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Biographical Review: Greene, Schoharie and Schenectady Counties, New York
Joseph B. Graham

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[This information is from pp. 429-431 of Biographical Review Volume XXXIII: Containing Life Sketches of Leading Citizens of Greene, Schoharie and Schenectady Counties, New York (Boston: Biographical Review Publishing Company, 1899). It is in the collection of the Grems-Doolittle Library of the Schenectady County Historical Society at 920 BIO.]

Joseph B. Graham, ex-Mayor of Schenectady, N. Y., was born in Rossie, St. Lawrence County, this State, September 27, 1830, son of William and Janet (Fairbairn) Graham. His father was born in Wigton, near Carlisle, England, June 6, 1806, and his mother was a native of Scotland.

Joseph Graham, the grandfather of Joseph B., was born in Wigton about the year 1767. He was a saddler by trade, and carried on business there until meeting with reverses. In April, 1819, he sailed from Liverpool with his wife and eleven children, landing at Quebec in the following June. With his small means he purchased a tract of wild land in Wilna, Jefferson County, N. Y., and with the assistance of his five sturdy sons he cleared a good farm, upon which he resided for the rest of his life. He died in 1841, and his wife, who survived him, died in Lowville, N. Y., on her eightieth birthday, while visiting her daughter. They had five sons and six daughters. One of the latter, who was taken ill while on the passage from England, died soon after landing. The first and third sons settled near St. Catherine's, Canada. The others located in this State, married, and reared large families. All lived to an advanced age, and Margaret, the youngest, died in Carthage, N. Y., at the age of eighty years. The grandparents were members of the Church of England, but, through the influence of the itinerant Methodist preachers who visited the outlying districts in those early days, their children were converted to that faith.

William Graham, the father, was educated in England, and was an apt scholar, especially in mathematics. When nineteen years old he began teaching school in the Scotch settlement near Wilna, but his principal business was the furnishing of plans and specifications to contractors for heavy mason work, bridge building, and so forth. He was a highly intelligent, well-read man, particularly fond of biography and history, and is said to have predicted that slavery in the South would ultimately cause a civil war. He died November 3, 1858. Jeanette, his first wife, whom he married in 1829, was a daughter of James and Mary (Bell) Fairbairn, who came from the neighborhood of Glasgow, Scotland, in 1818, and settled in Rossie, N. Y. They were industrious farming people and sturdy pioneers. They reared one son and five daughters. William Graham by his first marriage was the father of eight children, of whom Joseph B., the subject of this sketch, was the eldest. All are living except James, the second-born, who died suddenly in May, 1894, aged sixty-two years, leaving two children. The mother died in 1852, aged forty-two years. By a second marriage William Graham had three daughters.

Joseph B. Graham resided with his maternal grandparents from his fifth to his tenth year, and, as they spoke the Scotch dialect, he learned it to perfection. He began his education in the district schools, and was fitted for college at the Wesleyan Seminary, Gouverneur, N. Y. In order to procure funds for the completion of his studies, he taught in the common schools until 1854, when he entered Union College, wher. He was graduated with honors in 1858. After teaching classics and mathematics at the Stillwater Academy for a time, he came to Schenectady, and in company with Mr. F. A. Young was engaged for the succeeding eight years in mercantile business, dealing in books, stationery, wall papers, pianofortes, and other musical instruments. Selling his interest to his partner, he was out of business for about six years, and then engaged in the dry-goods trade as a member of the firm of T. H. Reeves & Co., from which he withdrew some seven years later. He was for a number of years extensively engaged in the real estate business, and, although his activity in that line has somewhat diminished of late, he still owns a large amount of valuable city property, which is occupied by thirty or more tenants. He resides in a substantial house at 6 Nott Terrace, which he built twenty-seven years ago.

Mr. Graham is a director of the Union National Bank. In 1879 he became a member of the Mutual Relief Society, under certificate No. 212; he was a member of its Board of Directors for six years; was chairman of the Reserve Fund Committee and of the committee appointed to revise the by-laws; and at the annual convention in 1883 he was unanimously elected vice-president. His connection with the society has been marked by an unusually clear conception of and a conscientious regard for its business interests, and he is considered one of its most valued officials. He was twice elected to the Common Council, has been a member of the Boards of Health and Education, and as Mayor of the city in 1879-80 he managed the municipal affairs in a business-like manner.

On August 8, 1858, Mr. Graham was united in marriage with Cornelia L. White, of this county, daughter of Andrew and Cornelia (De Forest) White. Her father was a native of the north of Ireland, and her mother belonged to an old Dutch family of this city. She died in 1878, and in 1880 he married for his second wife Sarah E. Hagaman, also of a well-known Dutch family, daughter of Joseph J. and Elizabeth M. Hagaman. He was the father of three children by his first union, namely: Jennie, who died at the age of five; William, who died at the age of one year and six months; and Edward White Graham, who married Abbie Craver, and is now residing in Denver, Col. One child, Mary Hagaman, by his second marriage, is living with her parents.

Mr. Graham is an active member of the Methodist Episcopal church, which he has served in an official capacity. He was prominently identified with the building of the present edifice, which was completed in 1874, at a cost of eighty thousand dollars, and is a liberal contributor toward its support. He is a member of Union College Chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society; has been a trustee of the Troy Conference Academy, Poultney, Vt., continuously since 1874; and has been president of the board since 1878. He possesses and highly prizes a small writing-desk which was purchased in England for five guineas by his grandfather, who in April, 1819, gave it to his son William. In it are some rare specimens of drawings executed by his father when a lad of thirteen years, and also some letters received from the father by the son while in college. Mr. Graham received this heirloom from his father in November, 1858, just before his father's death.

[Editorial note: This entry was not returned to the author with corrections.]

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