Bryan Grimes: Power and Patronage Among the Nineteenth-Century Planters of Eastern North Carolina

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

William K. Scarborough

Advisor Department



Although perhaps best known today for his Civil War career as a Confederate officer, Bryan Grimes, Jr. of Pitt County in eastern North Carolina spent most of his life before and after the war as a planter. In many ways his life illustrates the uncertainties of planter life: born the son of an elite planter, he never achieved the same social and economic level as his father due to the division of the estate between Grimes and two brothers. In consequence Grimes spent much of his life fruitlessly struggling to achieve the same status as his father. Despite his failure to do so, he nevertheless belonged to the wider social and cultural world of the antebellum Southern planter in his beliefs and attitudes. His papers reveal him to have been a deeply conservative man with a strong attachment to the environs of his plantation and his native county. Unlike many of his better-known contemporaries before and after the war, he shunned side careers in politics and the law, devoting his energies strictly to the maintenance and growth of his agricultural enterprises. The threat posed to his somewhat insular way of life by the Civil War and the need to defend it led to his one major departure from this routine. As a soldier, Grimes was a gifted amateur, rising to the rank of major general by war's end despite his lack of a formal military background. After the war he returned to his plantation and, like others of his class, struggled with the new social and economic realities of that time. A quarrelsome man with a high sense of honor who vigorously contended against all who crossed his purposes, Grimes was murdered in 1880 in a shotgun ambush, the result of a feud with two shopkeepers accused of local acts of arson and well-poisoning. In this study, Grimes' wartime career is addressed within the larger context of the social and political currents of the Middle Period. Attention is paid to the secular and religious values that shaped Grimes, as well as to family, race, and the importance of patronage among social connections in the planter class.