But before Mrs. Stowe and Mrs. Mott had taken up the work for the bondman, two other remarkable women had become interested in his cause. Their history has some features that the most accomplished novel-writer could not improve upon. They were sisters, known as the Grimke sisters, Sarah and Angelina, the latter becoming the wife of Theodore W. Weld, a noted Abolition lecturer. They were daughters of a Judge of the Supreme Court of South Carolina, their early home being in Charleston.
The family was of the highest pretension, being related to the Rhetts, the Barnwells, the Pickenses, and other famous representatives of the Palmetto aristocracy. It was wealthy, and of course had many slaves. The girls had their colored attendants, whose only service was to wait upon them and do their bidding. That circumstance finally led to trouble.
At that time there was a statute in South Carolina against teaching slaves to read and write. The penalties were fine and imprisonment. The Grimke girls, however, had little respect for or fear of that law. The story of their offending is told by Sarah.
Her attendant, when she was little more than a child, was a colored girl of about the same age. She says,
“I took an almost malicious satisfaction in teaching my little waiting maid at night, when she was supposed to be occupied in combing and brushing my long hair. The light was put out, the key-hole screened, and flat on our stomachs before the fire, with the spelling-book under our eyes, we defied the law of South Carolina.”
South Carolina was long noted for its rebels, but it never had a more interesting one than the author of the above narrative; nor a braver one.
As the sisters grew up, they more and more showed their dislike of slavery and their disposition to aid such colored people as were within their circle. Such conduct could not escape observation, and the result was their banishment from their Southern home. They were given the alternative of “behaving themselves” or going North to live. They were not long in deciding, and they became residents of Philadelphia. Here they joined the Quakers, because of their coincidence of views on the slavery question. They had before been Presbyterians, having been raised as such. They became industrious and noted Anti-Slavery lecturers. To one of them is to be credited a notable oratorical achievement.
Being no longer able to ignore the growing Anti-Slavery sentiment of its constituency, the Massachusetts Legislature in 1838 appointed a committee to consider the part that that State had in the subject of slavery, and especially in connection with slavery in the District of Columbia. The committee asked an expression of their views from those entertaining different sentiments on the subject. The Anti-Slavery people invited Angelina Grimke to represent them. The sessions of the committee were to be held in the great hall of the Legislature in the State House, where, up to that time, no woman had ever spoken. The chairman of the committee, however, consented that Miss Grimke should be heard, and the fact that she was a woman probably helped to bring out an immense audience.