Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Graham Family Papers, 1731-1849

Finding aid created by
Clements Staff and Philip Heslip, November 2009

Summary Information
Title: Graham family papers
Creator: Graham, John, 1722-1796 and Graham, Sylvester, 1794-1851
Inclusive dates: 1731-1849
Extent: 1.25 linear feet
The Graham family papers contain an assortment of letters, documents, and diaries relating to John Graham, Sr., and Jr., and to Sylvester Graham. Each man was a prominent physician and minister, though Sylvester was the more famous of the two for his Grahamite philosophy. The papers of John Graham, Jr., document his role in the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1999, 2003. M-2937.1, M-3139, M-4320.1.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Preferred Citation:

Graham Family Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


This collection is organized into seven series:

  • Series I: Correspondence
  • Series II: Diaries and Journals
  • Series III: Documents
  • Series IV: Printed Writings
  • Series V: Manuscript Writings
  • Series VI: Genealogy
  • Series VII: Newspaper Clippings and Miscellaneous

Each series is ordered chronologically with undated items at the end.


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.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Graham Family Papers contain 96 letters, 12 diaries and journals, 11 documents, 3 printed items, 59 miscellaneous writings, 7 genealogical items, and 8 newspaper clippings, relating to John Graham, Sr., John Graham, Jr., and Sylvester Graham.

Items concerning John Graham, Sr., are a religious copybook, begun c. 1724; three printed items (A Platform of Church Discipline [1731], A Few Remarks on the Remarker [1760], and the Sermon at the Ordination of Mr. Bradner [1761]); two manuscript biographies; and 12 letters between his son, John, Jr., and him, written during the French and Indian War.

John Graham, Jr.'s life is well represented through letters, journals, and documents. The Correspondence series holds 32 letters written by and 2 received by Graham. The earliest items are materials from the time of his installment and ministry in West Suffield (8 letters and 5 other items, plus a manuscript record book of baptisms, marriages, deaths, and meetings at the 2nd Church of Christ) and his service in the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War. Particularly interesting are the 12 letters (incoming from his father and outgoing to his wife) written while he was at Camp Half Moon and Fort Edwards; they provide details on one engagement with Indians, information on troop movements, camp life, and his duties as chaplain. The 4 letters and 50-page diary kept by Graham while he accompanied the 1st Regiment during the Siege of Havana in 1762 provide useful information of the military operations there. The Revolutionary War materials consist of 10 letters between 1767 and 1779, including 3 written to his son Narcissus, and 7 from his half-brother, Chauncey Graham, from Fishkill. Chauncey also contributed 10 letters dated before the Revolution. He mentioned “Brother Robert," who was a member of the General Assembly meeting in Poughkeepsie (March 11, 1778), and seeing General Washington pass before establishing new headquarters (September 22, 1777). On February 15, 1779, he wrote that he was confident that the time of subjugation by Great Britain is near an end.

The collection holds 8 diary and journal items relating to John Graham, Jr. One item is a small bound volume of manuscripts, sermons, and copied letters, 1756-1780, that were collected and annotated in 1877. The [1739] and 1776-1785 journal contains a 21-page, four-chapter essay "Upon the Image of God and Man " that analyses original sin and "The Impossibility of Man's Recovery. " The bulk of the book consists of brief entries, often only one sentence, some of which describe soldiers' general movements. The entry from October 30, 1781, records that intelligence reports have confirmed the surrender of Cornwallis to Washington at Yorktown. The item entitled "Chronology of John Graham" duplicates some of the content of the previous journal, including notes on family and local events and holidays (1777-1785), but contains additional dates and synopses of his grandfather's letters (1746-1782). Also included in this series are John Graham's diary and religious notes (1749-1792), and a published book of extracts from his 1762 journal, published in 1896.

The Sylvester Graham material is very heterogeneous, with much relating to his lectures on health and the Bible. Of particular interest are the Sylvester Graham letters, which include: an 8-page letter to John Marshall on philosophy and politics (January 9, 1830), a 10-page letter to Henry Clay (1847) on politics and the presidential elections, a letter to the Citizens of Northampton (1850) outlining his personal history and reasons for leaving the city, and two letters relating to Graham's work with the American Sunday School Union. Among other items are letters from T. D. Weld, and Francis Condie, and 12 letters from attendees at Graham's lectures (1831-1844 and 1 undated).

The Writings Series holds 59 items from Sylvester including chapters from his book on Biblical Chronology, essays on American History, tea, coffee, opium, wines, experimental diets, the history of medicine, fruits and flowers, and a Fourth of July address, probably delivered by Graham.

The Documents Series (9 items) contains Reverend John Graham’s commissions as chaplain in the Connecticut State Militia, dated April 5, 1756, March 15, 1762, and October 14, 1777; John Graham, Sr.'s power of attorney (1756); Sylvester Graham's declaration of membership into the Vegetarian Society; and the marriage certificate for Sylvester Graham and Sarah M. Earl.

