Theodore Dwight Weld in Lift Up Thy Voice by Mark Perry

Theodore Dwight Weld

One of the insistent themes of Sarah Stanley Grimke’s writing is slavery and freedom.  Her own father the Rev. Moses Stanley had been an abolitionist throughout Sarah’s childhood, and when she married Archibald Grimke she took the surname of the most celebrated abolitionist women of the 19th century.  Sarah Moore Grimke, Archibald’s aunt, had died in 1873 before Sarah Stanley went to Boston University; Angelina Grimke Weld had suffered a stroke the same year.   Neither of the famed Grimke sisters could have been a direct influence on young Sarah, but Angelina’s husband Theodore Dwight Weld was definitely a presence in her life.

The best secondary source now in print for background on Sarah Stanley Grimke is Mark Perry’s Lift Up Thy Voice.  This acclaimed 2002 biography of the Grimke family first describes the famous sisters, and concludes with a section on the Grimke brothers, Archibald and Francis.  But the middle section on the Grimke family focuses on Angelina’s husband Theodore Weld as the central figure in the extended family.  Weld became in his 20s a fervent apostle of the abolitionist cause, and early in his career he encountered the accusation that abolition of slavery would lead to race mixing:

The great fear that his movement occasioned was contained in one word, amalgamation, which was code for the mixing of the races.(p. 103)

While many abolitionists shrank from the full implications of their crusade, “Weld thought of himself as the John the Baptist of the antislavery movement.”(p. 154)  “..wherever Weld went, he insisted on inviting free blacks to hear him.”(p. 137)

In the 1870s when young Archibald first encountered his aunts Sarah and Angelina, Weld fully supported their embrace of him and his brothers as family members:

Theodore was pleased by the meeting.  He viewed the discovery of Archibald and Francis as the completion of the fateful union he had entered into so many years before with Angelina, coupling the destiny of the Weld family forever with that of the Grimkes—the black Grimkes—of Charleston.  Here was a chance, finally, to put into practice what they had all been preaching for so long.”(p. 230)

After the death of Angelina Grimke Weld, Theodore was the head of the extended Weld-Grimke clan, and developed a close relationship with his niece-in-law Sarah:

Of the great lights of the abolitionist movement, only one nationally known figure, Theodore Dwight Weld, remained.  Now alone, he would dedicate his remaining years to his family and could often be seen walking slowly, on the arm of Sarah Stanley Grimke, through the streets of Hyde Park, where he had once jogged.”(p260)

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