Collection Number: 00970

Collection Title: John Berkley Grimball Diaries,1832-1883

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held in the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the World Wide Web. See the Duplication Policy section for more information.

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Size 1.5 feet of linear shelf space (approximately 17 volumes items)
Abstract John Berkeley Grimball was a rice planter of Charleston and the Colleton District, S.C. Married Margaret Ann ("Meta") Morris. Grimball's diary discusses plantation management and cultivation of crops, especially rice; slavery and free blacks; plantation finances; social and cultural life in Charleston, S. C.; travel, especially to the Virginia springs and to New York, and the modes of transportation he used in his travels; the suffering of the civilian population during the Civil War and Reconstruction; the Episcopal church to which Grimball's wife and children belonged and the Presbyterian church where he worshipped; the education of his children, including a son who studied law, another who studied medicine, a third who went to the United States Naval Academy, and a daughter who attended Montpellier Institute in Macon, Ga.; and his own and his family's health problems, including struggles during various epidemics. The diary also contains entries about members of families to which Grimball was related, largely through his wife, including the Manigault and Lowndes families of Charleston and the Morris family of Morrisania, N.Y. There is also mention of an 1834 hot air balloon ascension and of a duel in 1856.
Creator Grimball, John Berkley, 1800-1892.
Language English
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Restrictions to Access
No restrictions. Open for research.
Restrictions to Use
Retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
Preferred Citation
[Identification of item], in the John Berkley Grimball Diaries #970, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Alternate Form of Material
Typed transcription available.
Microfilm copy available.
Additional microfilm: All or part of this collection is also available on microfilm from University Publications of America as part of the Records of antebellum southern plantations from the Revolution through the Civil War, Series J.
Acquisitions Information
Received from John B. Grimball of Atlanta, Ga., and Columbia, S.C., in 1945.
Sensitive Materials Statement
Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations, the North Carolina Public Records Act (N.C.G.S. § 132 1 et seq.), and Article 7 of the North Carolina State Personnel Act (Privacy of State Employee Personnel Records, N.C.G.S. § 126-22 et seq.). Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill assumes no responsibility.
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The following terms from Library of Congress Subject Headings suggest topics, persons, geography, etc. interspersed through the entire collection; the terms do not usually represent discrete and easily identifiable portions of the collection--such as folders or items.

Clicking on a subject heading below will take you into the University Library's online catalog.

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Biographical Information

John Berkley Grimball, son of John and Eliza Berkley Grimball, was born in Charleston, South Carolina, 23 June 1800, and died there in 1892. He was a descendant of Paul Grimball (died 1696), who came to South Carolina from England in 1682 and was secretary and receiver general of the province.

Grimball was graduated from Princeton University in 1819 and traveled for some time in Europe before returning to South Carolina to begin his career as a rice planter. In 1830, he married Margaret Ann (Meta) Morris (1810-1881), a descendent of Lewis Morris, general in the Continental Army, member of the Continental Congress, and signer of the Declaration of Independence. Meta's father, also called Lewis Morris, married Elizabeth Manigault of South Carolina in 1807. She died in 1822. In 1834, Morris married Aramintha Lowndes, who died in 1843. Lewis Morris, while maintaining control of Morris family property around Morrisania in upper New York state, lived near the Grimballs at the Bluff Plantation. Through Meta's family, Grimball was connected to the prominent Manigault and Lowndes families of South Carolina. It was also Meta's income from the New York estates that helped sustain the Grimball family after the Civil War.

The Grimballs had nine children: Elizabeth (1831-1914), who married William Munro (died 1900) and lived in Unionville, South Carolina; Berkley (1833-1899), who studied law; Lewis (1835-1901), a physician who married Clementina Legge; William (died 1864); John (died 1922), who attended the United States Naval Academy and married Katie Moore; Arthur (died 1894); Gabriella (died 1924); Charlotte; and Harry, who married Helen E. Trenholm, daughter of Edward L. Trenholm, in 1876.

Other information about Grimball and his family appears in the descriptions that follow.

