Black and white portrait of Rev. Leonard A. Grimes

“Leonard A. Grimes,” Men of Mark: Eminent, Progressive and Rising (Cleveland OH: G. M. Rewell & Co., 1887), 664.

Leonard Andrew Grimes (1815-1873), born to free parents, was a reverend, political organizer, and covert operative for the Underground Railroad. Grimes married Octavia Grimes, and records show they raised four children together: Emma, John, Leonard, and Julia. The Grimes family lived in Leesburg, Virginia and Washington, D.C. before moving to New Bedford, MA in 1846.1 While in Washington, D.C. secretly working as a conductor of the Underground Railroad, Grimes was captured and given a two-year sentence for aiding a fugitive family to escape.2 In 1848, Grimes joined the Baptist faith through a ministry in Massachusetts.3


Grimes’s most noted accomplishments are attributed to his twenty-five year service to Twelfth Street Baptist Church as pastor of a congregation of mostly fugitive slaves. Twelfth Street Baptist Church was a hub for abolitionist activities and community-building projects. Grimes and his congregation are credited with organizing the emancipation of Anthony Burns, a fugitive slave who had been returned to slavery under the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act. Grimes was also frequently called upon to speak at ceremonies and memorials honoring self-emancipated and revolutionary abolitionists such as John Brown of Harper’s Ferry.4

Grimes was a well-respected clergyman in free Black communities in the northeast. In 1853 Grimes represented Massachusetts delegate at the 1853 National Colored Convention in Rochester. He again represented the state at the 1855 Philadelphia National Convention. In 1854, Grimes act as a board member of the first Bostonian state council purposed with holding auxiliary planning and organizational meetings for larger national Colored Conventions. In this role, Grimes advocated fundraising activities in order to build schools for Black children. He also supported the drafting of a council constitution and various opportunities for Black people in California to Australia to engage “the enterprising spirit of…colored Americans.”5 Grimes organized and presided over the 1863 New England Anti Slavery Convention.6 In addition to this political work, Grimes participated in the Contraband Relief Association and helped to provide money, food, and clothing for the organization along with other prominent churches such as Israel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Washington, D.C. and the Siloam Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn.7


Submitted by Sarah Patterson English 634, Spring 2013, Taught by Professor P. Gabrielle Foreman, University of Delaware.


  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. 184
  3. Ibid.
  4. William C. Nell: Selected Writings, p. 40.
  5. William C. Nell: Selected Writings, p. 366.
  6. William C. Nell: Selected Writings, p. 42.
  7. Black Abolitionist Papers, v. 5, p. 251.