Catherine H. Birney.

The Grimké Sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimké: the First American Women Advocates of Abolition and Woman's Rights online

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her religious horrors.

For months she fought against this new snare of Satan, as she termed
it, this plain design to draw her thoughts from God, and compass her
destruction. The love of Christ should surely be enough for her, and
any craving for earthly affection was the evidence of an unsanctified
heart. In a delicate reference to this, in after years, she says: -

"It is a beautiful theory, but my experience belies it, that God can be
all in all to man. There are moments, diamond points in life, when God
fills the yearning soul, and supplies all our needs, through the
richness of his mercy in Christ Jesus. But human hearts are created for
human hearts to love and be loved by, and their claims are as true and
as sacred as those of the spirit."

It was very soon after her first doubts concerning her worthiness to
accept the happiness offered to her that she determined to go to
Charleston and put her feelings to the test of absence and unbiased
reflection. The entry in her diary of November 22d is as follows: -

"Landed this morning in Charleston, and was welcomed by my dear mother
with tears of pleasure and tenderness, as she folded me once more to
her bosom. My dear sisters, too, greeted me with all the warmth of
affection. It is a blessing to find them all seriously disposed, and my
precious Angelina one of the Master's chosen vessels. What a mercy!"


The strong contrast between Sarah and Angelina Grimké was shown not
only in their religious feelings, but in their manner of treating the
ordinary concerns of life, and in carrying out their convictions of
duty. In her humility, and in her strong reliance on the "inner light,"
Sarah refused to trust her own judgment, even in the merest trifles,
such as the lending of a book to a friend, postponing the writing of a
letter, or sweeping a room to-day, when it might be better to defer it
until to-morrow. She says of this: "Perhaps to some who have been led
by higher ways than I have been into a knowledge of the truth, it may
appear foolish to think of seeking direction in little things, but my
mind has for a long time been in a state in which I have often felt a
fear how I came in or went out, and I have found it a precious thing to
stop and consult the mind of truth, and be governed thereby."

The following incident, one out of many, will illustrate the sincerity
of her conviction on this point.

"In this frame of mind I went to meeting, and it being a rainy day I
took a large, handsome umbrella, which I had accepted from brother
Henry, accepted doubtfully, therefore wrongfully, and have never felt
quite easy to use it, which, however, I have done a few times. After I
was in meeting, I was much tried with a wandering mind, and every now
and then the umbrella would come before me, so that I sat trying to
wait on my God, and he showed me that I must not only give up this
little thing, but return it to brother. Glad to purchase peace, I
yielded; then the reasoner said I could put it away and not use it, but
this language was spoken: 'I have shown thee what was required of
thee.' It seemed to me that a little light came through a narrow
passage, when my will was subdued. Now this is a marvellous thing to
me, as marvellous as the dealings of the Lord with me in what may
appear great things."

In a note she adds: "This little sacrifice was made. I sent the
umbrella with an affectionate note to brother, and believe it gave him
no offence to have it returned. And sweet has been the recompense - even

Whenever she acted from her own impulses, she was very clever in
finding out some disappointment or mistake, which she could claim as a
punishment for her self-will.

As sympathy was the strongest quality of her moral nature, she suffered
intensely when, impelled by a sense of duty, she offered a rebuke of
any kind. The tenderest pity stirred her heart for wrong-doers, and
though she never spared the sinner, it was always manifest that she
loved him while hating his sin.

Angelina, on the other hand, was wonderfully well satisfied with her
own power of distinguishing right from wrong; this power being, she
believed, the gift of the Spirit to her. She sought her object,
dreading no consequences, and if disaster followed she comforted
herself with the feeling that she had acted according to her best
light. She was a faithful disciple of every cause she espoused, and
scrupulously exact in obeying even its implied provisions. In this
there was no hesitancy. No matter who was offended, or what sacrifices
to herself it involved, the law, the strict letter of the law, must be
carried out.

In the early years of her religious life, she frequently felt called
upon to rebuke those about her. She did it unhesitatingly, and as a
righteous and an inflexible judge.

