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Sketches of North Carolina
Chapter XIX - Major-General Joseph Graham


A BRIEF memoir of the several members of the Mecklenburg Convention would present the interesting spectacle of noble spirits, capable of the highest efforts of patriotism, self-denial and manly daring, acting out in a secluded frontier and a narrow boundary all the imperishable principles on which our Republic is based. The great truths which their minds embraced an( their hearts loved, will remain unchanged and unchangeable. They may be modified, but when they cease to be the principles of the American Republic, a new government will have arisen, a new battle will be fought in the renovated plains of Asia or Africa, or Liberty must depart from the earth for ever.

The distance from a flourishing printing-press—so great an evil during the Revolution—has been unfavorable to the notoriety of these retired but eminent men. Short memoirs, funeral orations, and collections of anecdotes, prepared by friends, which would have given all the desired information, were left to perish in manuscript, or die with those who had been witnesses, or live in the dire and twilight existence of tradition. All the prominent actors in the events of May 20th and 30th, 1775, have passed away; very few of those who were witnesses, and in the early days of youth, are living; at this distant period; only here and there is one who can tell the deeds and recount the sufferings, and relate the anecdotes of the men of the Revolution. Brief notices will be given, interspersed in the body of the narratives and intermingled in the chapters, concerning these men whose memory must he dear to posterity.

'l'llc man whose name stands at the head of this chapter, may be taken as an example of the enterprise, and labors, and sufferings of the young men of Carolina, who in defence of liberty spent their strength, gave their property, and shed their blood. There were multitudes whose names are worthy of a record, not so fortunate as this main, that found in a son-in-law a recorder of his deeds and a memorialist of his life, who has favored the public with a specimen of Mecklenburg youth in the Revolution.

As you go from Beattie's Ford towards Lincolnton, about eight miles from the Catawba, and about ten from the village, you pass VESUVIUS FURNACE, the product of the skill and enterprise of that citizen-soldier, and soldier-citizen, Joseph Graham. Here he lived some forty years of his life, advancing the internal improvements of his country with persevering invention; planning, building and perfecting his iron-works, increasing his own resources as he added to the conveniences of his neighborhood. Here he reared a family of children; seven of whom survived him, though his life was prolonged to seventy-seven years. Here, as a neighbor and head of a family, like Mr. Hunter, the minister of Unity and Goshen, on whose ministry he attended, Mr. Graham exercised that frank hospitality and cheerful intercourse, that precision in principle and decision in action characteristic of those soldiers and officers of the Revolution, who went into the camp patriots, and came out unpolluted by its vices, and unhardened by its sufferings and bloody scenes.

Graham and Hunter were both spectators of the convention in Charlotte,—Hunter, six days past his twentieth birthday,—Graham not yet sixteen. Both saw much service in the war that followed; after the peace Hunter served his country as a faithful minister of the gospel, and Graham, as a high-minded, noble-spirited citizen, a sheriff, a military officer, a magistrate, and in the latter part of his life, an elder in the Presbyterian church. Both were of that race from the north of Ireland, familiarly called Scotch-Irish, whose emigrant families filled the country tracked by the bloodshed and ravages of the invading army under Cornwallis; and poured forth soldiers for the contest for freedom of opinion and personal liberty as brave as their descendants have been fortunate in winning the honors of their fellow citizens. Hunter was brought from Ireland when a boy; Graham was born in Pennsylvania; both grew to years of manhood in Mecklenburg county, North Carolina; both were deprived of their father in early life, and both were trained by a widowed mother. What widows there were in Carolina! Widow Graham, Widow Hunter, Widow Brevard, Widow Flinn, and Widow Sharpe. Joseph Graham was born in Pennsylvania, October 3d, 1739, and at about the age of seven years was settled in Carolina with his widowed mother, who brought her five children to the neighborhood of Charlotte. His coming to Mecklenburg was not far from the time of the birth of ANDREW JACKSON, since General and President of the United States, which took place March 13th, 1757, on the Waxhaw in South Carolina, about thirty miles from Charlotte. Jackson, like Hunter and Graham, was early bereaved of his father; and to this was soon added the irreparable loss of his mother, who, emigrating from the north of Ireland, with the characteristic attachment to liberty, was made a sacrifice to the independence of the United States, dying a victim to the hardships of the war.

