Pamphleteer Henry Ruffner (January 16, 1790-December 17, 1861) was born in Luray, Virginia. He attended Lewisburg Academy (1809–12) and Washington College (1812–13), now Washington and Lee University. After licensure in 1815 with the Lexington Presbytery, Ruffner organized the Presbyterian denomination in Kanawha Valley, from which came the Kanawha Salines Presbyterian Church in Malden (1819). He taught ancient languages (1819–48) at Washington College and served as its sixth president (1836– 48). Ruffner resigned in 1848 and participated in the emancipation movement in Louisville until 1850.
Ruffner is best known for his controversial anti-slavery treatise, Address to the People of West Virginia (1847), more popularly known as the ‘‘Ruffner Pamphlet.’’ The Address argued for gradual emancipation not on moral grounds, but economic and social; slavery, Ruffner wrote, discouraged the growth of industry, agriculture, free labor, and education. He argued further that Eastern Virginia was able to unfairly deny funds for improvements in Western Virginia because enumerating slaves under Virginia’s form of the three-fifths rule gave Easterners unjust political advantage. If necessary, he asserted, Western Virginia should consider separation from Virginia in order to rid itself of the practice.
As a participant in the 1841 Clarksburg Education Convention, Ruffner advocated a free, district-based public education system for Western Virginia and proposed funding this system with property taxes.
Henry Ruffner died in Malden, Kanawha County.
Written by Garrett C. Jeter
Ruffner, Henry. Address to the People of West Virginia. Bridgewater, VA: The Green Bookman, 1933.
Britt, Samuel Jr. "Henry Ruffner, 19th Century Educator." Ed.D. diss., University of Arizona, 1962.
Ruffner, Henry. Judith Bensaddi. Seclusaval. J. Michael Pemberton, ed. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984.