Leonard A. Grimes (1815-1873) was an African American abolitionist and pastor. He served as a conductor of the Underground Railroad, including his efforts to free fugitive slave Anthony Burns captured in accordance with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. After the Civil War began, Grimes petitioned for African American enlistment. He then recruited soldiers for the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.
Born a mulatto child in Leesburg, Virginia, Grimes was fortunate to grow up a free man. Yet, he witnessed the horrors of slavery in the South, and he devoted his life to assisting fugitive slaves and advocating abolitionism.
After moving to Washington, D.C., Grimes began a career as a hackney driver, providing transportation for people in and around Washington, D.C. Owning his own coach enabled him to serve as a conductor of the Underground Railroad for years without suspicion. He transported fugitive slaves from Virginia to Washington, D.C. and then assisted in moving them North. In 1854 Grimes was caught attempting to rescue a family of slaves from Virginia, and he was sentenced to two years in jail.
After being released from jail, Grimes moved to Massachusetts, became a Baptist Minister. He was pastor of the Twelfth Baptist Church for the 27 years. Grimes actively opposed the Fugitive Slave Act, and his church became known as "The Fugitives Church."
Case of Anthony Burns
Anthony Burns was an escaped slave from Virginia who came to Boston and became a member of Grimes's church. When Burns's former slaveholder discovered where Burns was living, he ordered his arrest. Grimes led a fierce effort to free Burns from jail, but the trial commenced, and the judge, in accordance with the Fugitive Slave Act, ruled that Burns was still property of his slaveholder. Grimes was able to raise enough funds to purchase Burns's freedom, and Burns was freed from his life of servitude. The Burns case was the last time that a fugitive slave was prosecuted under the Fugitive Slave Act in Massachusetts.
Massachusetts 54th Regiment
The 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was one of the first African American regiments to serve in the Civil War. Many members of Grimes's church wanted to fight for the Union, and Grimes lobbied for the establishment of an African American regiment. When their efforts prevailed, Grimes recruited men to serve in the infantry.
- Lee, Deborah. "Leonard Andrew Grimes". Friends of the Thomas Balch Library. Retrieved 17 April 2013.
- "LEONARD A. GRIMES RESIDENCE SITE, AFRICAN AMERICAN HERITAGE TRAIL". Cultural Tourism DC. Retrieved 17 April 2013.
- Leddy, Chuck. "Boston Combusts: The Fugitive Slave Case of Anthony Burns". Historynet. Retrieved 17 April 2013.