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Testimony of Sarah M. Grimké on Slavery
Digital History ID 283

Author:   Sarah Grimke


Daughter of a justice on the South Carolina Supreme Court, Sarah M. Grimké (1792-1873), along with her sister Angelina (1805-1879), left South Carolina, joined the Quakers, and spoke out vehemently against slavery. In this selection, Grimké describes how her abhorrence of slavery led her to leave her native state.

Later, she became an early proponent of women's rights. Her volume Letters on the Condition of Women and the Equality of the Sexes, one of the first modern statements of feminist principles, denounced the injustice of lower pay and denial of equal educational opportunities for women. It also expressed outrage that women were "regarded by men, as pretty toys or mere instruments of pleasure" and were taught to believe that marriage is "the sine qua non of human happiness and human existence."


As I left my native state on account of slavery, and deserted the home of my fathers to escape the sound of the lash and the shrieks of tortured victims, I would gladly bury in oblivion the recollection of those scenes with which I have been familiar; but this may not, cannot be.... I feel impelled by a sacred sense of duty, by my obligations to my country, by sympathy for the bleeding victims of tyranny and lust, to give my testimony respecting the system of American slavery....

A handsome mulatto woman, about 18 or 20 years of age, whose independent spirit could not brook the degradation of slavery, was in the habit of running away: for this offence, she had been repeatedly sent by her master and mistress to be whipped by the keeper of the Charleston work-house. This had been done with such inhuman severity, as to lacerate her back in the most shocking manner; a finger could not be laid between the cuts. But the love of liberty was too strong to be annihilated by torture; and as a last resort, she was whipped at several different times, and kept a close prisoner. A heavy iron collar, with three prongs projecting from it, was placed round her neck, and a strong and sound front tooth was extracted, to serve as a mark to describe her, in case of escape.... These outrages were committed in a family where the mistress daily read the scriptures, and assembled her children for family worship....

As I was traveling in the lower country in South attention was suddenly arrested by an exclamation of horror from the coachman, who called out, "Look there, Miss Sarah, don't you see?"--I looked in the direction he pointed, and saw a human head stuck up on a high pole. On inquiry, I found that a runaway slave, who was outlawed, had been shot there, his head severed from his body, and put upon the public highway, as a terror to deter slaves from running away.

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Narrative and Testimony of Sarah M. Grimké, in Theodore Dwight Weld, ed., American Slavery as It Is, 22-24

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