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Reuben Graves Holmes

Birthplace: West Boylston, Massachusetts
Death: January 30, 1906 (85)
Providence, Rhode Island
Place of Burial: Westborough, Massachusetts
Immediate Family:

Son of Col. Peter Holmes and Olive Holmes
Husband of Rebecca Holmes; Charlotte Mary Holmes and Sarah Jane Holmes
Father of Abbie Mandana Christensen; Georgiana Rebecca French; Almeda Allen Holmes and Charlotte Keith Holmes
Brother of Olive Graves Holmes; Patterson P. Holmes; Charles Davis Holmes; Thomas Holmes; Hannah Mandana Holmes and 3 others

Occupation: Aurthor/Tanner/ Farmer/ Merchant/ Lumberman/ Missionary/ Abolitionist
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Reuben Holmes


  • 1830: Birth of Reuben Graves Holmes, the fifth of nine children born to Col. Peter and Olive (Graves) Holmes
  • 1831: Moved to Paxton, Ma. to live with sister Olive and her husband who was to teach Reuben the Tanner's trade.
  • 1833: Family moved to Michigan wilderness
  • 1838: Rueben returned to Ma. with mother due to health issues of mother.
  • 1840: Reuben invests in 40 acre farm. With profits of farm, enters partnership in grain store at Westborough, Ma.
  • 1845-58: Began teaching Sunday school at Westborough State Reform School, the nation's first reform school.
  • 1848: Married Rebecca Winch
  • 1852: Birth of daughter Abbie Mandana Holmes
  • 1855-56: Appointed town Fence Viewer and Sealer of Weights and Measures
  • 1857: Due to depression and economic set backs, family moved to Worcester, Ma. Reuben and Rebecca become involved in abolition movement.
  • 1860: Birth of daughter, Georgiana. Reuben invents and patents a wheel and paddle butter churn and rubber covered cloths ringer
  • 1864: Reuben and Rebecca volunteer to participate in missionary experiment at Port Royal, South Carolina.
  • 1867: Rebecca committed to Bellevue Mental hospital at New York City.
  • 1868: Reuben appointed delegate to Constitutional Convention
  • 1868: Rebecca died while committed to Bellevue Mental Hospital
  • 1869: Marriage of Reuben Holmes and Charlotte Keith
  • 1870: Reuben founded the town of Almeda, South Carolina
  • 1874: Charlotte died; Reuben would marry her sister, Sarah Keith
  • 1906: January 30, death of Reuben Holmes


Reuben Graves Holmes was born December 12, 1820, to Col. Peter and Olive ( Graves ) Holmes. Reuben was named for his maternal grand- father that was killed in the Revolutionary War. He was described as having dark blond, tousled hair and wide, brown eyes as a child.

Reuben had very little formal education, as can be seen by his poor spelling and grammar. He attended school at 5 years old, but Reuben was needed to help the family by watching after the twins, Hannah Jane and Henry James, and a cow. His mother would teach him the Ten Commandments and give him his early Bible teaching and he attended his sister's Sunday School classes. Reuben would experience a religious vision when 7 or 8 years old, an event he would repeat often to his children and grand-children and which influenced his life thereafter.

At the age of 11 years old, Reuben would move to the home of Olive, his sister and her husband to learn the tanning trade, which Reuben found disgusting. Reuben would always prefer to be helping with household duties than to be doing more masculine tasks. Of his sister Olive he would state " Olive is the most remarkable woman I ever knew. She was always doing for others."

