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J. D. Graham papers

Call Number: WA MSS S-1403

Scope and Contents

The J. D. Graham Papers document the military career of a topographical engineer in the nineteenth century. The collection spans the dates 1804-96, but the bulk of the material falls in the period 1848-65. Along with the papers of Graham and his family are documents of Cornelius E. Clifford. The relationship of the Clifford documents to the collection is unclear; the only apparent connection is that in 1864, Graham's son, William Montrose Graham served in Concord, New Hampshire, where Clifford lived and practiced law.

The collection is arranged in eight series with oversize material housed in a ninth series. Series I, Correspondence, contains letters to Graham arranged chronologically with a letterpress copybook of outgoing letters at the end of the series. Series II, General Military Papers, consists of documents from Graham's career which do not belong to any one project or can not be identified with a specific project. The material is arranged by type, of document and within type chronologically. Series III, IV, V, and VI represent Graham's military assignments: North Eastern Boundary Survey, Mason-Dixon Line Survey, Mexican Boundary Survey, and Great Lakes Harbor Improvements and Survey of the North and North West Lakes. In each of these series reports, maps, and plans are grouped together, followed by data from observations and administrative records. Series VII, Personal and Family Papers, consists of papers related to various family members filed under their names. Series VIII, Cornelius E. Clifford Papers, contains correspondence and a speech.

Series I, Correspondence (Boxes 1-6), consists of letters to Graham as well as some copies of Graham's outgoing letters and copies of letters by third parties regarding Graham's work. Other letters by Graham from 1859-65 can be found in a letterpress copybook (Box 6, folders 96-101). Graham's correspondence chronicles his military career, astronomical interests, and, to a lesser extent, his personal life. Most letters are to fellow topographical engineers, directors of learned societies, and other academics, both American and European.

Letters of 1839 and 1841 focused on the Texas boundary survey and include copies of letters by others to Commissioner John H. Overton concerning the establishment of the United States and Texas teams. In 1841 Graham wrote about calculating the latitude and longitude for maps of the Texas border and Sabine River (see also the maps created from this work, Box 43, folders 753-54). The correspondence turned to the North Eastern Boundary Survey with Graham, who was appointed commissioner, writing to Lt. Thomas J. Lee about equipment, provisions, and surveying the Aroostook River basin. Letters to and from Graham also documented boundary disputes with the British team. There are a few letters to Graham from his superiors. Throughout 1842-43 the northern border is the major topic. From 1844-47 Graham's correspondence mixed the border commissioner's routine business with personal matters. There were several friendly letters from F. Schroeder about Graham's house in Washington, D.C., which had burned.

The year 1848 marked the beginning Graham's correspondence with Lt. Amiel W. Whipple, a topographical engineer with whom Graham would work on the Mexican survey. It also marked the end of his association with the North Eastern survey as James Buchanan ordered him to collect the astronomical instruments, and later in 1849, to turn them over to W. H. Emory for use in the Mexican survey. (Graham would continue submitting expense accounts and paper work concerning the northeastern survey into the 1850s.) Graham received notification from J. J. Abert that he was to take over the Mason-Dixon line survey. Letters from the Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania commissioners discussed the survey with Graham while letters from George Read Riddle, an engineer, described the actual work. A copy of an 1848 letter from the Secretary of War to General R. Jones states that Graham and Emory should not be tried, but for what is not clear. Graham corresponded with both Emory and Whipple on business and pleasure during this period.

Graham's correspondence in 1850 touched on three different survey projects. There are copies of documents exchanged by the United States and England regarding North Eastern Survey material lost in a fire and a request for British copies. Other letters discussed Graham's fee for the Mason-Dixon survey and the production of maps. C. Radziminski wrote Graham regularly about the survey work and Graham received copies of the commissioners' letters to their governors reporting progress. Starting in February, letters documented Graham's assignment to and work on the Mexican Boundary Survey. Letters from Whipple, John R. Bartlett, John McClellan, Asa B. Gray, J. J. Abert, as well as copies of their letters to others, discussed how the survey would be run, scientific operations, staff, supplies, and equipment, particularly astronomical instruments.

In 1851 the correspondence continued to focus on the Mexican survey; in January Graham was officially appointed principal astronomer. Bartlett, Whipple, Abert, and Gray continued as main correspondents while John Bull and D. E. Goddard began communicating with Graham. By August the letters documented a growing tension among survey personnel, in particular between Bartlett and Graham. Another correspondent was William Würdeman, whom Graham commissioned to make instruments. Letters dated in September relieved Graham of duty and appointed Emory, but later correspondence proved Graham did not receive these orders until December.

