Over the last few months I’ve scoured the loyalist claims, archives, and digital databases in attempt to locate loyalists from all over Virginia during the Revolutionary War. I’ve been through thousands of stories that painstakingly detail the Revolutionary experiences of each person and there are some that are just more memorable than others. Without a doubt a story out of Bath County, Virginia has filled the #1 slot of things I’ve read and I wish that I could forget.
About a week ago I was sitting in my office with an 1840’s publication of Lorenzo Sabine’s Biographical Sketches of American Loyalists. This book is a classic and you don’t study loyalists without taking at least a dozen trips through Sabine’s work. I was doing another skim to make sure I hadn’t missed a loyalist from Virginia. Since there wasn’t an index for an easy double check, half way through skimming a migraine started to kick in. Like any normal millennial researcher, I had the brilliant idea to checkout Google Books to see if they had a digital copy so I could “Ctrl + F” and check for my loyalists. For year’s I’d used the 1840’s copy of the book and as soon as I found the free digital edition of Sabine (download it here) I discovered quite a few loyalists I’d never seen before. It turns out Sabine had a second edition of his book published in 1864 and this second edition just so happened to add a handful more loyalists that are nowhere to be found in the original publication.
As I scrolled through these new Virginia loyalists, I found a man named Henry Grymes of Virginia. Unlike many of his loyalist contemporaries, Grymes did not submit a loyalist claim which is how I’d managed to miss him so many times in my research. I went on to read Sabine’s mini-biography of Grymes–it all seemed pretty normal until I read this:
After a marital altercation, Mr. Grymes tried to beat his own head in and then went on to pull parts of his brain out with his fingers after his initial attempts to kill himself did not work. In pure morbid 18/19th century fashion this description was nauseatingly detailed. I immediately grabbed the quote about Grymes’s “character” and Googled it. This absolutely could not be true. But with one click, sure enough I managed to hit three leads–one from the London Gentleman’s Magazine, the other from the Boston Weekly Magazine, and his death biography is even listed in the Anatomy of Suicide published in 1840.
And after all the Googling I remembered I was trained better than this and used Early American Newspapers to search for Grymes again. I found the exact same articles as printed above in the Mercantile Advertiser (NY, 5/19), The Washington Federalist (Georgetown, 5/23), The Hive (Boston, 5/29), The Maryland Herald (5/30), the Political Calendar (MA, 5/31), The Bee (NY 6/19), The New Hampshire Gazette (6/19), and the Political Star (NH, 6/15). But for the sake of a simple comparison, let’s just stick with the two shown above and Sabine.
While Sabine mentions Grymes was from Virginia, all other publications say that Grymes came from Bath County–and that’s where things start to fall apart. First, Sabine says that Grymes dies in England, while both the Gentleman’s Magazine and the Boston Weekly Magazine (and all of the others) say that Grymes was not in England, but died in Bath County. Everything else in Sabine, the Boston Weekly Magazine, and the Gentleman’s Magazine pretty much follow each other verbatim. It’s obvious that they are all copying from one source, but because these magazines are now part of a larger published collection I’m having difficulty finding which magazine published the story first. I at least know that the earliest publication so far was the Mercantile Advertiser in New York. Interestingly–neither magazine nor the other newspapers claim that Grymes was a loyalist. Well that’s important. Where is Sabine getting this??? One would assume that someone moved from Virginia to England between the 1770s and 1790s with loyalism as the prime motivation–but that’s not a smoking gun. And that’s IF he ever moved to England at all. It’s all a mind-bender for sure.
I sent an e-mail to the Bath County Historical Society to see if any marriage, land, deed, will, or church, record existed for Grymes to see if I could confirm vital (or loyal) information. I also hoped it might confirm if he passed in Bath County or in England as Sabine outlines. Since Bath County is one of the few in Virginia to have records survive the Civil War, I was blissfully hopeful. I received a letter back rather quickly. It turns out they had zero records on a Henry Grymes, but did have members of a Grymes family living in the county at the time. I then moved over to Berkeley Springs, WV to see if there was anything there just in case–same story. A description as graphic as Grymes’s is one that stays with you and as someone with genealogical and local archiving experience I know good and well that this would be a story archivists and local historians would immediately recognize. They didn’t. So what do I do now?
For the whole situation Grymes falls under one or two options. First, Sabine is right and Grymes has records lost in England or Sabine is wrong and he came from another Virginia county (just not Bath County.) And before you even mention it, yes I already searched archive indexes in Bath, England. Regardless, there is something so detailed about Grymes’s death that makes me want to question whether or not Grymes ever existed at all.
While the magazines doesn’t verify that Grymes was a loyalist like Sabine claims, it was not strange for the mythical fates of loyalists to be published in newspapers. Here is another article from the Virginia Gazette in 1784, which uses similar imagery.
“We are informed from the northward, that a kind of pestilential suicide has taken place amongst those wretched people, who have been rejected by the different states; numbers of them having with the utmost deliberation made a wanton waste of what little property they had left in the world, and then either drowned or hanged themselves.”
–The Virginia Gazette or American Advertiser, Saturday, July 31, 1784 (Page 2, Column 2) News from Halifax, North Carolina, July 15
Once again, another graphic scene of loyalist deaths–except this time in North Carolina. According to this small blurb and the rest of the article, loyalists failed to acclimate back into society, therefore they drowned or hanged themselves. Or did they? Much like Grymes’s death, outside of this newspaper, there is absolutely no evidence that these suicides every happened in Halifax–or at least that I’ve been able to locate verifiable information for. It is also interesting in a post-war America trying to come to terms with loyalism that there would be quite a few graphic images of Tory suicides. There is an outcry after 1783 that the Treaty of Paris protected American Tories too much and that loyalists were allowed to go back to their lives as though their “treachery” against the United States never happened. Are newspapers printing false suicide articles so American patriots can revel in Tory misery thinking these loyalists are getting their comeuppances? Once again, this is all contingent on whether or not Grymes was a well-known loyalist. I’m not finding that either. Argh.
I’m sure some poor seasoned academic has somehow stumbled across this blog post, reading it, and thinking to themselves “Ha! What a poor novice, fool! Doesn’t she know a story like this really doesn’t matter to the dissertation in the end?” Wrong, Dr. Person. I’m a sucker for narrative-based introductory hooks. Nothing draws a reader in to some pretty dense subject matter quite like an abused former Tory pulling his brains out. This story is gold. But that doesn’t mean I’m not considering that Sabine is trolling me from his grave.
For now, we aren’t sure exactly what happened in Bath County (or England) in 1804. I still don’t know whether or not Grymes was a loyalist or if he ever even existed. This is where the dissertation search expands. Now it’s time to hit up some local archives in England and Virginia to see if Grymes is mentioned anywhere else and to start paying closer attention to newspapers and magazines for more instances of Tory suicides. Hopefully in the end this will make more sense. Mystery #1 has appeared, now only 2,000+ loyalists left to go.
Crowd-sourcing time: Do you do genealogy? Is Henry Grymes in your family tree? Have you ever seen any reference at all, in any way, shape, or form, outside of a newspaper to Henry and his terrible fate? My contact information is in the about section!