Edmund Ruffin

1794 - 1865

Edmund Ruffin, whose long white hair made him immediately recognizable to contemporaries, was born in 1794 and educated in Virginia, including a brief period at the College of William and Mary. For most of his life, Ruffin was a farmer and a renowned agricultural reformer. Experiments on his farm convinced him that fertilizers, crop rotation, drainage, and good plowing could revitalize the declining soil of his native state. From the 1820s onward, Ruffin published his findings, edited an agricultural journal, lectured, a nd organized agricultural societies. In the 1850s, he became president and commissioner of the Virginia State Agricultural Society.

Edmund Ruffin of Virginia was sixty-five at the time of John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry. On December 2, 1859, he witnessed Brown's execution in Charles Town, Virginia. Afterward Ruffin arranged to have one of Brown’s pikes (intended for the use of slave insurgents) sent to each governor of a slaveholding state, with the label “Sample of the favors designed for us by our Northern Brethren.”

Although he had earlier expressed some doubts about slavery and opened the pages of his agricultural journal to arguments about colonization, by the 1850s Ruffin had become a staunch proponent of slavery. He joined the ranks of fire-eating southern radicals advocating a separate southern nation to protect the southern way of life. Secession became as great a reform cause as agricultural improvement. Both would rejuvenate the South.

Ruffin's desire to push the secessionist movement towards a confrontation with the North brought him to Charleston during the Sumter crisis. He intended to take his stand with the Confederacy, and he hoped events would drive his native state, Virginia , out of the Union. His ardent southern nationalism made him a hero of southern radicals. He was invited to attend three secession conventions, and given the honor of firing one of the first batteries against Fort Sumter.

As the Confederacy's fortunes ebbed during the war, however, Ruffin grew distraught. Plagued by ill health, family misfortunes, and the rapid collapse of Confederate forces in 1865, Ruffin proclaimed "unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule*," and on June 1 7, 1865, committed suicide. His suicide was interpreted as an expression of the southern code of honor, the refusal to accept a life in defeat.

*Edmund Ruffin's Famous Last Words

On June 18, 1865 Edmund Ruffin, one of the leading antebellum proponents of Southern secession, chose to commit suicide rather than submit to the subjugation of Yankee rule. Defiant to the bitter end, this fiery Southern patriot penned these famous last words in his diary just minutes before taking leave of the Yankee tyranny that had descended upon Dixie...

"I here declare my unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule -- to all political, social and business connection with the Yankees and to the Yankee race. Would that I could impress these sentiments, in their full force, on every living Southerner and bequeath them to every one yet to be born! May such sentiments be held universally in the outraged and down-trodden South, though in silence and stillness, until the now far-distant day shall arrive for just retribution for Yankee usurpation, oppression and atrocious outrages, and for deliverance and vengeance for the now ruined, subjugated and enslaved Southern States!

...And now with my latest writing and utterance, and with what will be near my latest breath, I here repeat and would willingly proclaim my unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule--to all political, social and business connections with Yankees, and the perfidious, malignant and vile Yankee race."

--Edmund Ruffin