Although Graham returned to Washington, D.C., in 1852 his letters continued to discuss the Mexican border survey. Through 1853, Whipple and T. F. White kept Graham informed of the survey and events on the border. Correspondence with Asa Gray, Louis Agassiz, and Spencer F. Baird documented Graham's involvement with the scientific operations attached to the survey, such as collecting specimens. Graham's letters proved that he widely disseminated his report on the Mexican survey to learned societies. As always, Graham wrote to many colleagues, such as topographical engineer William F. Raynolds and J. M. Wampler of the U.S. coastal survey.

In mid-1853 the focus of the correspondence changed, reflecting Graham's new assignment as supervising engineer for the Great Lakes Harbor Improvements. During August and September Graham's correspondence concerned the issue of private versus public interests as played out by railroads that sought access to rivers and harbors by means of public piers. Graham and Stephen H. Long exchanged information on tide gauges, and a few letters harked back to earlier business, such as North Eastern Boundary survey finances. Baird wrote concerning the natural history report for the Mexican boundary commission; Lt. George Thom wrote on finances; T. F. White sent news from Texas, and John Watkins brought up the Gadsden Treaty and enquired if Graham would like to return to the Mexican survey. There was some correspondence regarding the estate of R. W. Meade, Graham's father-in-law, and letters from John W. Gunnison about finding a house and harbor business.

The correspondence for 1855-59 documented Graham's work on the harbors as well as how he disseminated information about that work. Correspondence with his staff, James Green, John Wilson, John O'Donoghue, R. M. Millar, J. F. Vogel, J. R. Mayer, Gunnison, and Whipple, focused on the actual work of the harbor project including dredging, building new piers and lighthouses, calculating longitude, and charting the tides and harbor depths. Letters from Joseph D. Webster, G. K. Warren, William R. Palmer, General Cass, John N. Macomb, George Meade, and A. A. Humphries thanked Graham for the maps and reports he provided, noted the importance of Graham's astronomical work, and generally exchanged information. Graham was also in contact with the Royal Observatory in London and the National Observatory in Washington, as well as many learned societies, journals, and libraries. In all of his reports on the harbors, longitude, and the lunar tides, Graham followed a pattern: collect information, publish, personally distribute his work to colleagues, and donate copies to libraries. He also kept in touch with Abert, who as chief of the topographical engineers represented Graham's work to Congress and passed appropriations and instructions back to him.

Starting in 1860 Graham's correspondence reflected the growing tension between North and South. Letters from his brother-in-law William F. Wickham described reactions in Virginia to the Harper's Ferry affair. Graham continued to correspond with learned societies and his colleagues. The correspondence for 1861-1865 was more eclectic and it is hard to follow Graham's movements. In 1861 he began work on a survey of the north and northwestern lakes and lighthouses and in 1864 he was ordered to Boston. Several letters documented Graham's interest in genealogy.

The letterpress copybook (Box 6, folders 96-101) contains copies of Graham's business and personal letters from 1859-65. Generally they concerned the same topics discussed above, but they documented more clearly Graham's personal concerns. In 1859 Graham wrote to representatives in Florida and Alabama about family real estate. His letters for this year clearly showed his habit of ordering 100 extra copies of his works and sending them to select colleagues and institutions. In his correspondence for the late 1850s, Graham often exchanged information with local professionals in order to calculate longitude and latitude for places not related to his official work. Letters of 1860 showed his keen interest in genealogy and contained detailed biographies of his brothers, sisters, and parents. His excitement over his discovery of lunar tides was evident in the letters for 1860. In 1861 Graham revealed his political feelings and his loyalty to his home state. The letterpress copybook includes an alphabetical index of recipients.

Series II, General Military Papers (Boxes 7-8), contains documents of Graham's military career which either do not relate to Graham's posts, documented in Series III-VI, or have information on more than one of his assignments. This series is subdivided into Financial Papers, General Orders, Maps, and Other Papers. An account book (Box 7, folder 102) is a rough recording of financial transactions for the surveys of Maine and Mexico as well as the lakes survey. Receipts and agreements (Box 7, folders 103-06) relate to the food and supplies of units with which Graham was involved as well as services rendered those units. There is a collection of general orders (Boxes 7-8, folders 107-31), the printed circulars issued to all military officers, which is extensive for 1862-64, although not complete. The series also contains printed maps probably produced by military engineers and may represent projects with which Graham was involved. Several of the maps have annotations by Graham, such as the map of Texas and New Mexico on which Graham cited his contributions that had been neglected in the printed version (Box 43, folder 754). General Military Papers also contains Graham's diary from the Texas border survey and a description of the United States attack on Mexico which may be by Graham (Box 8, folder 133-33.1). Series II contains various other papers related to the military.