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The seventeen manuscript volumes of John Berkley Grimball's diary cover the period 1832 through 1883. Each volume includes a wide variety of topics in entries that are unevenly spaced over time. Sometimes Grimball wrote in his diary on an almost daily basis; at other times, weeks intervene between one entry and the next. Some of the earlier volumes also contain plantation records and lists of expenses. The date spans covered by the plantation and expense records do not necessarily match the dates of diary entries in the same volume. Some of the volumes contained loose papers. These papers have been removed from the volumes and filed in folders appearing immediately after the volume from which they came.

Typed transcriptions of the manuscript volumes were produced at the donor's request at the Southern Historical Collection in 1945-1947. The seventeen manuscript volumes yielded five volumes of typed transcriptions. The chronology of these volumes is shown in the Series 2 description. The collection has been arranged as follows:

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Contents list

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 1. Diary, 1832-1883.

About 115 items.

Arrangement: chronological.

The diary of John Berkley Grimball covers a vast number of subjects; many names are mentioned, and many events are chronicled. At some point in the collection's processing history, an attempt was made to organize the contents of the diary around several main subjects. Those subjects were: plantation lands and cultivation, especially of rice; slavery and free blacks; finances; social life; travel and transportation; politics, the Civil War, and Reconstruction; religion; education; and health. There was also a short section on miscellaneous topics of interest.

The following descriptions are edited versions of those original subject-based summaries. Although they read in places like extended biographical notes, the information they contain is derived solely from entries in Grimball's diary. These descriptions are in no way comprehensive; they are intended to give only a general idea of how each subject is handled in the diary. In a few cases, some of the more significant entries relating to each subject have been cited specifically. The descriptions are followed by a folder list that shows the chronological break-out of the volumes.

Plantation Lands and Cultivation:

John Berkley Grimball apparently inherited plantation property in St. Paul's Parish, Colleton District, South Carolina, and perhaps in other nearby areas. The exact locations, names, and ownership of the plantations are not always clear from the diary. Diary entries indicate that Grimball also managed property for his mother on the Stono and Dawho Rivers until her death on 27 July 1844.

Sporadic buying and selling of plantations is recorded in the diary. Before the Civil War, Grimball sold his Slann's Island plantation and his mother's Stono River plantation and purchased the Grove plantation from some Morris family members in the North. With the loss of his slaves and the onset of financial woes after the Civil War, Grimball was forced to let the Grove go back to its original owners. His sons, however, regained possession of this land in the 1870s. Grimball retained possession of Pinebury, one of his mother's properties, from the time of her death until his own.

While there are many entries relating to land values and the sale and purchase of property, there is only a moderate amount of information on methods of cultivation. The diary shows that, when he began his planting career, Grimball was cultivating cotton, corn, and rice. An entry dated 1852, however, records his decision to cultivate only rice. Grimball belonged to the State Agricultural Society and also to several local societies. Diary entries, particularly around September 1837, show that he was an active member of these organizations, especially the St. Paul's Parish society.

Grimball and his family spent each fall and winter on the plantations, moving to Charleston in the spring to avoid the dangers associated with the miasmas of the swamps, which could result in "country fever," chills, and other illnesses. There were frequent trips between Charleston and the plantations in all seasons, however, the travel being accomplished by boat, horseback, or some sort of horse-drawn conveyance. In Charleston, the Grimballs rented houses in several locations, and, also sometimes purchased and sold property in the city.

When resident in Charleston, Grimball received frequent reports from his plantation overseers about the activities of the slaves and the general condition of his property. Grimball seems to have had a great deal of trouble retaining trustworthy overseers, and he often wrote of the anxieties and frustrations associated with those that did not perform their duties in a satisfactory manner.

Slavery and Free Blacks:

Diary entries document that, prior to the Civil War, Grimball owned 70 or 80 slaves himself and controlled the activities of others on his mother's lands. During this period, most entries relate in some fashion to slaves: the management and care of slaves; their requirements in terms of clothing and punishments; their illnesses; their purchase and sale. Besides his regular staff of slave house servants, Grimball apparently employed Mary, a free black, as a nurse.

