John Berkley Grimball papers, 1727-1930

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Grimball, John Berkley, 1800-1892
Planter, of Charleston, S.C. Correspondence and other papers of Grimball, of his family, and of the VanderHorst family. The bulk of the material is for 1840-1900 and pertains to the life of a planter during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Correspondence concerns life in the Confederate services, wartime depredations in South Carolina, the Confederate migration to Mexico and life and politics in that country after 1865, and life and economic conditions in the South during Reconstruction.
3 Linear Feet
1610 Items
Material in English
Collection ID:


Scope and content:

Letters and papers of John Berkley Grimball (1800-1893) of Charleston and Spartanburg, S.C., and of other members of his family; and also letters and papers of Mrs. Elias Vander Horst and others of the VanderHorst family of Charleston. The bound volumes in this collection consist of a volume of Grimball genealogy and two receipt books of the VanderHorsts. There are two charcoal etchings by W. Courtenay Corcoran, one of with is a picture of Fort Sumter in 1860 the other a picture of the East Battery, Charleston; and a daguerreotype of J. Berkley Grimball.

The Grimball papers give what is perhaps a rather representative view of the problems of the planter class of the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction. J.B. Grimball was in Charleston during most of the war, and he and his wife, who was living in Spartanburg, corresponded frequently. There were six Grimball sons: William H., Arthur, Berkley, Lewis M., John, and Harry. All of them except Harry saw service in the Civil War, four of them being in the army and one in the Confederate navy. At the first of the conflict William H. and Arthur were stationed at Fort Sumter. Later William, a first lieutenant in the 1st South Carolina Artillery, was at Fort Repley, Laurens St. battery, and Fort Johnson. After leaving Fort Sumter, Arthur was for a time at Simmons' Bluff. Berkley was on Johnson Island and at Camp Echo. Lewis M. was a surgeon in the army, and served in S.C., Georgia, and N.C. John went to the U.S. Naval Academy before the war, and served on the U.S.S. Macedonia. He wrote letters home about a trip to Tripoli and to Naples. By Jan. 5, 1861, however, he had become a lieutenant in the S.C. navy. In July 1862, he was aboard the C.S.S. Arkansas on the Yazoo River and the next year was writing from Paris and Rouen, having been also in London. In Aug. 1864, he was still in Paris, but by the next month he had gone to Liverpool. On. 24 he left there on the steamer Laurel, and on the 29th of that month boarded the Shenandoah at sea. His service as an officer on that vessel continued until Nov. 1865 when it was taken by the British into the port of Liverpool. The captain of the Shenandoah was James Iredell Waddell of N.C. The letters from these boys to their parents while in service are rather numerous. William died before the war ended.

Among the war letters of John Grimball is a twenty-page one which he started on Dec. 23, 1864. It contains information about their sailing to the desert island of Madeira and then to the two Desertas islands; a report of their transfer there from the Laurel to the Shenandoah, the of the capture of the Dolphin and the destruction of the Aline, Burk Edward, Charter Oak, Kate Prince, Lizzie Stacy, and Susan by the Shenandoah and of their sailing to the Indian Ocean. At the end of his letter he says that they have the just anchored off Melbourne. When he returned to Liverpool in the fall of 1865 he wrote of the cruises of the Shenandoah in the Pacific and Artic oceans, of the captures made, of their surrender to the British, and of their being told that the war was over and that Jefferson Davis had been captured in a pair of hoops.

Two letters of interest from H.H. Manigault to J.B. Grimball were written at his plantation near Adams Run, St. Paul's parish, S.C., in July 1863 and on Feb. 10, 1865. The former letter tells of slave revolts on Manigault and neighboring plantations and of the desertion of the slaves, and the latter makes a reference to the exodus of the people from that area.

On Nov. 13 and 15, 1865, J.B. Grimball wrote his wife telling her about the valuables which were stolen from two families by the Yankees, that a house was burned because its owner would not take the oath of allegiance, of his having seen U.S. Colored Troops for the first time, and of reports that it was "very doubtful if any of the lands -- the islands especially will be restored to the owners," that the African Americans on Fenwick's Island were armed and had announced that no white men would be allowed on the isalnd, and that the affairs on Edisto Island were in about the same shape that they were on Fenwick's Island.

