Today we’re going to travel back in Lowcountry history to explore the life story of a man who lived in the Charleston area in the eighteenth century and today is remembered by very few people. I’m talking about a man named Thomas Grimball, who was born in rural South Carolina in 1744 and died in Charleston in 1783. Never heard of him? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Actually, I’d be more surprised if you had heard of him. Thomas Grimball was not a major figure in the history of South Carolina. He was not what we might call an ordinary man, but neither was he a remarkable figure. His life story is one of many untold, interesting biographies in the long history of our state, but it’s one that piqued my interested. As part of a larger book project that I’m working on, I’ve spent a good bit of time over the past decade or so collecting details about the life of this Thomas Grimball from historic documents in archives at here in Charleston and at the state archive in Columbia. This isn’t the forum for trying to tell you the whole story of the book project—we’d need a few weeks for that narrative. Rather, today I’d like to simply tell Tom’s story (and I did find documentation that at least one person called him “Tom” during the American Revolution). So sit back and set your time machine for the early days of South Carolina, as we trace the brief but dramatic life story of Major Thomas Grimball of Charleston.
The Life and Times of Thomas Grimball (1744-1783)
We can trace the roots of the Grimball family in South Carolina back to the year 1682, when an English merchant named Paul Grimball immigrated to the colony with his family. Paul Grimball was apparently a man of some means and connections, for in 1683 he was appointed to the important office of secretary of the Province of Carolina. In recognition of this status and the size of his household, which included several indentured servants, Paul Grimball received a land grant for nearly 1,600 acres on Edisto Island. There he built a large house, which unfortunately was burned and looted by Spanish invaders in the autumn of 1686. Despite this setback, the Grimball family prospered in Carolina and continued to acquire land in the area south of Charleston. Paul Grimball died in early 1696 leaving several children to continue the family into a new century.