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Biographical Sketch

Hugh Blair Grigsby, nineteenth-century Virginia historian, lived from 1806-1881. He served on the Board of Visitors and as Chancellor of William & Mary.

From the Virginia Historical Society

"Son and only child of Benjamin Porter Grigsby (1770-1810), Presbyterian minister of Norfolk, Va., and Elizabeth McPherson (1778-1860). In 1817, Elizabeth (McPherson) Grigsby married Dr. Nathan Colgate Whitehead (1792-1856), the president of the Farmers Bank of Virginia in Norfolk. This union resulted in five children, including John Boswell Whitehead (1822-1904), one-time Mayor of Norfolk.

Hugh Blair Grigsby attended Yale for two years, studying law, and qualified to practice in the Norfolk courts. However, growing deafness precluded his following of his chosen career, and he turned, instead, to journalism. He served as editor and owner of the Norfolk Beacon newspaper for six years.

Grigsby represented Norfolk in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1829-1830, and also served as a member of the Virginia Convention of 1829-30.

Grigsby married Mary Venable Carrington in 1840. She was the daughter of Col. Clement Carrington (d. 1847) of "Edgehill," Charlotte County, Va. Except for a short period following the death of his father-in-law, during which he returned to Norfolk, Grigsby remained at "Edgehill" from his marriage until the end of his life. He expended a great deal of time and effort making his large plantation both modern and profitable. His family consisted, in addition to his wife, of his son Hugh Carrington Grigsby (1856-1909) and daughter Mary Blair (Grigsby) Galt (1860-1916), the wife of W. W. Galt.

One of Grigsby's great passions was books, and he acquired over 6,000 volumes during his lifetime, with titles representing all branches of literature and history. He was especially proud of those volumes purchased from the library of John Randolph of Roanoke. He was also a great supporter of Virginia sculptor Alexander Galt (1827-1863), and owned a number of Galt's works, including "Columbus," "Sappho," "Psyche," and "Bacchante".

Grigsby began his connection with the College of William & Mary in the 1850s. As a member of the Board of Visitors, he was tireless in his support of the institution. He was elected Chancellor in 1871 and served until 1881.

Grigsby was elected to the presidency of the Virginia Historical Society in 1870, serving in that capacity until 1881. He saw the Society through one of the most trying times in its history, as it attempted to rise from the ashes of the Civil War. Many of his most well-known works were published under the Society's sponsorship."1

Preceded by

William & Mary Chancellor

Succeeded by

John Tyler 1859-1862

Hugh Blair Grigsby 1871-1881

John Stewart Bryan 1942-1944

Further Reading

  • Discourse on the life and character of the Hon. Littleton Waller Tazewell, delivered in the Freemason Street Baptist Church, before the bar of Norfolk, Virginia, and the citizens, generally, on the 29th of June, 1860 by Hugh Blair Grigsby. Sabin Americana. Gale, Cengage Learning. The College of William & Mary Libraries (accessed January 31, 2017).

  1. Virginia Historical Society. A Guide to the Hugh Blair Grigsby, 1806-1881 Papers, 1745-1944. Last updated: July 26, 2004.… (accessed January 31, 2017).


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A note about the contents of this site

This website contains the best available information from known sources at the time it was written. Unfortunately, many of the early original records of William & Mary were destroyed by fires, military occupation, and the normal effects of time. The information in this website is not complete, and it changes as we continue to research and uncover new sources.