Series III, North Eastern Boundary Survey (Boxes 9-10), consists of three subseries: Reports, Plans, Letters, Maps; Data from Observations and Calculations; and Administrative Records. Graham was appointed a commissioner under the Treaty of Washington to explore and survey the boundary between the Unites States (specifically Maine and New Hampshire) and British North America. Series III contains copies of the communications among the State Department, Graham, and his fellow commissioners, and Graham's instructions to A. W. Longfellow on how to construct boundary monuments (Box 9, folders 141-46). There are reports on surveys of the Aroostook River Basin and St. John River, some sketches of the boundary line, and a copy of a plan to settle the boundary dispute.

Series III also contains the records of astronomical observations made with a chronometer and used to calculate latitude and longitude (Box 9, folders 151-56). Observations for 1840 were made by Graham, but later he was assisted by Lt. Thomas J. Lee, Lt. George Thom, Freeman Franklin, and Capt. Johnston. There are also financial receipts documenting the expenses of the American survey party for 1842-51, as well as inventories of instruments and staff records (Boxes 9-10, folders 158-164, and Oversize, Box 44, folders 760-70).

Series IV, Mason-Dixon Line Survey (Boxes 11-14), consists of two sections, Reports and Maps produced by Graham in the course of his work and Copies from the Maryland and Pennsylvania Archives which Graham used for background information. The War Department loaned Graham to Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania to examine their common border. The collection contains both a draft and a printed version of Graham's report to the commissioners (Box 11, folders 166-67). Two manuscript maps and a triangulation sketch illustrate Graham's work (Box 44, folder 771). The report, which describes Graham's assignment and findings, records that the original documents of the Mason-Dixon survey from the Maryland archives were placed at Graham's disposal in order to complete the task (see Report, p. 4). Graham had copies made and these reference tools are in the collections (See Boxes 11-15, folders 169-207).

Series V, Mexican Boundary Survey (Boxes 15-16), is organized like Series III. Reports, Plans, Letters, Maps contains the substantive work of the Mexican-American border survey. Data from Observations and Calculations consists of the astronomical readings used to calculate geographic location. Administrative Records contains records on equipment and personnel as well as astronomical instruments. Series V begins with documents establishing the survey process and reporting on its progress (Box 15, folders 206-19). Items include copies of the articles of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo noting the course of the boundary line, the journal of the boundary commission for 1849-50, and instructions. Printed speeches by Congressional leaders and manuscript reports are also filed in this section, as well as a manuscript document stating the "Facts" of the dispute between Graham and Bartlett over their respective positions on the survey (Box 15, folder 215). This dispute is further documented in a manuscript letter by Graham to the New York Herald (Box 15, folder 223). Graham's diary (Box 15, folder 220) consists of a series of rough notes, not all in the same format, covering May and July-October 1851. The series contains a copy of J. J. Abert's notes explaining the purpose of the survey team and thus the responsibilities of the men assigned to the survey. Several other reports, maps, and newspaper clippings document the survey of the Mexican-American border. There are a few astronomical readings and calculations, all dating from 1851 when Graham was responsible for the work (Box 15, folder 226-227; Box 44, folder 775). Administrative Records consist of papers regarding equipment and personnel for 1851-53 and papers regarding astronomical instruments for 1850-53 (Boxes 15-16, folders 228-40).

Series VI, Great Lakes Improvements & Lakes Survey (Boxes 17-30), documents two of Graham's military posts: Supervising Engineer of the Great Lakes Harbor Improvements and head of the North and North West Lakes Survey. Because the projects shared common subject matter it is difficult to distinguish their records: both projects are presented in Series VI. The records from the Lakes projects are the most voluminous and comprehensive in the collection, partly because it was Graham's longest assignment (from 1854 until his death in 1865) and because it was his last post. Most of Graham's papers from his early life were probably destroyed in a fire at his home in Washington, D.C. in the late 1840s. Series VI is arranged in four sections. Reports, Plans, Maps consists of reports and maps by which Graham and his staff documented the harbor improvements and lake surveys. Data from Observations and Calculations contains the information gathered during the course of these projects. Administrative Records and Financial Records contains the routine office paperwork.

