John Graham was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1694, and was educated in medicine at Glasgow University. At the age of 24, he emigrated to Exeter, New Hampshire, where he entered the ministry. On May 25th, 1723, Graham was ordained and became the first minister of the Congregationalist church at Stafford, Connecticut, a town settled only four years previously. The congregation, however, proved unable to support him and he was dismissed in 1731. After a two-year residence in Lebanon, Connecticut, Graham accepted the call of the 2nd Congregational Church in Southbury, Connecticut, in January 1733, where he remained until his death in 1774. Graham was one of the great promoters of the revivals that swept the Connecticut River Valley in 1740, and was considered to be earnest, faithful, and intelligent as a preacher.
Graham married Love Sanborn in 1719 in Kingston, New Hampshire, and they had three children: Elizabeth (1720-1775), John (1722-1796), and Robert (1724-1793). Love died in 1726, and John married Abigail Chauncey (1701-1784) six months later; they had seven children: Chauncey (1727-1784), Andrew (1728-1785), Alexander (1728-1785), Love (1732-1820), Sarah (b. 1735), Richard Crouch (1739-1771), and Abigail (1741-1795). John Graham, Sr. died in 1774.
John Graham, Jr., eldest son of John and Love Graham, was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, in 1722. A graduate of Yale College (class of 1740), Graham followed his father into the ministry and was called to the Second Church of Christ at West Suffield, Connecticut. Graham volunteered for service in the French and Indian War, where he was a chaplain in the 2nd Regiment at Camp Half Moon and Fort Edward in 1756, and a chaplain in the 1st Regiment during the Siege of Havana in 1762. His ministry in West Suffield was interrupted a second time by military service, when Graham volunteered as chaplain in the 1st Connecticut Regiment stationed at Fishkill, New York, in 1777. He, like his father, was a proponent of the fundamentalist religious revivals that swept through northeastern America in the mid-18th Century, later referred to as the Great Awakening, or the First Great Awakening. He married twice, first to Mary Shelden in 1748 and then to Ruch King Smith in 1778. In all he had 10 children.
John Graham, Jr., fathered his last child, Sylvester, at the age of 72, and died shortly after in 1796. Sylvester Graham (1794-1851) was raised by a succession of relatives and worked as a farm hand, a clerk, and a teacher, before chronic ill health led him to choose the ministry as a less stressful profession. In 1826, after graduating from Amherst College, Graham became a preacher in the Presbyterian Church, and was called to Newark, New Jersey. He lectured for the Pennsylvania Temperance Society during the early 1830's, during which time he began to advocate his distinctive reformist ideas on diet and health.
Grahamism stressed the benefits of complete abstention from alcohol, tobacco, and meat, and advocated the consumption of coarse-grained bread more than 12 hours old, fruits, and vegetables. In addition to diet modification, he recommended hard mattresses, open bedroom windows, chastity, cold showers, loose clothing, pure water, and vigorous exercise. He became a well-known, if controversial, lecturer on not only the Grahamite philosophy, but also on physiology and anatomy, and on Biblical interpretations of consuming wine and meat. He also directed a special series of lectures for African-Americans. The most widely read among his many publications were his Treatise on Bread and Bread-Making (1837) and the journal he edited, the Graham Journal of Health and Longevity (1837-39). Grahamism, the fad of the 1830's, waned in the 1840's, and Graham devoted himself increasingly to his Biblical lectures. His health declined steadily, and he died in Northampton, Massachusetts, after a round of failed Grahamite cures.