Reuben's father was involved in cotton and fanning mills and would lose his investments after the war of 1812. Col. Peter would relocate his family to the Michigan wilderness. Reuben would purchase 40 acres and would join the Congregational Church when he was but 17 years old.  His mother would develop a strange skin disease that was blamed on the high lime levels in the Michigan water, so Reuben  would sell his little farm and move back to Kinton Springs, Ma.  with his mother, where he purchased another farm.  In 1840 he would invest his profits in a small feed store in West Borough, Ma. With the coming of the railroad, Reuben and his partner had the insight to move closer to the railroad station. Before long Reuben had a blacksmith shop, steam mill and a lumber processing plant. He would sell lumber to home builders and also to the factories that were being built  in that area at that time. 
Reuben would teach  Sunday School at the Westborough State Reform School, the first reform school in the United States, from 1845-1858.

Reuben met Rebecca Winch at the home of her uncle in Holden, Ma., where she was boarding while she was teaching school. They would be married in 1848. Her mother would lend them three thousand dollars to start the marriage off. They would have two children:

  1. Abbie Mandana Holmes/ Christenson; born 1852
  2. Georgiana Rebecca Holmes (French); born 1860

1855-56, Reuben was appointed the town Fence Viewer and Sealer of Weights and Measures. His duties would be to observe the fence surrounding the town to protect it from vermin, and to check all the scales in town for correctness. He would be hauling a set of scales to be checked when his buggy became detached from the horse, resulting in an accident that left his arm crippled for the rest of his life. This injury would prevent his fighting in the Union army during the Civil War, a cause he ardently believed in and supported.

Reuben had amassed a sizable fortune, and would lose it all in the "Great Panic" of 1857. The family would move to Worcester, Ma., a move Rebecca was not pleased with, she preferring to live in the country. They would both become active in the abolition movement. Reuben went to New Jersey and worked as a traveling salesman during this time, selling everything from rat traps to shoes, trying desperately to make ends meets. He invented and patented a wheel and paddle butter churn and a rubber covered cloths ringer, with little success.

His second daughter, Georgiana would be born in 1860, and it was before the birth that Rebecca began displaying signs of mental illness, a condition that worsend after their house burned down. Her husband was still on the road as a traveling salesman and would write " Rebecca has lost her mind". Rebecca and the children would live with various family members and then would travel to New Jersey to be with Reuben.

 In 1864 Reuben and Rebecca volunteered to participate in a missionary experiment at Port Royal, South Carolina.  Reuben would go to Port Royal first, leaving Rebecca, Abbie and Georgiana with his sister, Olive, at her home in Paton, Ma. Before the Civil War, Beaufort and the Sea Islands had been inhabited by wealthy plantation owners and had a large slave population. Before and during the war the area became a free labor experiment.  The Holmes family would relocate to this interracial community  as abolitionist, hoping to participate in the community. Reuben would be a superintendent on a plantation on Coosaw Island. It was called a school farm and there were approximately 200 African Americans working with the missionaries. The profits of the farm were used to finance books, schools and other charitable or police purposes.  Reuben would have over eighty African Americans attend his Sunday School class, and he would urge them to plant and harvest peanuts to earn money for books. He would consider his work here to be the great success of his life.  While overseeing the planting of the crops, Reuben fell ill with Typhoid Fever and was saved by a friend that ferried him to Beaufort to a hospital. He would return to Ma. and be nursed back to health by his wife Rebecca. When he had recovered enough to return to South Carolina, his wife begged him to take his family with him, which he did.

Rebecca seemed for a time to improve after their move to South Carolina. She would be commissioned as a school teacher, and would receive rations from the army commissary. Her class room was filled with old and young African Americans, all eager to learn. But in 1867 Rebecca deteriorated mentally to the point Reuben would have her committed to Bellevue Insane Asylum in New York City. She would die there in 1868, never returning to her family. Her oldest daughter, Abbie had been attending school in Ma., and would return to South Carolina to help her father after the death of her mother. She would become involved in the Port Royal Project and would teach children nearly the same age as herself as well as take care of the household duties and ten boarders, and she but 15 years old.

Reuben would meet a missionary school teacher by the name of Charlotte Keith and they would marry in 1869 and have two children together:

  1. Almeda (Alma)
  2. Charlotte ( Lottie)

Reuben's older daughters were very close to their step- mother and the children born to the union.

