John Faucheraud Grimké was born in South Carolina on December 16, 1752, the son of John Paul Grimké and Mary Faucheraud. While studying law in London, he was among a group of Americans who petitioned King George III concerning measures that he believed infringed on colonial rights. Upon returning home, Grimké served in the Revolutionary War as a lieutenant colonel, fighting at Eutaw Springs and Yorktown. Postwar, he practiced law and served as a judge on the Supreme Court of South Carolina. He published several works on law, including The Public Laws of the State of South Carolina (1790) and Duties of Executors and Administrators of Estates (1797).
In 1784, he married Mary Smith, the daughter of a wealthy and well-connected family in Charleston. Her ancestors included two colonial governors and a speaker of the Commons House Assembly. The couple, who by this time were wealthy slave-owners in Charleston, had fourteen children, three of whom died in infancy and early childhood. The Grimkés were an active and well-read family, and at least three of the sons, Thomas Smith Grimké (1786-1834), Frederick Grimké (1791-1863), and Henry Grimké (1801-1852), followed in the footsteps of their father and studied law. Frederick, who moved to Chillicothe, Ohio, was a judge of the Ohio Supreme Court and wrote on many topics pertaining to political science and philosophy. In 1848, he published his best-known work, Nature and Tendency of Free Institutions . Thomas Grimké was also a scholar, a philanthropist, and a member of the American Peace Society and the American Colonization Society. He had a particularly strong influence on his younger sisters, Sarah (1792-1873) and Angelina (1805-1879). During childhood, he supplemented Sarah's limited education by sharing his school lessons with her; she often expressed her desire to emulate her father and study law like her brothers.
As young women, Angelina and Sarah developed a very close relationship with their slaves and, in defiance of their parents' wishes, taught several of them to read and write. Both women taught Sunday school, and Angelina held daily prayer meetings for the slaves in the household. Though the Grimkés were raised as Episcopalians, Sarah and Angelina eventually explored other faiths. Sarah became interested in the Society of Friends, especially after becoming acquainted with Quaker Israel Morris. She moved to Philadelphia in 1821 and soon fully adopted a Quaker lifestyle. In 1826, Angelina briefly converted to Presbyterianism. Three years later, she joined Sarah in Philadelphia and joined the Quaker faith.
Although they had always disapproved of slavery, it wasn’t until 1835 that Angelina and Sarah were drawn into the anti-slavery movement. After reading about a pro-slavery riot in Boston, Angelina wrote to William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879), who published her letter in The Liberator . This event marked the beginning of the Grimké sisters' careers as abolitionists. They directed their reading more and more toward anti-slavery literature and began corresponding with several notable abolitionists. In 1836, Angelina published her Appeal to the Christian Women of the South, and in 1837, the sisters embarked on a speaking tour of Massachusetts. During this period, they also became interested in women’s rights. In 1838, Sarah published Letters on the Equality of the Sexes and the Condition of Woman .
In 1838, Angelina married Theodore Dwight Weld (1803-1895), who was the son of Ludovicus Weld (b. 1766), a Congregational minister, and Elizabeth Clarke Weld (b. 1772). Born in Connecticut, Weld was raised in Pompey, New York. He initially studied at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. After suffering from a temporary loss of eyesight, he left Andover and became an itinerant lecturer on mnemonics. He eventually enrolled in Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, where he intended to study for the ministry. During this period, Weld met two men who had a tremendous influence on him. The first was Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875), the renowned revivalist preacher whom Weld assisted during the “Great Revival.” The second was Charles Stuart (1781-1865), a retired British East India army officer and abolitionist whom Weld met in 1825. Stuart became one of Weld’s closest friends, and exerted considerable influence on his decision to become an abolitionist. Stuart’s financial support allowed Weld to enter the Oneida Institute in 1827 to continue the study of theology.
In the early 1830s, Weld befriended brothers and fellow-abolitionists Arthur (1786-1865) and Lewis Tappan (1788-1873), who also shaped his views on emancipation. During this period, he joined the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS), which the Tappans and William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) had established in 1833. Weld initially refrained from engaging in any public anti-slavery activities, and instead became a traveling agent for the Society for Promoting Manual Labor in Literary Institutions, another organization the Tappan brothers initiated. In 1833, he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, to attend Lane Seminary. At Lane, Weld began to demonstrate his anti-slavery sentiments actively, leading the so-called Lane Seminary “debates” on slavery in 1834. Many Lane faculty members opposed these debates, in which most students expressed overwhelming opposition to slavery. This divide led approximately 40 students, led by Weld, to request dismissal from the school. This group soon became known as the "Lane Rebels," and many of them accepted an invitation to join the newly established and racially integrated Oberlin College.
In the late 1830s, Weld worked as an active agent for the AASS. As a highly skilled public speaker, he canvassed and spoke throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania, and upstate New York. He often faced angry and violent mobs, and became known for his ability to subdue them successfully. By 1836, he began to lose his voice, which put his public speaking career on hiatus, though he continued to write for the anti-slavery cause. In 1838, he published The Bible against Slavery, and in 1839, American Slavery as it is: The Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses .
When Angelina first met Weld in 1836, she described him as the “lion of the tribe of abolition.” After a brief courtship, they married on May 14, 1838, and moved with Sarah to Fort Lee, New Jersey. Weld continued to work for the American Anti-Slavery Society. The couple had three children: Charles Stuart Weld (1839-1901), Theodore Grimké Weld (b. 1841), and Sarah Grimké Weld (b. 1844). In 1840, the family purchased a farm in Belleville, New Jersey, where they opened a school. However, the school struggled financially, and they eventually joined the Raritan Bay Union and opened and operated another school in Eagleswood, New Jersey. In 1864, they relocated to Hyde Park, Massachusetts. Sarah died on December 23, 1873, and Angelina died almost six years later on October 26, 1879. Weld lived the remainder of his life with his son Charles Stuart in Hyde Park, where he died in 1895.
From the guide to the Weld-Grimké family papers, 1740-1930, 1825-1893, (William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan)
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