Finding the Grimké sisters in Charleston, SC

By Sandra Hutchinson

It wasn’t until I had read a few chapters of The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd, that it dawned on me that the characters in the book might have some basis in fact. I think I flipped to the book’s prologue, where I was astonished to learn that indeed, Sarah and Angelina Grimké, the protagonists, fierce abolitionists and women’s rights advocates, were real. Not only that, but they were astonishing in their beliefs and bravery, given the antebellum society, and plantation-owning South Carolinian family, that they were born into.

While visiting Charleston recently (March 2022), we took a walking tour focused on the Grimké sisters, led by Lee Ann Bain. The tour took us through various neighborhoods of historic Charleston, where we saw places the sisters would have known in the early 19th century, and learned of some new research that a Grimké biographer has shared with Ms. Bain. Our tour lasted about 2 1/2 hours. Here’s a link to Ms. Bain’s site where tours can be booked:

Interestingly, when I booked our accommodations for our spring trip at an 18th century outbuilding on Church Street, within the South of Broad neighborhood, I did not realize at the time that it was the kitchen to a home that sat directly across the street from the Heyward-Washington House, which was owned in the late 18th and early 19th century by the Grimké family. It was in this house, at 87 Church Street, where a horrified, young Sarah looked out her bedroom window and witnessed physical abuse of an enslaved person. It is believed that this deeply affecting event helped form her views towards slavery. Sarah lived in this home from age 2 to 11; the family later moved to a larger home to the north, on East Bay, where her sister Angelina was born.

Heyward-Washington House, 87 Church Street, Charleston, SC

This home was build in 1772 for Thomas Heyward, Jr., one of the four signers of the Declaration of Independence from South Carolina. When the British occupied Charleston in 1780, Hayward was captured and imprisoned in St. Augustine, Florida. The house was rented to George Washington for eight days during the new president’s tour of Charleston in May, 1791. In 1794, Heyward sold the property to John F. Grimké, who had also served as an officer during the war.

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