Biography - Thomas H. Graham

THOMAS H. GRAHAM. Circuit Clerk of Shelby County, is a native of this State and a representative of one of the early pioneer families of Illinois. He is a veteran of the late war, and he is well known and honored as one of Shelbyville's most worthy citizens. He was born in Coles County, April 20, 1839. His father, Martillas Graham, was born at Ft. Harrison, Ind., November 25, 1811. He was a son of Jonathan Graham, who was born in North Carolina, January 12, 1788. He was one of the pioneers of Indiana, where he located in territorial days on a tract of timber land in the vicinity of Ft. Harrison, and he cleared a farm from the wilderness. At the time of his settlement there Indians were more numerous than the whites, and were oftentimes troublesome, and during the War of 1812 he accepted the advice of Gen. Harrison to retire to the fort. He left the most of his belongings in his cabin, and that night after he had removed to the fort his home was ransacked by the Indians and the block house was fired. He continued to reside at the fort until 1831, when he sold his farm to Thomas Springer, father of the Hon. William Springer, and removed to Illinois. He spent one year in Coles County, and then coming to Shelby County, bought a farm one mile above town on the river. There was a gristmill on the place operated by horse power, and he managed that, while his sons carried on his farm. A few years later he sold that property, and returning to Coles County, bought a home seven miles north of Mattoon and later entered Government land in the same locality, he lived there some years but after the death of his second wife he spent the rest of his life with his children. The maiden name of his first wife, grandmother of our subject, was Annie Hill. She was born November 20, 1786, and she died on the farm in Shelby County.
The father of our subject was reared and educated amid the primitive scenes of the pioneer days of his native State. Later he accompanied his parents to their new home in the wilderness in this state, and followed farming with his father in this county until the family returned to Coles County, when he entered a tract of land from the Government, his claim being located seven miles from Mattoon on the line of Moultrie County. He built a frame house on the place, and at once began the hard work of reclaiming his land from its natural wild condition. There were no railways, and as there was no market for grain he fed his to his stock, which he drove to St. Louis or Chicago to sell. After living there two years he returned to this county, and became prominently identified with its manufactures, purchasing a carding-mill at Shelbyville, which was operated by horse and ox power. He built an addition to the mill, and at the time of his death, which occurred January 25, 1851, he had just introduced machinery to start a fulling-mill. He was a man of much energy of character and enterprise, and his removal while yet in life's prime was a serious loss to the interests of the county, where his name is still cherished as that of an honored pioneer who helped to lay the foundations of its prosperity.
The parents of our subject were married August 5, 1835, and the maiden name of his mother was Phananda Williams. She was born in Pulaski County, Ky., December 5, 1813. Her father was the Rev. Baylis Williams, a native of Virginia, coming from one of the wealthy old families of that State. He inherited slaves, but as he was opposed to the institution of slavery, he liberated them and removed to a free state. He resided in Pulaski County, Ky., of which he was a pioneer, until 1830, when he came to Illinois with his wife and seven children, journeying thither with teams, bringing along household goods, and driving his stock. For four weeks the family traveled, camping and cooking by the wayside at night and on Sundays, and at length arrived in this county, and settled one mile south of Shelbyville. The grandfather bought six hundred and forty acres of land in that vicinity, three miles south of the town, and there his mortal career was brought to a close in 1831. Thus early the influence of this good man was lost to his community. He was of a strong, versatile character, and besides being a practicing physician, was a preacher of much local fame in the Methodist Episcopal denomination, and oftentimes he preached to his fellow pioneers in the log court house. His mortal remains were deposited in the Ridge Cemetery. The maiden name of his first wife, the maternal grandmother of our subject, was Elizabeth Bowen. She died in Kentucky in 1817. The venerable mother of our subject still resides in Shelbyville. She retains in a remarkable degree her mental faculties, and is greatly respected for the genuine worth of her character. She has been a consistent member of the Methodist Episcopal Church since 1832. Her husband joined in his youthful days, and was an earnest Christian and supporter of the church until the day of his death. In his politics he was an old-line Whig, and was opposed to slavery.
The subject of this biographical review laid the foundation of his education in the public schools of this State, and at the age of twelve years entered a printing office to learn to set type. His employer soon suspended, and the ensuing two years the lad was engaged at various kinds of work, and attended school during the winter sessions. At the age of fourteen he again entered a printing office, and worked therein until 1857. He then accepted a position as clerk in the Circuit Clerk's office at Shelbyville and acted in that capacity until 1859, when he started for the Territory of Kansas, going by rail to St. Joseph, Mo., and thence by Stage to Lawrence, which was then a village of about two thousand people. The ensuing year he was engaged there as manager of a sawmill, but in the fall of 1860 he gave up that position to resume his old trade in a printing office, where he was employed until July, 1861. In that month he started with others for the Rocky Mountains, making the journey across the plains with six yoke of oxen. At that time there were but very few white settlers between St. Joseph and the Rockies, and buffaloes and other wild animals roamed in large herds across the sterile plains known as the "Great American Desert."
Mr. Graham roughed it as a frontiersman in the mountains nearly a year, and then retraced his footsteps to Kansas, where in July, 1862, he enlisted in Company B, Twelfth Kansas Cavalry. He was soon detailed to serve in the Commissary Department, and rendered valuable aid in that important branch of the service until after the close of the war. He was honorably discharged with his regiment at Ft. Leavenworth in July, 1865, and returning to Lawrence, he continued his residence in Kansas until 1868, when he came back to his old home at Shelbyville. From that time until 1881 he was a clerk in different law offices, and in that year was appointed Deputy County Clerk, he retained that position until 1886, and was after that clerk in a law office until he was elected to his present office as Circuit Clerk in 1888, for a term of four years. His selection for this important position was a wise one in point of qualification and experience, and he is performing the work connected with it with characteristic zeal and devotion to his duty.
As a gentleman of unimpeachable integrity and high standing in the county where so many years of his life have been passed, our subject is looked upon with consideration and genuine respect by all who know him. He is sound in his political views, which are in accordance with the tenets of the Democratic party, which has in him an earnest supporter. Socially, he is allied with the Black Hawk Lodge, No. 183, K. of P. He is a Director in the Laborers' Loan Association, and has helped to make it a success.

Extracted 07 Apr 2017 by Norma Hass from 1891 Portrait and Biographical Record of Shelby and Moultrie Counties Illinois, pages 216-218.

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