Potomac Playground

David Ruggles Playground

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This playground and the adjacent school honor abolitionist, writer, and medical practitioner, David Ruggles (1810-1849). Ruggles devoted his life to ending slavery and obtaining equality for African-Americans. He spent the majority of his life in New York City where he helped hundreds of slaves escape to Canada through the Underground Railroad.

After moving to New York City in 1829, Ruggles worked for four years as a grocer, before turning towards the anti-slavery movement. In 1833, he joined the staff of the journal, Emancipator and Public Morals, where he worked for a year before opening the first African-American owned bookstore in America. While operating the bookstore, Ruggles wrote three anti-slavery pamphlets, Extinguisher, Extinguished, and Abrogation of the Seventh Commandment by the American Churches. Ruggles also edited publications such as The Genius of Freedom, The Colored American, The North Star, and The Mirror of Liberty.

Ruggles wrote one of the first widely known articles by an African-American, entitled, David M. Reese, M.D., Used Up. A sharp-witted and deftly argued response to Dr. Reese’s article advocating the exile of African-Americans from the American continent, Ruggles thoroughly countered the doctor’s arguments, earning respect for the intellect of both himself and African-Americans as a whole.

In 1835, Ruggles helped significantly in the creation of the Underground Railroad. He assisted over 600 slaves in their escape from southern bondage to freedom in the North and Canada. Frederick Douglass is included in the list of those Ruggles helped escape, although Mr. Douglas did not settle in Canada (he escaped from Maryland to New York, whereupon he went to Massachusetts, then to England). In 1846, Ruggles moved to Massachusetts, where he was a successful medical practitioner of the “Water Cure,” a hydropathical medical treatment. He treated notables such as William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) and Sojourner Truth (1797-1883). During his time in Massachusetts, Ruggles advocated for the desegregation of private transportation. In 1841 at a dinner given in his honor, David Ruggles said:

I have had the pleasure of helping six hundred persons in their flight from bonds. In this,
I have tried to do my duty, and mean still to preserve, until the last fetter
shall be broken, and the last sigh heard from the lips of a slave…
Six hundred in three years I have saved; had it been in one year,
I should have been nearer in my duty…

David Ruggles’s campaign, however, was cut short, when he died in December of 1849 of a blinding and crippling disease.

The City of New York bought this property, bounded by Tompkins Avenue, Halsey Street, and Macon Street, in 1953 to provide a play area for J.H.S. 258, the David Ruggles School. Originally known as J.H.S. 258 Playground, the park was designated Macon Playground in 1987 by Parks and renamed David Ruggles Playground in 2001.

In 2000, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani provided $260,000 for Parks to replace the play equipment, swings, and fences, and install a spray shower and north arrow rosette paving stone. The park features handball and basketball courts, a flagpole with a yardarm, play equipment with safety surfacing, benches, and game tables.

Directions to Potomac Playground

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