In order to make these differences between the sisters more plain,
differences which harmonized singularly with their unity in other
respects, I shall be obliged, at the risk of wearying the reader, to
make some further extracts from their diaries, before entering upon
that portion of their lives in which they became so closely identified.

After Sarah's return home, in 1827, we learn more of her mother and of
the family generally, and see, though with them, how far apart she
really was from them. The second entry in her diary at that date shows
the beginning of this.

"23d. Have been favored with strength to absent myself from family
prayers. A great trial this to Angelina and myself, and something the
rest cannot understand. But I have a testimony to bear against will
worship, and oh, that I may be faithful to this and to all the
testimonies which we as a Society are called to declare.

"26th. Am this day thirty-five years old. A serious consideration that
I have passed so many years to so little profit.

"How little mother seems to know when I am sitting solemnly beside her,
of the supplications which arise for her, under the view of her having
ere long to give an account of the deeds done in the body."

A month later she writes: "The subject of returning to Philadelphia has
been revived before me. It seems like a fresh trial, and as if, did my
Master permit, here would I stay, and in the bosom of my family be
content to dwell; but if he orders it otherwise, great as will be the
struggle, may I submit in humble faith."

By the following extracts it will be seen that living under the daily
and hourly influence of Sarah, Angelina was slowly but surely imbibing
the fresh milk of Quakerism, and was preparing for another great change
on her spiritual journey.

In March, 1828, she wrote as follows to her sister, Mrs. Frost, in
Philadelphia: -

"I think I can say that it was owing in a great measure to my peculiar
state of mind that I did not write to you for so long. During that time
it seemed as though the Lord was driving me from everything on which I
had rested for happiness, in order to bring me to Christ alone. My dear
little church, in which I delighted once to dwell, seemed to have
Ichabod written upon its walls, and I felt as though it was a cross for
me to go into it. At times I thought the Saviour meant to bring me out
of it, and I could weep at the bare thought of being separated from
people I loved so dearly. Like Abraham, I had gone out from my kindred
into a strange land, and I have often thought that by faith I was
joined to that body of Christians, for I certainly knew nothing at all
about them at that time."

In the latter part of the letter she mentions the visit to her of an
Episcopal minister, from near Beaufort. He asked her if she could not
do something to remove the lukewarmness from the Episcopal Church, and
if a real evangelical minister was sent there would she not return to
it. "But," she says, "I told him I could not conscientiously belong to
any church which exalted itself above all others, and excluded
ministers of other denominations from its pulpit. The principle of
_liberty_ is what especially endears the Presbyterian church to me. Our
pulpit is open to all Christians, and, as I have often heard my dear
pastor remark, our communion table is the _Lord's table_, and all his
children are cheerfully received at it."

About the same time Sarah says in her diary: "My dear Angelina observed
to-day, 'I do not know what is the matter with me; some time ago I
could talk to the poor people, but now it seems as if my lips were
absolutely sealed. I cannot get the words out.' I mark with intense
interest her progress in the divine life, believing she is raised up to
declare the wonderful works of God to the children of men."

In the latter part of March, 1828, she makes the following entry: "On
the eve of my departure from home, all before me lies in darkness save
this one step, to go at this time in the _Langdon Cheeves_. This seems
peremptory, and at times precious promises have been annexed to
obedience, - 'Go, and I will be with thee.'"

Angelina had been very happy during the year spent in the Presbyterian
Church, all its requirements suiting her temperament exactly. Her
energy and activity found full exercise in various works of charity, in
visiting the prison, where she delighted to exhort the prisoners, in
reading, and especially in expounding the scriptures to the sick and
aged; in zealously forwarding missionary work, and in warm interest in
all the social exercises of the society. She was petted by the pastor,
and admired by the congregation. It was very pleasant to her to feel
that she not only conformed to all her duties, but was regarded as a
shining light, destined to do much to build up the church. She still
retained most of her old friendships in the Episcopal church, which had
not given up all hope of luring her back to its fold. Altogether, life
had gone smoothly with her, and she was well satisfied. The change
which she now contemplated was a revolution. It was to break up all the
old habits and associations, disturb life-long friendships, and,
stripping her of the attractions of society and church intercourse,
leave her standing alone, a spectacle to the eyes of those who gazed, a
wonder and a grief to her friends. But all this Sarah had warned her
of, and all this she felt able to endure. Self-sacrifice,
self-immolation, in fact, was what Sarah taught; and, although Angelina
never learned the lesson fully, she made a conscientious effort to
understand and practise it. She began very shortly after Sarah's
arrival at home. In January her diary records the following offering
made to the Moloch of Quakerism: -