The Genealogy series (7 items) contains a 47-page biography of John Graham, Jr., written by Sylvester Graham, along with miscellaneous genealogy notes covering all three generations of Grahams.

Newspaper Clippings and Miscellaneous series (8 items) contains 3 newspaper clippings, a small metal button, an empty envelope, 2 auction descriptions of part of the collection, and a 9-page booklet entitled "The Direful Epidemick: A Loose Pindaric By Reubin Kitzinwinger Esqr."

Subject Terms

    • American Sunday-School Union.
    • Congregational churches--Clergy.
    • Diet.
    • Grahamites.
    • Havana (Cuba)--History--Siege, 1762.
    • Military chaplains.
    • Psychology.
    • Physiology.
    • United States--History--French and Indian War, 1755-1763.
    • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
    • Graham, John, 1694-1774.
    Genre Terms:
    • Diaries.
    • Essays.
    • Letters (correspondence)
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Correspondence [series]
    Box   1 Folder   1
     1741-August 11, 1746
    Folder   2  
     September 15, 1746-March 11, 1748
    Folder   3  
     February 17, 1749-March 28, 1751
    Folder   4  
     November 25, 1751-June 29, 1756
    Folder   5  
     July 6, 1756-September 11, 1756
    Folder   6  
     November 17, 1760-September 16, 1763
    Folder   7  
     January 3, 1764-January 27, 1779
    Folder   8  
     February 22, 1779-January 28, 1801
    Folder   9  
     January 21, 1830-April 20, 1832
    Folder   10  
    April 25, 1832-October 9, [18]79
    Folder   11  
    5  Undated items
    Diaries and Journals [series]
    Folder   12  
    1724,  1756-1780 (annotated in 1877)
    Folder   13  
    [1739],  1776-1785
    Folder   14  
    Folder   15  
     1749-1792,  1830s
    Folder   16  
     1762 (published in 1896)
    Folder   17  
     1762,  1762,  1777,  1804
    Folder   18  
    Documents [series]
    Box   2 Folder   1
      April 5, 1756-March 4, 1851, plus 2  Undated
    Folder   : Oversize Manuscripts  
    Amherst Academy List of Instructors, Trustees, and Students; and Land Document for the sale of land in Palmyra, Missouri, to Sylvester Graham,   April 1, 1839 (2 items)
    Printed Writings [series]
    Box   2 Folder   2
    “A Platform of Church Discipline…”
    “Remarks on the Remarkers”
    “Mr. Graham’s Sermon…”
    Writings [series]
    Folder   3  
    On Coffee and Opium
    Folder   4  
    On Tobacco
    Folder   5  
    On Tea
    Folder   6  
    On Wine
    Folder   7  
    Butter and Cheese Diet
    Folder   8  
    Fruit and Flower Diet
    Folder   9  
    Water Cure and Diet
    Folder   10  
    2 Lectures on Diet
    Folder   11  
    History of Health Introduction
    Folder   12  
    History of Health, Part I
    Folder   13  
    History of Health, Part II
    Folder   14  
    History of Health, Part III
    Folder   15  
    History of Health, Part IV
    Folder   16  
    Lecture on Medicine
    Folder   17  
    [4th of July Speech]
    Folder   18  
    Beaumont & Voisin
    Everand Howe Supplement
    Edwards on the Influence…
    Folders   19-20  
    Biblical Chronologies
    Sylvester Graham Political Notes [series]
    Folder   21  
    Folder   22  
    Folder   23  
    Folder   24  
    Folder   25  
    Folder   26  
    Folder   27  
    [ 1826]
    Folder   28  
    Folder   29  
    [ 1829]
    Folder   30  
    [ 1820s]
    Folder   31  
     September 17, 1842
    Folder   32  
     July 1848
    Writings [series]
    Box   3 Folder   1
    Political/Historical Notebook
    Folder   2  
    Unsigned Physiology Notes
    Folder   3  
    Notes on Physiology
    Folder   4  
    Notes on Lectures
    Folder   5  
    Unsigned Health and Religious
    Folder   6  
    Unsigned Medical Notebook
    Genealogy [series]
    Folder   7  
    Biography of John Graham, Jr.    [Note: first two pages are located in oversize manuscripts]
    Folder   : Oversize Manuscripts  
    Biography of John Graham, Jr., pages 1 and 2
    Box   3 Folder   8
    Miscellaneous Genealogy Notes
    Newspaper Clippings and Miscellaneous [series]
    Folder   9  
    8  Undated Items
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    The following four pamphlets, located in the Clements Library Book Division, concern John Graham:

    The following collections at the Clements Library contain material related to Sylvester Graham: