William Grimes (ex-slave)

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William Grimes (1784 – August 20, 1865)[1][2] was the author of what is considered the first narrative of an American ex-slave, Life of William Grimes, the Runaway Slave, published in 1825,[3] with a second edition published in 1855.[4] Another revised edition was published in 2008.[5]

Grimes was born into slavery in King George County, Virginia, in 1784. His father was Benjamin Grymes, a wealthy plantation owner; Grimes' mother was a slave on a neighboring plantation. During his years of slavery, Grimes was owned by at least ten different masters, in the States of Virginia, Maryland, and Georgia. He worked as a house servant, valet, field worker, stable boy, and coachman. In 1814, at the age of 30, Grimes escaped from slavery by stowing away on a ship that sailed from Savannah, Georgia to New York City.

Grimes settled in New Haven, Connecticut, where he was a successful barber.[6][7] His clients included students from nearby Yale College and Litchfield.[7] Grimes' former master tracked him down and demanded that Grimes purchase his freedom with "my house and land, all I had," or else face arrest and re-enslavement.[6] Grimes had no choice but to pay, and wrote his memoir in hopes of recovering his finances.[6]

Grimes died on August 20, 1865, about 81 years old, in New Haven, Connecticut. On his death, his obituary was published as far away as Brooklyn, New York.[2]

A great-great-great-granddaughter of Grimes, Regina Mason, was an editor of the 2008 edition of Grimes' book. Mason talked about her ancestor's life in an interview with Terry Gross on the Fresh Air radio program on January 18, 2016.[7][8]

A different William Grimes

William Grimes the ex-slave should not be confused with the Rev. William Grimes born about 1828 who was an itinerant Black preacher and A.M.E. minister in Lewistown, Pennsylvania and an active participant in the Underground Railroad.[9]

See also


  1. ^ Williamson, Jenn. "Summary of Life of William Grimes, the Runaway Slave. Written by Himself". North American Slave Narratives. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved 2016-01-18.
  2. ^ a b "Old Grimes is Dead!". The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (2nd ed.). 21 August 1865. p. 3. Retrieved 19 January 2016. New Haven, Aug. 21: William Grimes, better known as "Old Grimes", a quaint darkey, once a slave, known to all our citizens and to thousands of Yale College graduates, died in this city yesterday, at an advanced age, probably ninety years. In column 5.
  3. ^ Grimes, William (1825). "Life of William Grimes, the Runaway Slave. Written by Himself". North American Slave Narratives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. New York: William Grimes. Retrieved 2016-01-18.
  4. ^ Smith, Venture; Mars, James; Grimes, William; Offley, G. W.; Smith, James L. (1855). Five Black lives: the autobiographies of Venture Smith, James Mars, William Grimes, the Rev. G. W. Offley, [and] James L. Smith. Retrieved 2017-03-15.
  5. ^ Andrews, William L.; Mason, Regina E., eds. (2008-06-27). Life of William Grimes, the Runaway Slave (revised ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199711147. Retrieved 19 January 2016.
  6. ^ a b c "Summary of Life of William Grimes". Documenting the American South. University of North Carolina. Retrieved 19 January 2016.
  7. ^ a b c Mason, Regina E. (2016-01-18). "When Ancestry Search Led To Escaped Slave: 'All I Could Do Was Weep'". NPR (Interview: audio). Interviewed by Terry Gross. Retrieved 2016-01-19. Fresh Air radio program.
  8. ^ Mason, Regina E. (2016-01-18). "When Ancestry Search Led To Escaped Slave: 'All I Could Do Was Weep'". NPR (Interview: transcript). Interviewed by Terry Gross. Retrieved 2016-03-04. Fresh Air radio program.
  9. ^ Switala, William J. (2008-08-21). Underground Railroad in Pennysylvania (2nd ed.). Stackpole Books. ISBN 9780811735186. Rev. William Grimes, an itinerant black preacher and Underground Railroad agent.

External links

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