"To-day I have torn up my novels. My mind has long been troubled about
them. I did not dare either to sell them or lend them out, and yet I
had not resolution to destroy them until this morning, when, in much
mercy, strength was granted."

Sarah in her diary thus refers to this act: "This morning my dear
Angelina proposed destroying Scott's novels, which she had purchased
before she was serious. Perhaps I strengthened her a little, and
accordingly they were cut up. She also gave me some elegant articles to
stuff a cushion, believing that, as we were commanded to lead holy and
unblamable lives, so we must not sanction sin in others by giving them
what we had put away ourselves."

Angelina also says, "A great deal of my finery, too, I have put beyond
the reach of anyone."

An explanation of this is given in a copy of a paper which was put into
the cushion alluded to by Sarah. The copy is in her handwriting.

"Believing that if ever the contents of this cushion, in the lapse of
years, come to be inspected (when, mayhap, its present covering should
be destroyed by time and service), they will excite some curiosity in
those who will behold the strange assemblage of handsome lace veils,
flounces, and trimmings, and caps, this may inform them that in the
winter of 1827-8, Sarah M. Grimké, being on a visit to her friends in
Charleston, undertook the economical task of making a rag carpet, and
with the shreds thereof concluded to stuff this cushion. Having made
known her intention, she solicited contributions from all the family,
which they furnished liberally, and several of them having relinquished
the vanities of the world to seek a better inheritance, they threw into
the treasury much which they had once used to decorate the poor
tabernacle of clay. Now it happened that on the 10th day of the first
month that, sitting at her work and industriously cutting her scraps,
her well-beloved sister Angelina proposed adding to the collection for
the cushion two handsome lace veils, a lace flounce, and other laces,
etc., which were accepted, and are accordingly in this medley. This has
been done under feelings of duty, believing that, as we are called with
a high and holy calling, and forbidden to adorn these bodies, but to
wear the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, as we have ourselves laid
aside these superfluities of naughtiness, so we should not in any
measure contribute to the destroying of others, knowing that we shall
be called to give an account of the deeds done in the body."

This was at least consistent, and in this light cannot be condemned.
From that time Angelina kept up this kind of sacrifices, which were
gladly made, and for which she seems to have found ample compensation
in her satisfied sense of duty.

One day she records: "I have just untrimmed my hat, and have put
nothing but a band of ribbon around it, and taken the lace out of the
inside. I do want, if I _am_ a Christian, to look like one. I think
that professors of religion ought so to dress that wherever they are
seen all around may feel they are _condemning_ the world and all its
trifling vanities."

A little later, she writes: "My attention has lately been called to the
duty of Christians dressing _quite_ plain. When I was first brought to
the feet of Jesus, I learned this lesson in part, but I soon forgot
much of it. Now I find my views stricter and clearer than they ever
were. The first thing I gave up was a cashmere mantle which cost twenty
dollars. I had not felt easy with it for some months, and finally
determined never to wear it again, though I had no money at the time to
replace it with anything else. However, I gave it up in faith, and the
Lord provided for me. This part of Scripture came very forcibly to my
mind, and very sweetly, too, 'And Dagon was fallen upon his face to the
ground before the ark of the Lord.' It was then clearly revealed to me
that if the true ark Christ Jesus was really introduced into the temple
of the heart, that every idol would fall before it."

Elsewhere she mentions that she had begun with this mantle by cutting
off the border; but this compromise did not satisfy conscience.