In October 1832, Grimball wrote of an appeal from a free black tailor for assistance in moving himself and his family to Liberia. In August 1835, there is a description of an incident at Salt Sulphur Springs, Western Virginia, where a black man sang love songs in a show, prompting guests from South Carolina to leave the room in protest.

By 1862, many of Grimball's slaves had left his plantations. In an effort to save the rest, he removed them to the plantation of Dubose Porcher at Monck's Corner. In March 1863, Grimball sold all of his slaves, except for a few older slaves and house servants. This sale marked the end of his career as a planter. In 1867 and 1868, he recorded his sharecropping arrangements with a white man and with one of his former slaves.


Grimball meticulously recorded his financial activities. He noted money received and disbursed, investments and notes signed for himself and endorsed for others, and expenses relating to his family and plantations. Some of the diary volumes contain plantation accounts, where Grimball documented expenditures for planting supplies, slaves, and other outlays.

In the first years of the diary, Grimball dealt with Charleston factors Wilkes and Middleton. Later he patronized Robertson and Blacklock. Grimball faithfully recorded his tax payments from the time he began the diary until the end. General financial crises are discussed, and, in May 1837, there is a detailed description of a meeting called by the mayor of Charleston to request that local banks suspend the payment of specie. Suspension of specie payment is also reported on 12 October 1857. Grimball also recorded his regular purchase of lottery tickets, none of which seem to have paid off in his favor.

Meta Morris Grimball's father died in 1863, and it is clear from diary entries that the money from his estate that came to her after the Civil War helped the Grimballs avoid total bankruptcy in the post-War period.

Social Life:

Many diary entries portray the members of the Grimball family moving in the inner circle of South Carolina society. Their attendance at social affairs--balls, weddings, dinners--is documented, often with detailed descriptions of menus and table arrangements. The daughters of the family made their debuts in Charleston, and Grimball often wrote of visits made to and paid by members of many prominent Charleston families. All of the Grimball children had the benefit of dancing, music, and art lessons, and Grimball made frequent purchases to strengthen his private library holdings. He was also a supporter of the Charleston Library Society, to which he made many donations, and, for which, in the later part of his life, he served a multi-year presidency.

Grimball also was an art patron of sorts. A May 1832 entry describes his appreciation of portraits of Manigault, Pringle, and Izard family members. In 1847, he noted that he was having portraits painted by Charles Fraser (fl. 1840s), and, in 1859, by John Beaufain (1825-1877).

Travel and Transportation:

Travel is often mentioned in the diary, Grimball and his family making frequent trips to the North, the springs in Virginia, and to other places. Grimball described modes of transportation in great detail and spared no paper on descriptions of his fellow passengers, the resorts he patronized, the cost of travel, and the amount of time it consumed.

Among the many trips documented are the following:

June 1834: Charleston--New York--Philadelphia. Topics include Grimball's seeing President Andrew Jackson twice and the enthusiastic welcome Jackson received from various crowds; visiting Morrisania, New York, the home of his wife's family; a description of the home of New York Governor Wilkins, with whom Grimball dined.

June 1835: Charleston--New York--Philadelphia--the Virginia springs. The chief topics are the various modes of transportation Grimball used and the social life at the springs.

July 1837: Charleston--New York City--Albany--Saratoga Springs-- --New Haven and Hartford, Connecticut--Boston. Similar to the June 1835 trip.

Politics, the Civil War, and Reconstruction:

On 4 July 1832, Grimball wrote of a political rally and discussed states' rights and the Free Trade Party. During the nullification crisis, he sympathized with the States' Rights Party in its contest with the Union Party, but diary entries show that he was not usually active in politics. In the fall of 1832 and 1833, he voiced criticism of the corruption and bribery rampant during state and congressional elections.

Although elected at the end of 1838 to fill an unexpired term in the state senate, Grimball's diary indicates that he was not very interested in the political scene he must have witnessed. Grimball appears to have been more interested in military questions, especially the formation of the "Horse Guards" in Charleston in July 1832. References the Horse Guards continue through 1835.

