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06.01.10 Ruffin, Edmund, The Diary of Edmund Ruffin, Part 1, Edited by William K. Scarborough, published in 1972.

Notes on the Author and Editor

Author – Edmund Ruffin, a native of Prince George County Virginia, mostly taught at home and attended the College of William & Mary, in Williamsburg, Virginia for one year. He became an exemplar agriculturist and his findings can be credited with the agricultural reform that brought revitalization to areas where years of overproduction and soil depletion had desolated the land.  A voracious writer he has written numerous works of which I include but do not limit to;

  • An Essay on Calcareous Manures (1832)
  • Report of the Commencement and Progress of the Agricultural Survey of South Carolina for 1843 (1843)
  • The Influence of Slavery; or, Its Absence, on Manners, Morals, and Intellect (1852)
  • Premium Essay on Agricultural Education (1853)
  • Essays and Notes on Agriculture (1855)
  • Consequences of Abolition Agitation (1857)
  • Communications on Drainage and Other Connected Agricultural Subjects (1857)
  • The Political Economy of Slavery (1857)
  • African Colonization Unveiled (1859)
  • Slavery and Free Labor Described and Compared (1859)
  • Notes on the Pine Trees of Lower Virginia and North Carolina (1859)
  • Anticipations of the Future (1860)
  • Agricultural, Geological, and Descriptive Sketches of Lower North Carolina … (1861)
  • The Diary of Edmund Ruffin (3 volumes, 1972–1989)
  • Incidents of My Life: Edmund Ruffin’s Autobiographical Essays (1990)

Editor – Dr. William K. Scarborough, Professor Emeritus at the University of Southern Mississippi, is a native of Maryland and completed his undergraduate and graduate work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He taught history at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, (1961-1963), Northeast Louisiana University in Monroe, Louisana, (1963-1964), and the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, (1964-1998). Some of Dr. Scarborough works are The Overseer: Plantation Management in the Old South, Masters of the Big House: Elite Slaveholders of the Mid-Nineteenth Century South, Science and Medicine in the Old South, and The Allston’s of Chicora Wood: Wealth, Honor, and Gentility in the South Carolina Low Country.

My Review

Mr. Ruffins’s diary has been edited by Mr. Scarborough into a two-volume publication.  This review is for the first part in which Mr. Ruffin covers from October 1856 to April 1861. From  first glance one is impressed and even overwhelmed by the quantity of writing Mr. Ruffin put forth in his diary.  The first volume itself covering five years is six hundred and ten pages long not counting appendices in which this was derived from more than 1,300 pages of manuscripts. He seems to almost cover each day during this five-year period. The timing of the diary is of utmost interest and in particular with the combination of the frequent entrees as he provides insight to the last years build up to the War Between the States. Mr. Ruffin gives a wide perspective to this period in that he does concentrate on relations between the South and North though also provides inserts on agricultural topics, politics of the day, reports on visits to various locations and with various people in the South.  In this aspect, you feel he was certainly one of the most well-travelled persons from the South at this time. He also shares personal thoughts and feelings in relations with his family and his thoughts on religion. He was a voracious reader and shares the various works he read and was reading at that moment throughout the diary. In addition to his voracious reading as noted by the diary itself he was consistently energetic with his writings to various journals and newspapers of the time in which we learn was his outlet for sharing sentiments quickly and publicly on topics of the moment as he never saw himself as a politician making the same cases orally to the masses.  His focus in this diary was to keep up his habit of writing, as he declares it was his only employment and to keep his mind occupied.  Perhaps not intended but nevertheless fulfilled he set for posterity an insight into the daily life of one unique Southern gentleman in a unique time period.

After contemplating whether or not to take on such a book I can say that I did enjoy reading this as it uncovered many behind the scenes or “on the ground,” details of events at a crucial time period that have been covered in broader strokes by many other authors from this period.

Availability of this Book

Available new and used in hard cover format on Amazon, the LSU press and Barnes & Noble.  See at Amazon by clicking below: LSU Press at Barnes& Noble at

Reviewed by Jonathan Varnell