But the work thus begun did not ripen until some time after Sarah's
departure, though the preparation for it went daily and silently on.

Sarah in the meanwhile was once more quietly settled at Catherine
Morris' house in Philadelphia.

But we must leave this much-tried pilgrim for a little while, and
record the progress of her young disciple on the path which, through
much tribulation, led her at last to her sister's side, and to that
work which was even now preparing for them both.


Angelina's diary, commenced in 1828, is most characteristic, and in the
very beginning shows that inclination to the consideration and
discussion of serious questions which in after years so distinguished

It is rather remarkable to find a girl of twenty-three scribbling over
several pages about the analogy existing between the natural and the
spiritual world, or discussing with herself the question: "Are seasons
of darkness always occasioned by sin?" or giving a long list of reasons
why she differs from commentators upon certain texts of scriptures. She
enjoyed this kind of thinking and writing, and seems to have been
unwearying in her search after authorities to sustain her views. The
maxims, too, which she was fond of jotting down here and there, and
which furnished the texts for long dissertations, show the serious
drift of her thoughts, and their clearness and beauty.

From this time it is interesting to follow her spiritual progress, so
like and yet so unlike Sarah's. She, also, early in her religious life,
was impressed with the feeling that she would be called to some great
work. In the winter of 1828, she writes: -

"It does appear to me, and it has appeared so ever since I had a hope,
that there was a work before me to which all my other duties and trials
were only preparatory. I have no idea what it is, and I may be
mistaken, but it does seem that if I am obedient to the 'still small
voice' in my heart, that it will lead me and cause me to glorify my
Master in a more honorable work than any in which I have been yet

Knowing Sarah's convictions at this time, it is easy to imagine the
long, confidential talks she must have had with Angelina, and the
loving persuasion used to bring this dear sister into the same
communion with herself, and it is no marvel that she succeeded.
Angelina's nature was an earnest one, and she ever sought the truth,
and the best in every doctrine, and this remained with her after the
rest was rejected. The Presbyterian Church satisfied her better than
the Episcopal, but if Sarah or anyone else could show her a brighter
light to guide her, a better path leading to the same goal, she would
have thought it a heinous offence against God and her own true nature
to reject it. That no desire for novelty impelled her in her then
contemplated change, and that she foresaw all she would have to contend
with, and the sacrifices she would have to make, is evident from
several passages like the following: -

"Yesterday I was thrown into great exercise of mind. The Lord more
clearly than ever unfolded his design of appointing me another field of
labor, and at the same time I felt released from the cross of
conducting family worship. I feel that very soon all the burdens will
drop from my hands, and all the cords by which I have been bound to
many Christian friends will be broken asunder. Soon I shall be a
stranger among those with whom I took sweet counsel, and shall have to
tread the wine press alone and be forsaken of all."

A day or two after she says: -

"This morning I felt no condemnation when I went into family prayers,
and did not lead as usual in the duties. I felt that my Master had
stripped me of the priest's garments, and put them on my mother. May He
be pleased to anoint her for these sacred duties."

Her impressions may be accounted for by the influence of Sarah's
feelings regarding herself, and as there was then no other field of
public usefulness open to women, especially among the Quakers, than the
ministry, her mind naturally settled upon that as her prospective work.
But, unlike Sarah, the anticipation inspired her with no dread, no
doubt even of her ability to perform the duties, or of her entire
acceptance in them. It is true she craved of the Lord guidance and
help, but she was confident she would receive all she needed, and in
this state of mind she was better fitted, perhaps, to wait patiently
for her summons than Sarah was.

She gives a minute and very interesting account of the successive steps
by which she was led to feel that she could no longer worship in the
Presbyterian Church, and we see the workings of Sarah's influence
through it all. But it was not until after Sarah left for Philadelphia
that Angelina took any decided measures to release herself from the old
bonds. All winter it had grieved her to think of leaving a church which
she had called the cradle of her soul, and where she had enjoyed so
many privileges. She loved everything connected with it; the pastor to
whom she had looked up as her spiritual guide; the members with whom
she had been so intimately associated, and the Sunday-school in which
she was much beloved, and where she felt she was doing a good work.
Again and again she asked herself: "How can I give them up?"