At the beginning of the Civil War, Grimball's five oldest sons went off to serve the Confederacy. Throughout the war period, Grimball wrote of military engagements, the dead and the wounded, and his hopes and fears about the outcome of the conflict. In June 1862, Grimball, his wife, son Harry, and three daughters went to Spartanburg, South Carolina, in an effort to avoid enemy attacks on the coast. There they took quarters in St. John's College, where they remained until the war was over. Grimball made frequent trips home during this time, both to look after his property and to report for possible duty in the reserves. Diary entries show anxiety about growing food and clothing shortages. By June 1865, Grimball wrote that he was penniless and was forced to barter some of his possessions in exchange for the necessities of life.

Immediately following the Civil War, Grimball's diary reflects the difficulties brought about by unemployment and general lack of funds. After the War, his son Lewis began his medical practice, his son Arthur started a store on the Prioleau plantation, and one of his daughters began giving music lessons. Son John traveled in Europe and planned to go to Mexico to cultivate tobacco. Grimball reported hearing from John in Vera Cruz, but, by 1867, John was back in South Carolina.

Grimball wrote frequently during this period of trying to recommence planting on his plantations. A November 1865 entry describes his problems with the Freedman's Bureau, which had classified his lands as abandoned. He also wrote of troubles with retrieving the steam engine and boilers that had been stolen from the Grove plantation.

In 1865, Meta Morris Grimball petitioned for pardon so that she could be awarded her share of the funds from the Morris family estate. Her inheritance, which seems to have been settled periodically on various of the Grimball children, was the mainstay of family subsistence in the years following the War.


Though Grimball's wife and children were Episcopalians, for most of his life, Grimball was a member of the Presbyterian Church. Diary entries show that the family was active in both denominations whether they were living in Charleston or in the country. On 10 October 1832, Grimball wrote of his interest in establishing a Presbyterian church in Wiltown, South Carolina, and, on 28 February 1835, of the laying of the cornerstone of the Episcopal church at Wiltown Bluff. In Charleston, Grimball records the family's activities in St. Michael's, St. Peter's, Grace, and other Episcopal Churches. Grimball himself seems to have attended the Circular Presbyterian Church. After the Civil War, the family's religious life was simplified with Grimball's confirmation in the Episcopal Church.


The Grimball children appear to have been educated in Charleston, sent either to private schools or to the homes of private teachers. Diary entries in the 1840s and 1850s include the names of several schools attended by either the boys or the girls. Some of the boys were also sent to Willington in the Abbeville District under the tutelage of Octavius T. Porcher, or, in 1858, to the Military Academy in Columbia.

The eldest daughter Elizabeth attended Montpellier Institute near Macon, Georgia, in 1847. When the family moved to Spartanburg in 1862, Elizabeth taught some of the younger children. She later went to Unionville to teach in a girls' school.

In 1853, Grimball wrote of paying H. A. DeSaussure & Son a fee for training Berkley in their offices; in May 1855, Lewis was studying medicine in Dr. Gedding's office in Charleston; in 1854, John left for the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis.


Grimball filled many pages of his diary with descriptions of his and other peoples' health problems. He also wrote about cures that he learned about from various sources. There are many entries dealing with health alarms relating to yellow fever, cholera, and other sicknesses.

Grimball and his family were frequent users of medical services both in Charleston and on the plantations. In 1833 through 1835, Grimball made several trips to Philadelphia and New York to consult with specialists on different problems. Entries in July 1857 center on descriptions of proceedings at an insanity trial in which Grimball participated, and in September 1871 on the yellow fever death of one of Grimball's close friends.


The entry of 22 October 1834 mentions a balloon ascension. In September 1856, Grimball described a duel between William M. Taber, one of the editors of the Charleston Mercury, and Ed Magrath. Tabor was killed in the duel.

