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Thu, 11.09.1815

Leonard Grimes, Pastor, and Abolitionist born

Leonard Grimes

*Leonard Grimes was born on this date in 1815.  was a Black abolitionist and pastor.  

Born a mulatto child in Leesburg, Virginia, Leonard Andrew Grimes grew up a free man. Yet, he witnessed the horrors of slavery in the South and devoted his life to assisting fugitive slaves and advocating abolitionism. After moving to Washington, D.C., Grimes began a career as a hackney driver, providing transportation for people in and around Washington, D.C.

Owning his coach enabled him to serve as an Underground Railroad conductor for years without suspicion. He transported fugitive slaves from Virginia to Washington, D.C., and then assisted in moving them North. In 1839, Grimes was caught attempting to rescue a family of slaves from Virginia, and he was sentenced to two years in jail in Richmond. At this time, his wife taught schools for Black youths in Washington.  

In jail, he found religion. After his release in 1840, Grimes was baptized in the Baptist faith and was licensed to preach by a panel chaired by the president of Columbian College, a Baptist institution in the District of Columbia (now George Washington University). In 1846 he moved to Massachusetts and associated himself with the American Baptist Missionary convention in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and Boston.

In November 1848, he was ordained as the Twelfth Street Baptist Church pastor. He was pastor of the Twelfth Baptist Church for 27 years. Grimes actively opposed the Fugitive Slave Act, and his church became known as "The Fugitives Church." He became an important figure in national church organizations. At the American Baptist Missionary Society Convention in Philadelphia in 1858, Theodore Doughty Miller, William Spellman, and Sampson White pushed the organization to oppose slavery. They voted to have no fellowship with slave-holding ministries.

He was president of their convention and the Consolidated Baptist conventions for several years. Anthony Burns was an escaped slave from Virginia who came to Boston and became a member of Grimes's church in 1854. When his former slaveholder discovered where Burns lived, he ordered his arrest. Grimes led a fierce effort to free Burns from jail, but the trial commenced, and the judge, by the Fugitive Slave Act, ruled that Burns was still the property of his slaveholder.  

Grimes was able to raise enough funds to purchase Burns’ freedom. The Burns case was the last time a fugitive slave was prosecuted under the Fugitive Slave Act in Massachusetts. Grimes was a delegate to the Colored Conventions Movement, including the 1853 convention in Rochester, the 1855 convention in Philadelphia, and the 1859 convention in Boston. Grimes also served as a member of the Massachusetts State Council, where he and other members advocated for opportunities for Blacks and for equal school rights. 

The 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was one of the first Black regiments to serve in the American Civil War, formed in 1863. Many members of Grimes's church wanted to fight for the Union, and Grimes lobbied to establish a Black regiment. When their efforts prevailed, Grimes recruited men to serve in the infantry. Grimes took ill just after a meeting of the Home Mission Society and died of apoplexy on March 14, 1873, at his home in East Somerville, Massachusetts, near Boston. 


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