Mr. Graham was accustomed to labor from his childhood. As his frame was inured to hardships, his mind was not, left uncultivated. He had for a time the benefit of the instruction given in the flourishing academy in Charlotte, afterwards known as Queen's Museum, and subsequently as Liberty Hall, the nursery of independent youth in noble sentiments.

In the month of May, 1778, in his nineteenth year, we find hire an officer in the company of Captain Gooden, of the 4th regiment of North Carolina regular troops, under the command of Colonel Archibald Lytle, marching to the rendezvous at Bladensburg, in Maryland. In Caswell county the regiment met the news of the battle of Monmouth, and the consequent retreat of the British forces to New York; and proceeded no farther. Mr. Graham returned home on furlough, and spent the summer on his mother's farm.

In November, of the same year, he was in active service on the Savannah, under General Rutherford. In the spring following, we find him as quarter-master with the troops under the command of General Lincoln, in his campaign against General Prevost, and taking part in the hard-fought battle of the Stono, June 20th, 1779, which lasted an hour and a half. Many soldiers perished from the excessive heat of the day, among whom was the eldest brother of General Jackson. In the July following he was taken with a severe illness of two months, received his discharge near Dorchester, and returned home.

Having passed the winter with his mother, he was ploughing in her fields in May, 1780, when he received the news that Charleston had been surrendered to the British arms; that Cornwallis had moved rapidly on to Camden; that Buford's Virginia regiment retreating, and as was supposed out of reach of the enemy, was surprised by Tarleton on the Waxhaw, and miserably butchered, few escaping unwounded, and many cut down crying for quarter; and that the British forces were within forty miles of Charlotte. The inhabitants of the Waxhaw fled for shelter from Lord Rawdon's oppression to Mecklenburg, Rowan, and Guilford, in North Carolina; young Jackson's mother residing for a time in the family of the Wilsons. A regiment was raised in Mecklenburg, which spent the summer in assailing the troops, and opposing the motions of Rawdon; of this regiment Graham was adjutant.

On the 16th of August, 1780, Gates was defeated near Camden, and fled to Hillsborough. The whole country was in alarm; distressed, but not broken. The extreme of danger overbalanced in the minds of some the love of liberty; and some made submission to the king's authority, while the others took up arms more vigorously than ever in the defence of all that is dear. Cornwallis marched towards Charlotte, that "hot-bed of rebellion," "that hornets' nest," as his lordship afterwards named it, to take a position in the midst of the most disaffected region in the South. Graham was ordered by General Davidson to repair to Charlotte, take command of the forces assembled there, and join Colonel William Richardson Davie, who was severely annoying the advance of the British army.

The night Cornwallis took possession of Davie's encampment on the Waxhaw, Davie encamped at Providence, about twenty-five miles from his lordship, on his way to Charlotte. On the morning of the 25th of September the British army was on the advance towards the same place; about midnight Davie entered the town. On the morning of the 26th the royal forces approached the place. Tarleton's dragoons rushed forward, and were repulsed;—again rushed forward, and were again repulsed. A regiment being ordered to sustain the charge, they rushed on the third time,—and were the third time repulsed by the small force assembled in the town. A regiment of infantry deploying on their flanks, the forces under Davie and Graham retired along the Salisbury road, keeping up a well-directed fire from the court-house to the Gum Tree. At the farm occupied by Mr.-----, just out of town, where they halted and checked the advance of the pursuing forces, Graham narrowly escaped a double clanger from the balls of the enemy and the bursting of a gun in time lands of a soldier who stood near. The forces again formed on the hill near Sugar Creek meetinghouse. The delay at this place, protracted by the zeal of Major White, rendered their further retreat dangerous, a body of dragoons having gone round their right to intercept them at time Cross Roads, a little beyond. This movement of the enemy was discovered just in time for the greater part of the retreating forces to escape. After a hot pursuit, Colonel Locke, of Iowan, was overtaken and shot down on the margin of the pond near Alexander Kennedy's lane; and Graham was overtaken in the skirt of the woods some distance to the right of the road, between Mr. Kennedy's and J. A. Houston's, cut down, severely mangled, and left for dead. He had received nine wounds—six from sabre cuts, and three from bullets. His stock-buckle intercepted one of the cuts upon his neck, and bore marks of the severity of the blow aimed at his life. Four deep sabre gashes scarred his head.

