New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park

Leonard Grimes

Photo of Leonard Grimes
Leonard Grimes
Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive and Rising, 1887 (public domain)

Quick Facts

Significance:
Social Activist and Minister
Place of Birth:
Loudoun County, VA
Date of Birth
1815
Place of Death:
Boston, MA
Date of Death
1874

Leonard Andrew Grimes was a free black, hack driver, abolitionist, Underground Railroad conductor and Baptist minister who grew up in Loudoun County, Virginia before the Civil War. While still in his twenties, Grimes witnessed the brutality of slavery first-hand on a journey through the South. The experience radicalized him and on his return, he committed himself to the task of assisting runaways to escape.

He became a hackman in the District of Columbia and discovered that his profession provided the perfect cover for such illegal activity. He contributed to an unknown number of escapes before he was finally arrested and convicted of the crime in 1839. His punishment was two years hard labor in the Richmond Penitentiary and a fine of $100. After his release, Grimes and his family left Washington and settled first in New Bedford, Massachusetts and then Boston, where Grimes became minister of the Twelfth Baptist Church. With scores of self-emancipated slaves among its members, the Twelfth Baptist became known as "The Fugitive Slave Church."

During the Civil War, Grimes joined the chorus of black leaders agitating for the enlistment of black soldiers and was rewarded in 1863 with the creation of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, one of the war's first African American regiments.