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This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Grist, Allen

by Percival Perry, 1986

2 Jan. 1792–13 Dec. 1866

Allen Grist, planter, naval stores producer, sheriff, and senator from Beaufort County, was born near Washington, N.C., the eldest son and second oldest of eight children of Reading and Elizabeth Grimes Grist. Reading Grist, a Revolutionary War soldier, served in the militia in the New Bern District and his father, John Grist, served on the Committee of Safety in Pitt County in 1775. Richard Grist, John's father, was living in Beaufort County before 1752. Allen Grist served first as deputy sheriff and later as sheriff of Beaufort County for eighteen years between 1818 and 1845, although not continuously. He also served three terms in the North Carolina Senate, from 1850 to 1852 and from 1854 to 1858, and was instrumental in getting the Bank of Washington chartered and established in 1851. Throughout his life he was affiliated with the Whig party.

Grist also owned extensive lands in Beaufort County and engaged in general farming and in the naval stores business, which since colonial times had been carried on in the Washington-New Bern area. Among the pioneers in expanding the industry south of and up the Cape Fear River in the 1840s was the firm of A. & J. R. Grist, formed in 1843 by Allen and his son James. For the next fifteen years the firm pursued the naval stores business in Brunswick, Columbus, and Bladen counties in the Cape Fear River region, making extensive use of slave labor. It operated a store and several turpentine distilleries and was involved in the Brothers Steamboat Company, which was engaged in hauling naval stores on the Cape Fear River. Declining availability of turpentine lands in North Carolina prompted the firm to remove to the Mobile Bay region of Alabama in 1858. Returns from this operation in 1860 were more than $60,000.

In 1860, Grist was listed as owning $50,000 in real estate and $92,900 in personal property, including 109 slaves, making him the largest slaveholder in Beaufort County. A. & J. R. Grist, turpentine farmers, held $44,000 in real estate and $125,750 in personal property and owned 72 slaves. In addition, as estate administrator for minor children related to his wife, Grist controlled another 48 slaves, for a total of 229. His son James R. Grist owned individually 84 slaves, giving the Grists ownership and management of 313 slaves. They leased additional slaves from other owners.

Grist appears to have had the respect of his numerous children, his relatives, and obviously of the voters from his long years in public office. He was characterized as discharging his official duties with "an energy, forbearance and fidelity which won for him ever afterwards the esteem and confidence of the people. The trust reposed in him was not betrayed, and in acknowledgement of his merits, whatever of County honors he would accept, were freely bestowed by his fellow citizens." He died at his residence near Washington at age seventy-four while still serving as chairman of the county court. The Grists were members of the Episcopal church, and he and his wife were buried in the Old Grist Cemetery near Chocowinity.

On 11 Feb. 1817 Grist married Mary Ann Williams, and they had thirteen children: James R., John W., William S., Susan E., Olivia, Mary W., Penelope and Apsley (twins), Richard, David, Margaret, Allen, and Wiley Grimes. In 1860 William Garl Browne painted oil portraits of Allen and his wife, now owned by Mrs. Clay Carter, Washington, N.C.


John L. Cheney, Jr., ed., North Carolina Government, 1585–1974 (1975).

Grist family Bible and newspaper obituary of Allen Grist (in possession of Mrs. J. D. Grimes, Jr., Washington, N.C.).

Grist MSS (Manuscript Department, Library, Duke University, Durham).

Ursula Loy and Pauline M. Worthy, eds., Washington and the Pamlico (1976).

C. Wingate Reed, Beaufort County (1962).

U.S. Census, 1860, Beaufort County.

Additional Resources:

"An Act to incorporate a Bank in the town of Washington, in the county of Beaufort." Laws of the State of North-Carolina, passed by the General Assembly at the session of 1850-'51. Raleigh [N.C.]: Thos. J. Lemay. 1851. (accessed August 15, 2013).

King, Elizabeth C. Comprehensive Architectural Survey of Beaufort County Phases II and III (Rural) Final Report.  Greenville, N.C.:North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office. January 3, 2011. 28-34. (accessed August 15, 2013).

James Redding Grist Business Records, 1780-1920. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University. (accessed August 15, 2013).

Bryan Grimes Papers, 1730-1929 (collection no. 00292). The Southern Historical Collection. Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.,Bryan.html (accessed August 15, 2013).

Devereux, Thomas Pollock, and Battle, William Horn. "David C. Freeman, v. Allen Grist." Reports of Cases at Law, Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of North Carolina from December Term, 1834 to June Term 1836, Both Inclusive volume 1.  Raleigh: Turner & Hughes. 1837. 217-220. (accessed August 15, 2013).