There is correspondence in connection with some of the Grimballs' securing pardons from President Johnson and copies of loyalty oaths. The first postwar letters of Lewis Grimball reveal the struggle he was having as a country physician. Those of Berkley and Arthur also mention some of their problems in trying to get established. For some months after the Shenandoah reached Liverpool, John was either in England or with his Uncle Charles at Caen, France. He and other officers of that ship feared that if they returned to the U.S. they would be tried and convicted as traitors. He and two of his fellow officers finally sailed for Mexico, while five others headed for La Plata. On May 20, 1866, he wrote from Cordova of the problem of securing labor for the settlements, and of the raids of "Liberals" on two of them. In a series of letters to his parents, he says that he and other former Confederates in Mexico cannot obtain land there, because all the government grants have been taken. He discusses land prices, crops, crime, Mexican politics (including Emperor Maximilian), and a series of liberal raids. In 1870 he was in New York practicing law. All of the remainder of his letters in the collection were written from there.

Other letters demonstrating the hard times that the Grimballs faced in the post-war period come from J.B. Grimball himself. In Nov. 1865, he wrote to J.M. Porter in New York, telling him that the war had made a complete wreck of his fortunes, and that he would have to surrender his plantation to Porter and his sister, the ones from whom he had bought it. There is a contract dated Mar. 13, 1866, between Robert Deas, a freedman, and J.B. Grimball, proprietor of the Grove and Pinebury plantations in St. Paul's parish; and letters from A.R. Deas and Lewis and Arthur Grimball about affairs on J.B. Grimball's plantations.

J.B. Grimball had at least two daughters: Elizabeth and Gabriella. Elizabeth married William Munro, an attorney of Union. Another woman, Charlotte, frequently appears in the letters; it is unclear whether she is Charlotte Grimball or Charlotte Manigault (or if there are two Charlottes). There are letters to and from the Grimball daughters.

Other papers of this collection include a copy of General Orders, no. 18, Headquarters Army of Tenn. near Greensboro, N.C., Apr. 27, 1865; letter from the President of Princeton College in 1888 supporting the Anti-Liquor League; a bound volume which is a letter and memorandum book containing, among other things, letters from Ridgeville, copies of J.B. and Arthur Grimball's wills; a daybook; an account book of J.B. Grimball showing his dealings with the Bank of S.C. between 1861 and 1865; a record book of wages paid servants by Berkley Grimball between 1895 and 1899; letter written in 1896 by Elizbeth Grimball at a school in Plymouth, Mass.; letter reporting Berkley Grimball's death in 1899; memorandum book comprised of lists of shares, bonds, and dividends; tablet containing several letters from E.B. Munro; newspaper clippings, including one with a picture of Elizabeth Grimball; handbills; and invitations.

There are in this collection quite a number of VanderHorst papers. These are comprised largely of letters from S. Rutherford of Morrisania, an estate that was located in N.Y., to her sister, Mrs. Elias VanderHorst of Charleston. In one of these letters she mentions her plan to engage in establishing an infant school in Harlem, and in another she tells of having seen Pierce Butler, who reported on Gabriella and her small daughter. She also mentions John Butler.

Biographical / historical:

John Berkley Grimball, son of John Grimball, was born June 23, 1800 and died Mar. 7, 1893. On Mar. 10, 1830 he married Margaret Ann Morris (called Meta), daughter of Col. Lewis Morris and Elizabeth (Manigault) Morris of Morrisania, N.Y. and Wilton, St. Paul's Parish, S.C. She died in 1881. Both are buried at Magnolia. Grimball and his wife had at least eight children.

Acquisition information:
The John Berkley Grimball Papers were acquired by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library in 1950-1958.
Processing information:

Processed by Rubenstein Library Staff, 1959

Encoded by Meghan Lyon, Aug. 2011

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Describing Archives: A Content Standard


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[Identification of item], John Berkley Grimball Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.