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Testimony of Angelina Grimké on Slavery
Digital History ID 285



In 1838, Angelina Grimké (1805-1879) became the first white woman abolitionist to violate the taboo against speaking to mixed audiences of men and women, provoking condemnation from many northern ministers who believed that she had violated the religious principle of separate spheres for men and women. Here, she recounts her memories of slavery.


I will first introduce the reader to a woman of the highest respectability--one who was foremost in every benevolent enterprise.... This lady used to keep cowhides, or small paddles (called 'pancake sticks') in four different apartments in her house; so that when she wished to punish, or to have punished, any of her slaves, she might not have the trouble of sending for an instrument of torture. For many years...her slaves, were flogged every day.... But the floggings were not all; the scoldings and abuse daily heaped upon them all, were worse: 'fools' and 'liars,' 'sluts' and 'husseys,' 'hypocrites' and 'good-for-nothing creatures' were the common epithets which her mouth was filled, when addressing her slaves, adults as well as children....

Only two meals a day are allowed the house slaves--the first at twelve o'clock.... As the general rule, no lights of any kind, no firewood--no towels, basins, or soap, no tables, chairs, or other furniture, are provided.... Chambermaids and seamstresses often sleep in their mistresses' apartments, but with no bedding at all....

Persons who own plantations and yet live in cities, often take children from their parents as soon as they are weaned, and send them into the country; because they do not want the time of the mother taken up by attendance upon her own children, it being too valuable to the mistress.... Parents are almost never consulted as to the disposition to be made of their children; they have as little control over them, as have domestic animals over the disposal of their young. Every natural and social feeling and affection are violated with indifference; slaves are treated as though they did not possess them.

Another way in which the feelings of slaves are trifled with and often deeply wounded, is by changing their names; if, at the time they are brought into a family, there is another slave of the same name; or if the owner happens, for some other reason, not to like the name of the new comer.... Indeed it would be utterly impossible to recount the multitude of ways in which the heart of the slave is continually lacerated by the total disregard of his feelings as a social being and a human creature.

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Testimony of Angelina Grimké in Theodore Dwight Weld, ed., American Slavery as It Is, 52-57

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