Folder 1

Volume 1: 9 May - 25 December 1832; plantation accounts, 1833 (268 pages) #00970, Series: "1. Diary, 1832-1883." Folder 1

Folder 2

Volume 2: front to back: January 1833 - 10 November 1837; back to front: plantation expenses, 1834 (147 pages) #00970, Series: "1. Diary, 1832-1883." Folder 2

Folder 3

Volume 3: front to back: January 1834 - 4 April 1835 and plantation accounts and slave records, 1834, 1836, 1837; back to front: 1834 journey to Morrisania, New York, and Philadelphia (285 pages) #00970, Series: "1. Diary, 1832-1883." Folder 3

Folder 4

Volume 4: front to back: May 1835 - October 1835, 18 December 1835, January and May 1836, February 1837; back to front: plantation accounts, 1835 (129 pages) #00970, Series: "1. Diary, 1832-1883." Folder 4

Folder 4a

Enclosures: chiefly receipts (about 10 items) #00970, Series: "1. Diary, 1832-1883." Folder 4a

Folder 5

Volume 5: front to back: 16 July - 30 August 1836; back to front: expenses, 16 July - September 1836 (71 pages) #00970, Series: "1. Diary, 1832-1883." Folder 5

Folder 6

Volume 6: 5 May 1837 - 2 May 1840 (185 pages) #00970, Series: "1. Diary, 1832-1883." Folder 6

Folder 7

Volume 7: 14 February 1843 - 28 October 1844 (131 pages) #00970, Series: "1. Diary, 1832-1883." Folder 7

Folder 8

Volume 8: 8 November 1844 - 10 January 1847 (117 pages) #00970, Series: "1. Diary, 1832-1883." Folder 8

Folder 9

Volume 9: 14 January 1847 - 18 May 1848 (131 pages) #00970, Series: "1. Diary, 1832-1883." Folder 9

Folder 10

Volume 10: 1 August 1848 - 31 March 1852 (113 pages) #00970, Series: "1. Diary, 1832-1883." Folder 10

Folder 10a

Enclosures: chiefly receipts (about 30 items) #00970, Series: "1. Diary, 1832-1883." Folder 10a

Folder 11

Volume 11: 10 May 1852 - 16 January 1858 (246 pages) #00970, Series: "1. Diary, 1832-1883." Folder 11

Folder 11a

Enclosures: chiefly receipts (6 items) #00970, Series: "1. Diary, 1832-1883." Folder 11a

Folder 12

Volume 12: 8 March 1858 - 10 January 1862 (196 pages) #00970, Series: "1. Diary, 1832-1883." Folder 12

Folder 12a

Enclosures: receipts (3 items) #00970, Series: "1. Diary, 1832-1883." Folder 12a

Folder 13

Volume 13: 15 January 1862 - 6 March 1863 (102 pages) #00970, Series: "1. Diary, 1832-1883." Folder 13

Folder 13a

Enclosures: chiefly receipts (9 items) #00970, Series: "1. Diary, 1832-1883." Folder 13a

Folder 14

Volume 14: Grove Plantation records, 7 March 1863 - 13 March 1865 (133 pages) #00970, Series: "1. Diary, 1832-1883." Folder 14

Folder 14a

Enclosures: chiefly receipts and clippings (about 20 items) #00970, Series: "1. Diary, 1832-1883." Folder 14a

Folder 15

Volume 15: 14 March 1865 - 15 May 1867 (181 pages) #00970, Series: "1. Diary, 1832-1883." Folder 15

Folder 15a

Enclosures: notes and clippings (5 items) #00970, Series: "1. Diary, 1832-1883." Folder 15a

Folder 16

Volume 16: 23 March 1867 - 29 June 1869; accounts and memoranda, 1867-1869 (149 pages) #00970, Series: "1. Diary, 1832-1883." Folder 16

Folder 16a

Enclosures: chiefly notes and clippings (about 20 items) #00970, Series: "1. Diary, 1832-1883." Folder 16a

Folder 17

Volume 17: 5 July 1869 - 30 July 1883 (256 pages) #00970, Series: "1. Diary, 1832-1883." Folder 17

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expand/collapse Expand/collapse Series 2. Typed transcriptions of diary, 1945-1947.

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Processing Information

Processed by: Roslyn Holdzkom, July 1990

Encoded by: ByteManagers Inc., 2008

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