Reports, Plans, Maps (Boxes 17-19) of Series VI is arranged chronologically. It consists chiefly of the annual reports Graham submitted to the Corps of Topographical Engineers along with drafts and errata, as well as reports his staff submitted to Graham. These reports focus on improvements made to harbors, rivers, and flats, meteorological conditions of the lakes, commerce on the lakes, longitude values, and surveys of the lakes. Charts, maps, and sketches illustrate these projects. Included with the work by Graham's staff is an 1859 report by George G. Meade, supervisor of the North and North West Lake Survey before Graham (Box 17, folder 250). At the end of the series are several reports or documents related to Graham's work but not produced by his staff. These reports refer to the railroad's access to public piers, transfer of government lands, lighthouses, and commerce (Box 19, folders 265-66, and oversize e folder 2 and b 11).

Data from Observations and Calculations (Boxes 19-21) of Series VI documents three major activities: determining longitude for towns in the region; proving the existence of a lunar tide; and documenting commerce on the Great Lakes. Graham determined the longitude of places by astronomical observations and by comparing times of telegraph signals. His annual report for 1859 (Box 17, folder 249) explains his method and instructions for using signals (Box 42, folder 724). By using the tide gauges to observe the height of the lake and comparing figures with lunar readings, Graham proved that the Great Lakes have a lunar tide. There are several sets of tide registers in the collection showing the change in lake surface over time. The last set of data, statistics on the exports and imports for various Great Lakes harbors, were culled from data on the value and quantity of merchandise transported by rail or sea to the ports maintained by the collector's offices at various ports.

Administrative Records (Boxes 24-25) of Series VI consists chiefly of property returns recording equipment attached to various harbors, lighthouses, and steam dredges. These documents are simple lists of goods and property on hand at the beginning or end of a month, but the collection does not contain reports for every month. Property returns are organized by place. There are also a few legal papers regarding the construction of lighthouses and the loan of government steam dredges to private concerns.

Financial Records (Boxes 25-30) of Series VI are arranged in "General," "Light House Establishment," and "Great Brewster Island Sea Wall Project." The first section of records, spanning 1851-1865, documents Graham's financial transactions as supervisor of the Great Lakes Harbor Improvements, and, to a lesser extent, as supervisor of the North and North West Lakes Survey. These records show equipment and staffing costs as well as outside service expenses (Boxes 25-27, folders 371-420). The finances of the lakes survey are documented in the account books (Box 27, folders 421-423) and in the following two sections. "Light House Establishment," organized chiefly by lighthouse, contains accounts of staff, equipment, and service expenses for specific lighthouses (Box 28, folders 431-46). There are also receipts for taxes paid on the salaries of the staff of the lakes survey (Box 27, folders 427-28). "Great Brewster Island Sea Wall Project" is organized by type of material and chronologically. It consists of the financial records for this single project of the survey carried out in 1864-66 (Boxes 28-30, folders 447-71).

Series VII, Personal and Family Papers (Boxes 31-40), contains personal papers of J. D. Graham and papers related to members of his immediate family. The collection contains a manuscript, "Refutation," by Graham's brother Campbell, which responds to a report by J. J. Abert (Box 31, folder 372). The document reviews Campbell Graham's military career in the Corps of Topographical Engineers. A letter by J. D. Graham's first wife, Charlotte Meade, to her cousin Miss Parker describes her happy marriage and passes on family news (folder 373).

The bulk of Series VII consists of the personal papers of J. D. Graham, which are arranged alphabetically by title. "Deeds, leases, mortgages, and other property documents" refers to goods, real estate, and land owned or rented by Graham (Box 31, folder 374-77). There is also an inventory of household furniture, dated 1857. Information on Graham's property can also be found in his insurance documents, legal papers, R. W. Meade's estate papers, and the folder on taxable property in Chicago (Box 39, folders 585-590, 591, 595). Graham's diary contains daily notes on expenses and his activities for 1854-56 (Box 31, folder 378). The financial papers (Boxes 31-38) provide the most comprehensive documentation of Graham's personal life. The papers, spanning 1847-65, consist of receipts, cancelled checks, and account books recording goods and services purchased by J. D. Graham for his family. There are notes on historical and scientific societies indicating Graham's interests (Box 39, folder 584). There is also a reproduction of a photographic portrait of Graham; the original image dates from around 1855 (Box, folder 592).