In 1870 , Reuben purchased a large parcel of land, built a saw mill, a store and several houses. Thus he founded the town of Almeda, South Carolina , naming the town after his young daughter. His wife Charlotte would die in 1874 and he asked her sister, Sarah to move into his home and help him with the children, a move that was the subject of much gossip in the community. Due to the gossip, they would marry. o children were born of this union. He was involved in the lumber business for several years and then decided to return to the north.

Reuben Graves Holmes died January 30, 1906 at Providence, Rhode Island and is buried at Pine Grove Cemetery, Westborough, Ma. Before his death he had built two wharves, constructed several houses and wrote his memoirs.

Donna Glenn-2015

Source:Cultivating a New South: Abbie Holmes Christensen and the Politics of Race and Gender; By Monica Maria Tetzlaff; Taylor and Preston; Salem, Mass.

Source: Christensen Family Papers 1806-1999 Selected Chronologies #1

Source: Christensen Family Papers 1806-1999 Selected Chronologies #2


The Port Royal Experiment : Wikipedia Entry

The Port Royal Experiment was a program begun during the American Civil War in which former slaves successfully worked on the land abandoned by plantation owners. In 1861 the Union liberated the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina and their main harbor, Port Royal. The white residents fled, leaving behind 10,000 black slaves. Several private Northern charity organizations stepped in to help the former slaves become self-sufficient. The result was a model of what Reconstruction could have been. The African Americans demonstrated their ability to work the land efficiently and live independently of white control. They assigned themselves daily tasks for cotton growing and spent their extra time cultivating their own crops, fishing and hunting. By selling their surplus crops, the locals acquired small amounts of property. In 1862, General Ormsby M. Mitchel allowed African Americans to found the town of Mitchelville on Hilton Head Island. In 1865 President Andrew Johnson ended the experiment, returning the land to its previous white owners.

In February 1862, a report was made to the Treasury Dept. which gives an indication of the territory held in the Port Royal Experiment:

An estimate of the number of plantations open to cultivation, and of the persons upon the territory protected by the forces of the United States, if only approximate to the truth, may prove convenient in providing a proper system of administration. The following islands are thus protected, and the estimated number of plantations upon each is given:

Island Plantations:

  1. Port Royal 65
  2. Lady's 30
  3. Parry, including Horse 6
  4. Cat 1
  5. Cane 1
  6. Datthaw 4
  7. Coosaw 2
  8. Morgan 2
  9. St. Helena 50
  10. Hilton Head 16
  11. Pinckney 5
  12. Bull, including Barratria 2
  13. Daufuskie 5
  14. Hutchinson and Fenswick 6

Total 195

There are several other islands thus protected, without plantations, as Otter, Pritchard, Fripp, Hunting and Phillips. Lemon and Daw have not been explored by the agents engaged in collecting cotton. The populous island of North Edisto, lying in the direction of Charleston, and giving the name to the finest cotton, is still visited by the rebels. A part near Botany Bay Island is commanded by the guns of one of our war vessels, under which a colony of one thousand negroes sought protection, where they have been temporarily subsisted from its stores. The number has within a few days been stated to have increased to 2300.

---E. L. Pierce, The Negroes at Port Royal: Report of E. L. Pierce, Government Agent, to the Hon. Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury, 1862

Added by D. Glenn 2015

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Reuben Holmes's Timeline

December 20, 1820
West Boylston, Massachusetts
January 28, 1852
Age 31
Westborough, Worcester County, Massachusetts, United States
November 19, 1860
Age 39
Worcester, Worcester County, Massachusetts, United States
January 15, 1872
Age 51
Beaufort, Beaufort County, South Carolina, United States
July 11, 1873
Age 52
Beaufort, Beaufort County, South Carolina, United States
January 30, 1906
Age 85
Providence, Rhode Island
Westborough, Massachusetts