After the enemy left him, he crawled with difficulty to some water near, and slaking his intolerable thirst, washed as well as he was able his numerous and painful wounds. For a time he despaired of life, and expected to die unnoticed in that secluded spot. Towards night he was discovered by the neighbors, who were looking around the battle-field to find their wounded countrymen, and conveyed to the house of a widow lady, the mother of Mrs. Susannah Alexander, now living. Here he was concealed in an upper room, or loft, and attended upon through the night by the widow and her daughter, who were expecting that he would die from the number and severity of his wounds. Once he fell asleep and breathed so quietly, and looked so pale, as they came to inquire his wants, they thought he was dead.

The next day, the 27th, the lady of one of the British officers, with a small company of horsemen, visited the house, in search of fresh provisions. By some means she discovered there was a wounded man in the loft. On pressing the inquiry she found he was an officer, and his wounds severe; and offered to send a surgeon from the army to dress his wounds, as soon as she should reach the camp at Charlotte. Alarmed at this discovery, Graham, summoning all his powers to the highest exertion, caused himself to be put on horseback, the succeeding night, and was carried to his mother's, and from thence speedily to the hospital. Three balls were taken from his body. The severity of the wounds and the loss of blood confined for about two months this active soldier.

After the rencontre on the hill, near Sugar Creek meetinghouse, and the consequent pursuit, the American forces retreated without further opposition. There had been no hope of successful defence of the town, or effectual resistance of the advancing enemy. But from the time of Buford's Massacre, in May,—when the Presbyterian church on the Waxhaw became a hospital, where young Jackson first saw wounds and the carnage of war,—anal more particularly after the defeat of Gates in August, the patriots were exasperated, driven to madness, by the cruelties of the tories and the marauding parties of the British army. Armed bands of the patriots, whigs, as they were called, were constantly hovering round the enemy in their camp and on their march, intercepting their supplies, cutting off their foraging parties, and retaliating distress. These annoyances caused Cornwallis and his officers to move cautiously, and keep their army iii a compact body; and the country not immediately in their track was in a measure free from devastation, it being entirely unsafe for any small party to venture far from the main body. The report of a foraging party would spread with wonderful rapidity, and the irritated inhabitants collect and harass the plunderers back to the camp, or force them to take shelter under the cannon of his lordship.

Having recovered from his wounds, Graham, at the request of Gen. Wm. L. Davidson, the commander in chief of the militia of the western counties of Carolina, undertook, in December, 1780, to raise a body of men to be under his own command. In two weeks he embodied fifty-five mounted riflemen, armed and accoutred at their own expense; some, beside their rifles, carrying swords, and some, pistols; all prepared for hard service, and entering the field without a quarter-master, and in expectation of little pay for the three months of their engagement, which proved months of hard service.

The celebrated victory of the CoĢ-pens was gained by Morgan, over Tarleton, on the 17th of January, 1781. To secure his six hundred prisoners, Morgan commenced his march towards Virginia, through Lincoln county, aiming to cross the Catawba at Beattie's ford. Cornwallis and Greene commenced their march to the same ford, the royal army on the western side of the river, to intercept Morgan, and the American forces on the eastern side, to meet him at the ford and secure his prisoners. Then commenced the trial of generalship between the two commanders, to be determined by force and skill, the reward of victory to be the prisoners of Morgan and the possession of the Southern States. Much, perhaps we might say everything, depended on the reaching the ford first. Each of the three parties had about the same distance to march. Morgan had the start, but was encumbered with the prisoners. The two rival Generals moved on with all possible celerity; the royal army destroying their heavy baggage, by the example of their General; the American forces having but little to carry or destroy. Greene left his army and rode across the country and had an interview with Morgan, who pressed on with wonderful spirit, ambitious to secure his prisoners, and reached the ford unmolested. On the morning after he crossed, Cornwallis appeared upon the Western bank, hot in the pursuit, and disappointed of his prey.

