in the Union as one which would inevitably end in Southern defeat. The South as an independent nation would enjoy great advantages: direct trade with Europe, the end of the hidden subsidy by the South of Northern industries in the form of tariffs on imports, and a general strengthening of the slave society. Ruffin announced his views in assorted publications which he sometimes printed and distributed at his own expense. He advocated secession at the Democratic convention in Charleston in 1860; welcomed the election of Abraham Lincoln as a portent of the impending separation of the South from the Union; fired the first shot on Ft. Sumter to initiate the war; and fought in the Battle of Bull Run. He committed suicide when Confederate defeat became a fact.


  • In the 1850s he was a political activist with the so-called Fire-Eaters. He staunchly advocated states' rights and slavery, arguing for secession years before the American Civil War. Ruffin is often credited with "firing the first shot of the war" at the Battle of Fort Sumter in April 1861; he served as a Confederate soldier despite his advanced age. Ruffin's chief legacy is his pioneering work in methods to preserve and improve soil productivity; he recommended crop rotation and additions to restore soils exhausted from tobacco monoculture.



Quotations: "It is notorious that, whenever the demand for labor is much greater than the supply, or the wages of labor are much higher than the expenses of living, very many, even on the ordinary laboring class, are remarkable for indolence, and work no more than compelled by necessity. "


In 1813, he married Susan Hutchings Travis of Williamsburg; the couple moved to a farm Ruffin inherited from his grandfather, at Coggin's Point, along the James River in Prince George County. They had eleven children before Susan Ruffin died in 1846.

George Ruffin

Jane Lucas Ruffin

Susan Hutchings Travis

Charles Lorraine Ruffin

Mildred Ruffin

George Champion Ruffin

Elizabeth Ruffin

Agnes Ruffin

Jane Ruffin

Julian Calx Ruffin

Ella Ruffin

Rebecca Ruffin

Edmund Ruffin, Jr.