James B. Graham, A Vintage Vignette

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James B. Graham
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
January 14, 2011

James B. Graham was born September 17, 1794 in Bath County, Virginia, according to “The Descendants of Doctor William Simpson” (1993) by Dennis Simpson, available in the Heritage Room of the Huntsville library. His tombstone in the old Somerville Cemetery provides his birth day as September 18. James died at his plantation in Somerville, Morgan County, Alabama. He was one of the signers of a letter recommending Washington Gray as Morgan County deputy sheriff to Alabama's first governor, William Wyatt Bibb, who died in July 1820. In July 1840 James served as secretary at a meeting of the Democratic Party in Somerville. He became clerk of the county court in January 1822. Somerville was then the county seat. He became clerk of the circuit court in September 1827. Except for a four-year gap, he served in that occupation until October 1847, shortly before his death on February 21, 1849.

James married just five days before taking office as the clerk of the county court to Elizabeth Corley on January 17, 1822 in Morgan County. They had five known children: Talli B. Graham (1822-1847), James Wirt Graham, Sarah Jane Graham (married a Mr. Banks), Margaret E. M. Graham (born 1832, married John Conley in 1851), and DeKalb Graham. DeKalb was born in 1834. His mother died soon after his birth. DeKalb died unmarried in 1901 and is buried beside his father. Elizabeth may also be buried on the other side of James' grave, where there is unmarked space.

On March 29, 1836, James Graham was licensed to marry Nancy Tyree Dickson in Madison County. They had seven children, with the first four being born in Somerville and the rest in Pond Beat of Madison County. The name Pond Beat is thought to have possible origin in the political district designation of the area at the south end of Redstone Arsenal today where there are many sinks or ponds that can rise and fall with the level of the Tennessee River. Additionally, there is an old definition of the word “beat” to mean “a place of habitual or frequent resort”, which could likewise apply. In any event, all of the Graham children were raised during at least part of their childhood in Pond Beat of Madison County.

The children of James and Nancy Graham were Dewitt C. Dickson Graham (1837-1867), Joseph David Graham (born 1838), Juriah James Graham (1839-1913), Virginia Zeulika Graham (born 1841), Julia Alabama Graham (1843-1927), Cass Dallas Graham (1845-1848), and Ann Lucretia Graham (1847-1848). The two youngest children died in the same year and were probably buried in the family cemetery in Pond Beat, but there are no markers for them at that location. However, the cemetery is large enough to have about 30 or more graves, and there are only four tombstones in it. Burials of her parents and her youngest children there may well be one reason that Nancy chose to be buried in Pond Beat rather than in Somerville. However, she may not have wanted to be buried beside her husband and his first wife in the Somerville Cemetery as another reason. Another oddity is that Juriah James Graham died in Birmingham while there to see a physician but she is buried in Somerville. However, her husband Charles S. Fowler is buried in the family cemetery in Pond Beat. Juriah married Charles, a son of Daniel and Mary A. Fowler of Mobile, Charles' 1827 birthplace. Charles died in 1889, so the intervening 24 years until Juriah's passing may have had something to do with the different choices of cemeteries between husband and wife. In her 1901 last will and testament Juriah left money for carrying of the Gospel to the people of Cuba plus $35 each to Wilson's Chapel and the Methodist Church at Belle Mina, where her sister Julia Graham Rankin lived. Juriah also stipulated that $10 per year was to be given to ex-slave Levi Graham as long as he lived, with Julia Rankin appointed as executor to carry out the bequeath from a fund that Juriah established for that purpose. Obviously, the family of James Graham was united in their faith but independent in their burials.

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