John Graham was the son
of Thomas Graham of “Burnswark,” an estate near Ecclcfechan, Scotland,
and Christian Halliday. He was born on his father’s estate about 1770,
and died on the 18th January, 1843, at his residence in New York City.
From the fact that he was
a lifelong friend and associate of Robert Halliday, and that his mother
was of that name, it has been surmised that the Eighteenth and
Nineteenth Presidents of the Society were of close kin.
His early education was
received in Glasgow, Scotland, and about 1792, while still a youth, he
sailed for New York. On his arrival he at once entered into the employ
of a firm engaged in the foreign importation business and realizing the
great future of his adopted land and the possibilities of an extensive
foreign and domestic trade, he established the trading firm of John
Graham & Co. This firm began active business in 1798 and rapidly built
up a large and lucrative trade in importing British goods to this
country. As the business extended, Mr. Graham associated with himself
his brother, William, who remained in Scotland, and Peter, his youngest
brother, who came to New York in 1803 and later settled in Philadelphia,
So much enterprise and
ability did Mr. Graham and his brothers bring to this venture that as
early as 1809 the firm had developed into three branches, viz.: John
Graham & Co. of New York; Peter Graham & Co. of Philadelphia, and
William Graham & Brothers of Glasgow, Scotland. The unfortunate dispute
between the United States and Great Britain which led to the declaration
of war in 1812 paralyzed all the young and growing trade between these
nations, and in common with other importers and ship owners, Mr. Graham
suffered much hardship and loss during this period. Upon the declaration
of peace, however, a general revival of business relations took place,
and from this time forward until his death the affairs of John Graham &
Identified with the early
mercantile circles of this city, Mr. Graham was a highly respected
citizen and attained prominence in municipal, business and social
affairs. He occupied numerous positions of trust and responsibility, and
his home was the center of that hospitality which is a marked
characteristic of the Scottish people.
He was a prominent member
of the Wall Street Presbyterian Church and identified with its charities
for many years, and was elected a member of the Chamber of Commerce on
the 6th May, 1817.
He became a member of
Saint Andrew’s Society on the 8th November, 1804; served as a Manager,
1805-1808; 1811-1813; as Second Vice-President, 1816-1821; as First
Vice-President, 1821-1827, and as President from 1828-1831. Thereafter
he served as a member of the Committee of Accounts in 1836, and the
Standing Committee, 1837 and 1838.
Mr. Graham appears to
have possessed a pretty taste for literature and the accomplishment of
writing agreeable verse, for in 1835,
1839 and 1840 he wrote
original words set to old Scottish airs which were sung at the
Anniversary Banquets in those years. Copies of these verses, preserved
in the Society’s archives, indicate talent in this line of composition.
It is interesting to note
that his brother, Peter Graham, was an important and prominent member of
the St. Andrew’s Society of Philadelphia, and was one of the
Vice-Presidents in 1831 and in 1837.
Mr. Graham married at New
York City, Ann McQueen, daughter of James McQueen, but had no issue.
His portrait is
reproduced from a miniature now in the possession of Mr. John Graham of
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a grandson of his brother, Peter Graham.