The river had risen the night after Morgan crossed, and was impassable. The two days thus gained saw Morgan far on his way to Virginia, and Greene moving slowly towards the Yadkin, between him and Cornwallis. General Davidson, with the North Carolina militia, was left to delay the crossing of the enemy as long as possible. Captain Graham was posted with his rifle company at Cowan's Ford, some distance below Beattie's, and at that ford, after many feints, his Lordship commenced his passage of the river. The riflemen kept up a constant and galling fire upon the advancing ranks, and many an officer and soldier were sent floating down the stream, victims of their deadly aim. General Davidson, hearing the firing, came down to the river bank, accompanied by Col. Wm. Polk, and the Rev. Thomas H. McCaule, pastor of Centre congregation, in whose bounds this action took place, and while taking observations, received a fatal wound and fell dead from his horse. The deadly shot was supposed to be from the hand of a tory, the British soldiers using only muskets, and the wound of Davidson being made by a rifle ball. No one claimed the honor of piloting the enemy to the ford, or of aiming the fatal shot. Such a preeminence would have been fatal to the claimant in North Carolina for years.

The North Carolina militia, under the command of General Pickens, hung upon the rear of the enemy, as Cornwallis pursued Greene across the State into Virginia, and continued to molest them in their encampment at Hillsborough. Capt. Graham, with his company and some troops from Rowan, surprised and captured the guard at Hart's Mill, only a mile and a half from headquarters, and then united with the forces of Col. Lee, of Virginia, and the next day assisted ins the surprise of Col. Pyles, with his regiment of three hundred tortes, advancing to join the army of his Lordship, and within two miles of the forces under Tarleton.

Mistaking the American forces for Tarleton's troop, which was known to be near, the tories raised the shout of "God save the king," and never discovered their mistake till trampled down by the cavalry, sword in hand. The discomfiture was complete, and the forces under Lee, escaped without loss, passing within a mile of Tarleton's corps. Lee used to speak of the surprise of these tortes with great enthusiasm, and describe graphically their consternation upon discovering their mistake. He led his troops along the front of their line, which were shouting him a welcome; he traversed the whole front unsuspected, he and his men waving their swords. His command, ''wheel into line," gave no alarm. At the word "charge," his company leaped their horses upon the ranks of the tories, and in a moment their swords were bathed in blood. It was the most complete surprise of the whole war.

In the course of a short time after this, Captain Graham was in the engagement under Lee at Clapp's Mill, on the Alamance; and in a few days after, at Whitsell's Mill, under Colonel Washington. With these officers, Graham was employed in harassing all foraging parties, and beating up the quarters of the tories, till the 14th March, when the term of enlistment for which he had engaged his men expired.

As was usual with the partizan corps, Graham's company insisted on returning home for refreshment after their term of enlistment was expired, the 14th of March, their resources being exhausted and their engagements having been fulfilled. By order of General Greene they were marched in a compact body till the Yadkin was crossed, and there disbanded. By this movement, Graham and his men were deprived of the honor of assisting in the important battle at Guilford Court-house, after having taken so active a part in the preparatory steps. The very next day after crossing the river, far in the rear, Cornwallis having accepted the challenge of Greene, gave battle; and in two days was on his way to Wilmington, flying from his defeated adversary.

The western part of North Carolina had rest during the summer of 1781. In the early part of September, General Rutherford was released from the captivity he had endured from the time of the -defeat of Gates. Immediately upon his release he took the necessary steps to raise three companies of dragoons and two hundred mounted infantry; of these, Robert Smith was appointed colonel, and Graham, who had been engaged in their organization, was appointed major. On their march to Wilmington, near the Raft Swamp, Graham, with ninety dragoons and forty infantry, dispersed a large body of tories who had assembled at the command of Cornwallis; and soon after, with one troop of dragoons and two of infantry, he surprised and defeated another near Wilmington. On the next day, Major Graham led, in person, the attack made on the British garrison, near the same place. The last engagement in which he participated during the war, resulted in the defeat of the celebrated Colonel Gagney, near Lake Waccamaw. After a long series of depredations, practised on the patriots without relenting, he was surprised and entirely defeated. In this engagement Major Graham commanded three companies, and acted a brave part in this last action in which he participated during the Revolutionary war, which was speedily closed in the South, by the surrender of Cornwallis, at Yorktown.

After the close of the war he was elected the first sheriff of Mecklenburg county, and gave as great satisfaction to his fellow-citizens in civil, as he had done in military life. For many years he was a prominent member of the General Assembly of the State, from the same county. In the year 1787, he was married to the second daughter of Major John Davidson, one of the members of the Mecklenburg Convention, and by her became the father of twelve children, seven of whom survived him. Soon after his marriage he removed to Lincoln county, and proceeded to erect the iron works which gave him employment and affluence, and were a source of convenience and wealth to his neighborhood and fellow-citizens of the county.

In the year 1814, by the strong solicitations of the governor of the State, he accepted the commission of general of a force to be sent to the aid of the volunteers of 'Tennessee and Georgia, acting under Generals Jackson, Coffee and Carroll, in repelling the murderous aggressions of the Creek Indians. His private affairs required his attention at home; his public spirit prompted him to march with a fine body of men to the scat of war. He arrived in time to assist in bringing it to a close, and received the submission of several hundred of the Indians, after the battle fought by General Jackson, at the Horse Shoe. After more than thirty years of unparalleled prosperity had crowned the labors of the Revolution, and each had been prospered in their private concerns, and shared fully in the honors of their constituents, Graham and Jackson, whose boyhood and youth had been spent in the same troublous scenes, met to congratulate each other and their countrymen, at the successful termination of a vexatious Indian war.

For many years he was Major General of the fifth Division of North Carolina militia, and throughout his life manifested the same generosity and bravery that enabled him during the Revolutionary war to be the most successful man in Mecklenburg county, in raising a company or a legion. Those that served under him testified to his worth as a man, and as an officer.

As a magistrate and civil officer he was dignified, firm, a defender of time rights of his fellow-citizens, and a supporter of the laws. Freedom of person and property under the government of law, formed the basis of his political creed. What Judge Murphy says of Archibald Henderson, with the slight change of a few circumstances, may be said of Joseph Graham, in his public course. Speaking of Henderson, the Judge says,—"No man better understood the theory of our government, no man more admired it, no man gave more practical proofs of his admiration. rflhe sublime idea that he lived under the government of laws was for ever uppermost in his mind, and seemed to give a coloring to all his actions. As he acknowledged no dominion but that of the laws, he bowed with reverence to their authority, and taught obedience no less by his example than his precept. In the county courts, when the justice of the peace administered the laws, he was no less respectful in his deportment than in the highest tribunal of the State. He considered obedience to the law to be the first duty of a citizen, and it seemed to be the great object of his professional life to inculcate a sense of duty, and give the administration of the laws an impressive character. He said the laws were made for the common people, and they should be interpreted and administered by rules which they understood, whenever it was practicable. He said the rules of pedantry did not suit this country, nor this age, that common sense had acquired the dominion in politics and religion, and was gaining it in law." In these sentiments all sound republicans must unite, however they may differ on smaller matters. From the first, the inhabitants of Mecklenburg had declared that it was not against law, but against oppression, they raised their arms. The fourth resolution of this Convention says, "'that as we now acknowledge the existence and control of no law or legal officer, civil or military, within this county, we do hereby ordain and adopt as a rule of life, all, each, and every of our former laws, wherein, nevertheless, the crown of Great Britain never can be considered as holding rights, privileges, immunities, or authority therein."

His religious principles were those of his ancestors, and must be those of his descendants. Freedom. of conscience in the exercise of devotional feelings, in public and in private, was prized beyond all price. Freedom in religion was the great object for which his ancestors had contended in Ireland; for it they had emigrated to Carolina; and for it, in conjunction with freedom of property and person, under the government of law, he had taken up arms and fought. For it he had shed his blood in youth, and for it, in his old age, he would have died.

One who knew General Graham well, from long acquaintance, says: "His intercourse with others was marked by great dignity of deportment, delicacy of feeling, cheerfulness of spirit, and equality of temper. Men of learning and high standing have often expressed much gratification by his company, and surprise at the extent and accuracy of his knowledge. He was far, very far removed from all those feelings of selfishness, vanity, deception, or envy, which unfit inen for the duties and joys of social life. His eye was always open to the virtues of his friends; his heart was always ready to reciprocate their kindness, to sympathize with their sorrows, and overlook their infirmities. His hand, his time, his counsel and his influence, were all at the command of those who shared his confidence, and deserved his affection.

But there was another circle nearer to his heart, in which he was still better prepared to shine; and in which true excellency displayed, is a brighter and surer evidence of worth. Justice could not be done to his character without being known in the family circle. As a husband, a father, and a master, those alone who were the objects of his attachment, forbearance, and tenderness, could duly appreciate his conduct and demeanor.

"He possessed a lofty and delicate sense of personal honor and virtuous feeling. His presence was always a rebuke to the arts and abominations of evil speaking, profanity, and defamation. If he could not speak well of his fellow-men, he was wise and firm enough to say nothing. He regarded the reputation of others as a sacred treasure, and would never stoop to meddle with the private history, or detract from the good name of those around him. He felt that the sources of his enjoyment, and the causes of his elevation, were not to be found in the calamities or vices of his fellow-men, and hence his lips were closed to the tales of slander, and his bosom a stranger to the wiles of calumny.

But General Graham did not believe, when he had served his country, his family, and his friends, that his work on earth was finished. With an unwavering conviction of the truth and importance of religion, he professed to serve God, and to seek for salvation by faith in Christ. For a long period of time, he was a member of the Presbyterian church, under the ministry of Dr. Hunter; and for ten or twelve years previous to his death, was a ruling elder of Unity, under the pastoral care of Rev. Mr. Adams. He cherished the most profound respect for the ordinances and duties of Christianity, attended with deep interest and uniform punctuality upon the means of grace. He delighted much in reading the Word of God, and in hearkening to the instructions of the ministers of the gospel, for whom he always manifested the greatest regard. In selecting his library, he proved how high an estimate he placed upon Christian instruction, and in his most unreserved intercourse with pious friends, his deep and pervading concern for true and undefiled religion was apparent. No circumstance would deter him from manifesting the most decided contempt for the grovelling spirit of infidelity and, irreligion."

Accustomed in his youth to expose himself to instant death in a good cause, and in his age, girding his loins and trimming his lamp according to the gospel, his final departure by apoplexy coming suddenly, could be neither distressing nor alarming. He rode from Lincolnton, on the 10th of November, 1836, and on the 12th, closed his eyes for ever. He was buried in a spot chosen by himself and Captain Alexander Brevard, as a place of sepulture for their families. Captain Brevard was brother of Dr. Ephraim Brevard, the draughtsman of the Declaration; served as an officer in the Continental army; was connected in marriage with the sister of Mrs. Graham, both ladies being daughters of Major John Davidson; was a firm friend and neighbor of General Graham; with him, served as elder of the Presbyterian church; and with him, lies buried in the spot of their choice, a secluded place walled in with rock, on the Great Road from Beattie's Ford, by Brevard's Furnace, to Lincolnton. On the stone that marks Graham's grave, you may read,

SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF
MAJOR GENERAL JOSEPH GRAHAM,
who died, Nov. 12th, 1836, aged 77 years.

He was a brave, intelligent, and distinguished officer in the Revolutionary wear, and in various campaigns from May, 1778, to Nov., 1781, commanded in fifteen engagements, with signal courage, wisdom, and success.

"On the 26th of Sept., 1780, after a gallant defence of the ground first consecrated by the Declaration of American Independence, he was wounded near to Charlotte.

"In 1814, he commanded the troops of North Carolina, in their expedition against the Creek Indians.

"His life was a bright and illustrious pattern of domestic, social, and public virtues.

"Modest, amiable, upright, and pious, he lived a noble ornament to his country, a faithful friend to the church, and a rich blessing to his family; and died with the hope of a glorious immortality."

A good portrait of General Graham may be seen at Cottage Home, the residence of the Rev. R. H. Morrison, D.D., in Unity congregation, Lincoln county. The picture represents a fine bold forehead, blue eye, thin lip, with the shoulders and chest of a robust man of middling stature. The features of the face indicate calmness, kindness, and decision. You would not expect the original easily to be made angry, or alarmed, or driven from his purpose. And the unvarying testimony of all that knew him, is that his face was an index of his heart.

The more the character and principles of the men of the Revolution are known, the more profound the veneration for their memory. Their persons have passed away—scarce a vestige remains.

May their principles flourish for ever!


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