Octavia Grimes

Octavia Grimes was a community and church organizer and the wife of prominent clergyman, Leonard A. Grimes of New Bedford, Massachusetts. She was mother to at least four children: Emma, John, Leonard, and Julia. The family’s racial identity fluctuates in census records, where household members are sometimes listed as “mulatto,” Black or white. The Grimes family lived in Leesburg, Virginia and Washington, D.C. before moving to New Bedford, MA in 1846.1

Although Octavia Grimes’ geographical, political and personal history has been either lost or unrecorded, she is generally known to have been active in her husband’s church, Twelfth Street Baptist Church in Massachusetts. Notably, she ran a contingent of the Colored Ladies Relief Association at Twelfth Street Baptist.2 Her organization was one branch of the Contraband Relief Association. Similar women’s auxiliaries included the Young Ladies’ Contraband Relief Associations in Baltimore and Washington, and two auxiliaries in Boston. Octavia is among the wives of Black abolitionists, such as Sarah Martin3 (J. Stella Martin), who assisted or independently ran benevolence and literary societies.


Written by Sarah Patterson, Black Literary History, Spring 2013, P. Gabrielle Foreman


[1] Lee, Deborah A. “Leonard A. Grimes.” The Essence of a People II. Friends of the Thomas Balch Library.

[2] Black Abolitionist Papers, v. 5, p. 251-252n.

[3] “Sarah Martin led a fugitive aid society.” Black Abolitionist Papers, v. 5, p. 251-252n.