Thursday, March 5, 2009

This Month in Rochester History

The month of March demands a look back at our founding father, James Graham. On March 17, 1817, Graham and some of his family established Rochester as the first non-native settlement in the region that would become Oakland County. The history books take up the story from there, and tell us about the other settlers and how the village and township grew, but they don't say much about James Graham, Revolutionary War patriot. I decided to consult the available sources to find out more about the military service of the man who founded our community 192 years ago this month.

The record is inconclusive about the place of James Graham's birth. One genealogy claims that he was born in Scotland, emigrated to the colonies and indentured himself as an apprentice to a New York physician in order to pay off the cost of his passage. Another claims that the immigrant family member was William Graham, James' father, who came to the colonies about 1733, and that James Graham was born in the Wyoming Valley area of Pennsylvania in 1749. The few remaining official documents tied to the life of James Graham do not state his place of birth.

In any case, we know from his Revolutionary War pension file that James Graham was living in the Wyoming Valley community of Lower Smithfield in April 1778, when he and his brother enlisted with an independent company of volunteers that was raised in the area and attached to the Connecticut line of Continental soldiers. The Wyoming Valley was a grain-rich region and major food producer for the Americans, so Loyalist and British forces had begun raiding and looting the area in order to disrupt the food supply to the Continentals. Things came to a head on July 3, 1778, when the Battle of Wyoming ensued. Commanded by Captain Dethick Hewitt, James Graham and his comrades in arms fought in this bloody confrontation in which the Continental forces numbering about 300 were beaten and afterwards massacred by British and Iroquois forces numbering more than 1,100. The horror of the atrocities committed at the Battle of Wyoming served to steel American resolve to evict the British from their shores, and also garnered the sympathy of the French toward the American cause. As Captain Hewitt and all but a half dozen of his men had been killed during this battle, James Graham was assigned to another company, and later served as a messenger for Major General John Sullivan, who, in the aftermath, was tasked by George Washington with crushing Iroquois and Loyalist resistance in the region. James Graham completed his enlistment term and was discharged after one year of service.

This story might have fallen through the cracks of history were it not for the efforts of two patriotic societies. The Daughters of the American Revolution marked the grave of James Graham in the family cemetery on Crooks Road, identifying him as an American patriot, but the designation was lost in 1926 when the remains of the Graham family were transferred to the new mausoleum at Perry Mount Park cemetery in Pontiac. For decades after, there was nothing on the tomb of James Graham to signify his service in the war for independence. This oversight was remedied in 2008 when the Michigan Society of the Sons of the American Revolution rededicated the marker on the tomb of the Graham family, and engraved the emblem which identifies James Graham as an American Revolutionary War patriot.

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