The Grimkés became Americans in the early 1730s when brothers Frederick and John Paul Grimké emigrated to Charleston in the colony of South Carolina. Frederic was born in the German principalities in 1705; Jean Paul Grimké was born in France in 1713.
John Paul married Mary Faucheraud (1722-1791) and in 1852 their son John Faucheraud Grimké was born. Like many Charleston elite John went north to school at the College of New Jersey in Princeton. He then sailed for England to attend Trinity College at Oxford in England and when he returned to South Carolina became active in the new American independence movement.
Between 1785 and 1805 Mary gave birth to 14 children; 11 survived to adulthood. They spent their winters in Charleston in this evolving, enormous house at 321 East Bay Street, purchased in 1803.
- Nancy, elderly and "useless"
- Will, ditto
- Rhina, “plain cook, washer, ironer,”
- George “coachman & shoemaker,”
- Sam, "coachman,”
- John, house servant,”
- Prince, "house servant in training"
- Bess, ladies' maid with 4 young children
- Maria, ladies maid and seamstress
- Margaret, ladies maid and seamstress
- Peggy, "plain washer and ironer,”
- Dick, “plain cook.”
Mary Smith Grimke was not one of those "beloved mistresses" of nostalgic memory. Her daughters recalled her violent dealings with the slaves whom she had beaten often. She struck them herself when in a temper. Her second eldest daughter Sarah Moore Grimke, rather traumatized by this home life, despaired of spiritual sustenance. When her father John Faucheraud Grimke became mysteriously ill in 1819 Sarah in her late 20s accompanied him to Philadelphia for medical advice.
There Sarah encountered Quakerism, finding antislavery sympathy and religious direction that changed her life. Her father was told to seek sea air and they moved to a boarding house by the Atlantic in Long Branch, New Jersey where John died in August. Sarah returned to her unhappy home life in Charleston, her main joy sister Angelina 13 years her junior. Angelina looked up to Sarah and followed her into the Quaker faith and abolitionism.
Henry's family kept the information about his second family secret from his abolitionist sisters. (Was anyone communicating with the notorious Sarah and Angelina?) But in 1868 Angelina read about an outstanding student named Grimke at Philadelphia's Lincoln University, a school for Black men. Discovering their nephews, the women helped with their college expenses. Archibald graduated from Harvard Law School, Francis from Princeton, both becoming Grimkes distinguished in diplomacy, the N.A.A.C.P. and the Presbyterian church.
"Greenidge’s The Grimkes is not a story about heroes. Instead, it is intended as an exploration of trauma and tragedy. Like the studies of the Grimkes that have preceded it, the book reflects the challenges of our own time, but Greenidge, who is an assistant professor at Tufts, regards these not with optimism about possibilities for racial progress but with something closer to despair."