The papers contain a letter to a young James Duncan Graham Jr. from his Aunt Margaret Meade (Box 39, folder 597) and orders to Brevet Major Lawrence Pike Graham, serving in Kansas in January 1858, to escort General Calhoun, president of Kansas's Constitutional Convention, to Lecompton (folder 598). The letter containing the order alludes to the general unrest in Kansas and commands L. P. Graham to put his troops at the disposal of General Denver, Acting Territorial Governor, when he reaches Lecompton. The only other item concerning Lawrence Graham is a manuscript map of a military march from Monterey, Mexico to California in 1848-49, accompanied by a list of places with notes on the road and the availability of wood, water, and grass (Box 50, folder 827). A printed pamphlet of rules for the Lyceum Society of West Chester, Pennsylvania probably belonged to Graham's son R. W. Meade Graham (folder 599). William Montrose Graham, who attended West Point with his brother J. D., is represented by letters and supply receipts that document his military career, particularly the campaign against the Seminole Indians in Florida (Box 39, folders 600-04). Graham's son, also named William Montrose Graham, became a general in the artillery. The collection contains fourteen mounted paper print photographs of his posts at the Presido, California and Fort Riley, Kansas. The images depict officers and troops posed at the forts. There are several photographs of nineteenth century cannons.

Series VIII, Cornelius E. Clifford Papers (Box 41), contains business correspondence of Clifford, a lawyer practicing in Concord, New Hampshire. Most of the letters are from clients and colleagues concerning local civil suits in 1895-96. There are a few letters by Clifford in 1896. A speech, in Clifford's handwriting, concerns the Irish rebel Robert Emmet.

Oversize (Boxes 42-50) contains material from Series II-VII. The arrangement, based on the size of the material, parallels the order of the collection.


  • 1804 - 1896
  • Majority of material found within 1848 - 1865


Physical Description

Other Storage Formats: oversize, bound volume, broadside folder

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The J. D. Graham Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The J. D. Graham Papers were donated in 1964 and 1965 by Carroll S. Alden, the husband of Graham's granddaughter Meeta Campbell Graham. An inventory of household furniture, 1857, was donated by William Reese in 1995.


26.5 Linear Feet (50 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers document the military career of a topographical engineer in the nineteenth century. The collection contains correspondence, reports, maps, and data from astronomical observations created during the surveys of the Northeastern and Mexican boundaries, a review of the Mason-Dixon Line, a project to improve the Great Lakes's harbors, and a survey of the North and North West Lakes. The papers also have information on Graham's personal life as well as family members such as his son, William Montrose Graham.

J. D. GRAHAM (1799-1865)

James Duncan Graham, son of William and Mary Campbell Graham, was born into a Virginian family with a tradition of military service. Graham attended West Point from 1813-17 with his brother William Montrose Graham. In fact all of Graham's brothers attended West Point and some of his stepbrothers and half brothers chose military careers. Not surprisingly, Graham married into another southern military family when he wed Charlotte Hustler Meade, the sister of General George G. Meade in 1828. Their son, William Montrose Graham, followed family tradition and distinguished himself in the artillery.

On graduating from West Point, J. D. Graham entered the artillery corps and assisted Major Stephen Long on his 1819-21 expedition to explore the Great Plains. Graham dates this as the beginning of his career as a topographical engineer (see Box 6, folder 198, letterpress copybook, p. 163), although he was not promoted into the Topographical Bureau until 1829. When the army reorganized in 1838, Graham became a member of the Corps of Topographical Engineers and served the corps until his death in 1865 (eventually rising to the rank of major).

During the 1820s and 1830s Graham worked on a variety of military surveys including the Winchester and Potomac Rail Road in Virginia in 1831-32 and the Alabama, Florida, and Georgia Rail Road in 1836. He served under Major General Thomas S. Jesup in the 1836-37 Seminole Indian campaign. Graham became astronomer for the survey of the Texas-United States boundary of 1838 and later commissioner of the 1840-43 North Eastern Boundary Survey, which settled the border between Maine and British North American. He went on to surveying the Mason-Dixon line and worked for a short period on the Mexican-American border demarcation in 1851. In all of these projects Graham acted as astronomer or supervisor of scientific work. When he took charge of the Great Lakes harbor improvements in 1854 he used his position to gather astronomical data for establishing accurate latitude and longitude readings for the Midwest. While officially supervising the construction of piers and channel dredging, Graham studied Lake Michigan's tides and was able to prove scientifically the existence of a lunar tide. In 1861, he was put in charge of the survey of the north and northwestern lakes and their lighthouses.

During the Civil War Graham's loyalty to the Union was questioned and he was removed from his post. Exactly what happened is not clear from the collection, but in 1864, J. M. Howard wrote to the secretary of war after investigating Graham. He proclaimed Graham loyal, requested he be returned to active service, and suggested he be assigned to New York Harbor (see Box 6, folder 192). Graham was ordered to Boston to serve on the Atlantic Coast Survey. He died there on December 28, 1865.
Guide to the J.D. Graham Papers
by Susie R. Bock
October 1992
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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