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Generally Speaking, Townsend Couple is a Match Made in History

January 19, 2018 GMT

TOWNSEND -- The marriage of Sam and Julie Grant is a love story 196 years in the making. It revolves around Ulysses S. Grant, who, born in 1822, would go on to lead the Union army to victory in the Civil War and serve two terms as president with his wife, Julia, by his side.

Both Sam and Julie had been fascinated with Grant for years, viewing him as one of the country’s most consequential leaders. They met in 2005 at a Civil War re-enactment that was part of Groton’s 350th anniversary. Grant was portraying his namesake general, as he had for close to a decade, and Julie attended the event as a curious onlooker who had never participated herself.

They did not know it at the time, but the general had just met his Julia.

Thirteen years later, Sam, 68, and Julie, 50, raise several children in their Townsend farmhouse, tend to horses in the yard and regularly attend historical re-enactments as Gen. and Mrs. Grant. They run a nonprofit, U.S. Grant Inc., dedicated to honoring and promoting the memory of the general and his accomplishments.


In a way, Sam said, their work as the Grants is proof of a deeper connection and commitment than even their marriage certificate.

“It’s something that’s between the two of us,” he said. “There’s no third party anywhere.”

The couple complement one another’s efforts. Julie, as Julia Grant, will often introduce Sam, as Ulysses Grant, at the dozen or so events they attend annually. She also focuses on their logistics, maintaining the website and booking a schedule, while Sam engages more with the history.

“It’s extremely rewarding to have a similar interest,” Julie said.

It can be a bit unclear in conversation where Sam Grant ends and Ulysses S. Grant begins.

Leaning back in his dining room chair, an unlit cigar in his hand, Sam discussed how his fascination with Grant began in books and evolved into a passionate, lifelong dedication. Likenesses of the general, some of which are paintings and some of which are photos of Sam dressed in full costume at re-enactments, surrounded the table.

To call his knowledge exhaustive would be an understatement. Sam repeatedly refers to esoteric details -- such as Grant setting a West Point equestrian record by jumping a horse named York 5 feet and 9 inches -- in conversation. He freely shifts in and out of character, too, even in an interview in his home. In a single answer to a question, Sam can reference his daughter living in South Carolina and then, still speaking in the first person, say he has not forgiven “that despicable state” for starting the Civil War.

Sam Grant is not even his given name. Once he moved to Massachusetts, people remembered him so much from his re-enactment that they would refer to him by his stage name. After a certain point, when “everybody knew (him) as” Grant already, he legally changed his name.


During our interview, Sam picked up his business card and looked at the photo of himself in costume.

“As far as I’m concerned, when I’m out there,” he said, “that’s me.”

Julie cites two keys to getting into character and maintaining it for long periods, sometimes up to eight hours straight: the energy of the crowd and period-appropriate attire.

“For me, it always helps to throw on the hoop skirt,” Julie said. “One of the things moms always want to know is ‘can you drive in that thing?’ And yes, I absolutely can drive in a hoop skirt. In fact, the ladies back then would have gotten into much tighter spaces because they would have climbed into carriages.”

Although Sam devotes himself to the Grant organization full time, the couple acknowledges it is not exactly a profitable endeavor. Julie works, and they make up the rest through donations to their nonprofit and by renting out their horses, all of which are named after Grant’s horses, to other re-enactment groups.

The couple continue to expand their works as the Grants of history. They will do more events in 2018 than any previous year, Julie said, including their second-ever appearance at the Presidents’ Day event hosted by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston.

A new biography of Grant from the author Ron Chernow, released late last year, may spark a new interest in the general and president they admire so much.

“I hope you live to see the day when we finally learn that Grant was the greatest president this country ever had after (George) Washington,” Sam said. “No other man could have saved the Civil War from the beginning like (Abraham) Lincoln, but when you win a war, that’s the easy part. ... It’s only a man like Grant who cares as much as Grant cares -- it takes that kind of man to do whatever’s possible to try to bring both sides together.”

Sam and Julie stress that they do not like to speculate on what the Grants would make of politics today. But, regardless of opinions, they see it as imperative to maintain an intimate understanding of the past.

As the same racist ideology that sparked the Civil War still lingers, with Southern cities in protest over whether to remove statues of Confederate leaders, perhaps that message is more relevant than ever.

“If you don’t remember yesterday,” Sam said, “you will make the exact same mistake again.”

Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisLisinski.