Life of William Grimes,
the Runaway Slave
New York: [W. Grimes], 1825
North American Slave Narratives Collection, "Documenting the American South"
University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel
William Grimes, born a slave in Virginia, escaped to Connecticut,
where he found work, among other places,
as a barber at the Tapping Reeve Law School in Litchfield, and at
Yale College in New Haven. Forced to purchase his freedom after he
was found by an agent of his former master, Grimes' autobiography
documents the plight of many fugitives from slavery who made their
way to Connecticut, and, through its tale of trials and setbacks,
the harsh social and economic conditions of members of Connecticut's
free black community. Yet The Life of William
Grimes also reveals
the close-knit nature of that community, for ironically it is while
working for William Lanson's New Haven livery stable that he is discovered
by a relative of his former master.
His 1825 narrative ends with this telling indictment of American liberty:
If it were not for the stripes on my back which were made while I was a slave, I would in my will leave
my skin as a legacy to the government, desiring that it might be taken off and made into parchment, and then
bind the constitution of glorious, happy and free America. Let the skin of an American slave bind the charter
of American liberty!