Her friends all noticed the decline of her interest in the church work
and services, and commented upon it. But she shrank for a long time
from any open avowal of her change of views, preferring to let her
conduct tell the story. And in this she was straightforward and open
enough, not hesitating to act at once upon each new light as it was
given to her. First came the putting away of everything like ornament
about her dress. "Even the bows on my shoes," she says, "must go," and
then continues: -

"My friends tell me that I render myself ridiculous, and expose the
cause of Jesus to reproach, on account of my plain dressing. They tell
me it is wrong to make myself so conspicuous. But the more I ponder on
the subject, the more I feel that I am called with a high and holy
calling, and that I ought to be peculiar, and cannot be too zealous. I
rejoice to look forward to the time when Christians will follow the
apostolical injunction to 'keep their garments unspotted from the
world;' and is not every conformity to it a spot on the believer's
character? I think it is, and I bless the Lord that He has been pleased
to bring my mind to a contemplation of this subject. I pray that He may
strengthen me to keep the resolution to dress always in the following
style: A hat over the face, without any bows of ribbon or lace; no
frills or trimmings on any part of my dress, and materials _not_ the

This simplicity in dress, and the sinfulness of every self-indulgence,
she also taught to her Sunday-school scholars with more or less
success, as one example out of several of a similar character will

"Yesterday," she writes, "I met my class, and think it was a profitable
meeting to all. One of them has entertained a hope for about a year.
She asked me if I thought it wrong to plant geraniums? I told her _I_
had no time for such things. She then said that she had once taken
great pleasure in cultivating them, but lately she had felt so much
condemnation that she had given it up entirely. Another professed to
have some little hope in the Saviour, and remarked that I had changed
her views with regard to dress very much, that she had taken off her
rings and flounces, and hoped never to wear them again. Her hat also
distressed her. It was almost new, and she could not afford to get
another. I told her if she would send it to me I would try to change
it. Two others came who felt a little, but are still asleep. A good
work is evidently begun. May it be carried triumphantly on."

Towards spring she began to absent herself from the weekly
prayer-meetings, to stop her active charities, and to withdraw herself
more from the family and social circle. In April she writes in her
diary: -

"My mind is composed, and I cannot but feel astonished at the total
change which has passed over me in the last six months. I once
delighted in going to meeting four and five times every week, but now
my Master says, 'Be still,' and I would rather be at home; for I find
that every stream from which I used to drink the waters of salvation is
dry, and that I have been led to the fountain itself. And is it
possible, I would ask myself to-night, is it possible that I have this
day paid my last visit to the Presbyterian Church? that I have taught
my interesting class for the last time? Is it right that I should
separate myself from a people whom I have loved so tenderly, and who
have been the helpers of my joy? Is it right to give up instructing
those dear children, whom I have so often carried in the arms of faith
and love to the throne of grace? Reason would sternly answer, _No_, but
the Spirit whispers, 'Come out from among them!' I am sure if I refuse
the call of my Master to the Society of Friends, I shall be a dead
member in the Presbyterian Church. I have read none of their books for
fear of being convinced of their principles, but the Lord has taught me
Himself, and I feel that He who is Head over all things, has called me
to follow Him into the little silent meeting which is in this city."

And into the little silent meeting she went, - little, indeed, as the
only regular attendants were two old men; and silent, chiefly because
between these two there was a bitter feud, and the communion of spirit
was naturally preferred to vocal intercession.

When Angelina became aware of this state of feeling, and saw that the
two old Quakers always left the meeting-house without shaking hands, as
it was the custom to do, she became much troubled, and for several
weeks much of the comfort of attending meeting was destroyed. "The more

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Online LibraryCatherine H. BirneyThe Grimké Sisters Sarah and Angelina Grimké: the First American Women Advocates of Abolition and Woman's Rights → online text (page 4 of 22)