Select Graham Miscellany

Here are some Graham stories and accounts over the years:

William de Graham

William de Graham is generally accepted as the forebear of the Graham clan in Scotland.  But where he came from has been a matter for conjecture.  Some claim Norman descent, others Flemish or Danish origins, while it has also been argued that the Grahams are the Pictish descendants of the Graeme who commanded the armies of Fergus II.

The main thinking is that Graham itself is a contraction of Grantham and that William de Graham came north to Scotland from Grantham in Lincolnshire.

"In all the early records of England, Graham means Grantham in Lincoln and William de Graham settled  in Scotland at the time of King David I."

This de Graham, as a number have argued on the basis of the Falaise rolls, was the son of a William de Tancarville of Danish origin.  He was a baron of Normandy who was said to have come over with William the Conqueror in 1066.  A case has also been made that he was the son of Arnulf de Hesdin, a Flemish noble who had also accompanied William the Conqueror to England.

However, many are convinced of the Pictish origins of Graham:

"The Picts were in Scotland long before the year one.  Though we may have intermarried with the incoming Scots and occasionally took a wife from Denmark, one name and main blood line came down from the original natives of old Caledonia, and not from Normandy."

Specifically, descent is claimed from the renowned Pictish leader Graym who had attacked and demolished the Roman wall of Antonious across Scotland sometime around 1057.  Interestingly, this Graym was said to have been born in Denmark of a Scottish father and a Danish mother.

Sir John de Graham

Sir John de Graham - or "Schir Jhone the Grayme" as the poet Blind Harry called him - rescued William Wallace at Queensbury and became one of his few close friends and perhaps his most trusted advisor.  Wallace was at his side when Graham was killed at the battle of Falkirk in 1298.

Graham's name is commemmorated there by the district of Grahamston.  His grave in Old Falkirk parish churchyard is still to be seen, with tablet stones of three successive periods above it.   

The inscription reads:

"Here lyes Sir John the Grame, baith wight and wise,
Ane of the chiefs who saved Scotland thrise,
Ane better knight not to the world was lent
Nor was gude Graeme of truth and hardiment."

There follows, from the Latin:

"Of mind and courage stout,
Wallaces' true Achates,
Here lies Sir John de Graham
Felled by the English baties (dogs)."

One great two-handed sword of his is preserved at Buchanan castle by the Duke of Montrose, another was long in the possession of the Grahams of Orchil and is now treasured by the Free Mason Lodge at Auchterarder.

The Great Montrose

James Graham was the first to be given the Gaelic patronymical An Greumach Mor or "the Great Graham," or, as he is better known in history, the Great Montrose.

In 1643 Graham had offered his services to Charles I and became Captain-General of the King's army in Scotland.  His force initially consisted of just 400 men, mainly Grahams, but he was then joined by a thousand Highlanders led by Alisdair MacColla MacDonald, a giant of a man and a fearsome fighter from the western isles.

Commanding this motley band, Graham won a series of brilliant victories against Cromwell's armies of superior size.  A poet, he was said to have written to a friend:

"If thou wilt be constant then,
And faithful to thy word,
I'll make you glorious by my pen,
And famous by my sword."

Another verse of his read:

"He either fears his fate too much,
Or his deserts are small,
Who dare not put it to the touch,
To win or lose it all."

He lost his Highland support and his small force was cut to pieces at Philiphaugh in the Borders.  He was eventually captured, taken to Edinburgh and executed, in the barbaric manner of being hung, drawn, and quartered.

In 1660, when Charles II was restored to the Crown, David Graham of Gorthie took his kinsman's head off its spike and had the other remains gathered together for an honorable burial in the Montrose aisle of St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh.

James Graham Survived a Murderous Attack in New York

James Graham, who had arrived in New York in 1678, held various political offices in this new British colony, including being the first recorder of New York in 1681.  In July 21 1682, this incident was reported:

"At a meeting of the deputy mayor and aldermen at the City Hall there was an examination of Captain Jarvis Baxter, who on July 20 stabbed with a rapier Mr. James Graham, one of the aldermen of this city, in the body by which he was dangerously wounded."

The eyewitness account of John West read as follows:

"He had often heard Mr. Graham desirous to drink a glass of wine and to pay his respects to Captain Baxter who, he understood, came over to America under his Royal Highness.  An opportunity presented itself yesterday in the afternoon.  It was embraced and they - with Mr. Kingsland, Ensign Sharpe, West, and Serjeant Garret - went to the house of Mr. Van Cliff where they spent the afternoon drinking cider and wine in friendship without any quarrel or dispute or angry expression.

In the evening about nine of the clock as near as can be guessed, the reckoning having been paid, the said Captain Baxter desired Mr. Graham to walk aside, which he did, a little from the company, but in their sight.  Only Kingsland was gone before, and Baxter, seeming to kiss Graham, drew his sword and stabbed him in the body and made another pass at him which was put aside by a cane which Graham had in his hand.  West, seeing the same, stepped in and with a push to Baxter on the breast, threw him on his back.  Baxter's sword flew out of his hand, which West carried into the house."

James Graham survived this attack and lived onto 1690.

Watty Graham's Betrayal and Capture

After the failed Irish Rebellion of 1798, an award of £500 had been put on the head of Watty Graham in county Derry for information relating to his capture.  When he became aware of this he set off to try and get to America.  He made out for Magilligan, intending to cross to Moville where a passage had been arranged for him.  On his way he stopped off at the rectory there in order to collect on a debt.

A servant girl there suspected Watty might have been betrayed and tried to warn him.  She was serving a meal of potatoes, herrings and sweetmilk and made the comment: "A herring never was caught for its belly." Watty missed the hint.  But when putting down the jug of milk she again said a herring was never taken on a bait, he said: "Girl, you mean something by that."  In her distress the girl ran to the window and shouted: "Colonel, the soldiers are coming."  They could be seen through the woods at the back of the rectory. 

Watty shouted: "Men, I've been betrayed,"  and ran into the fields.  The officer commanding the soldiers and the Rev. Church of the rectory stopped and looked at the men in the field.  Church recognised Graham and told the soldiers to take the man in the linen shirt.

Less than a year after the betrayal of Watty Graham, the Rev. Church got a call to attend a lady parishioner on her death bed.  He saddled his horse and set off.  But within minutes his riderless horse came back home. The rector had been bludgeoned to death at the entrance to his own house.

The Ballad of William Graham

William Graham was born in the Langdales in Cumberland and spent his early working life as a farm laborer.  In 1856 he and his two brothers were involved in a fracas with a game keeper outside Penrith, during the course of which the keeper was bludgeoned and died.  In the end only William was tried for the murder.  The case of murder was unproven and the offence of manslaughter replaced it.  That meant that he escaped the death penalty and was instead sentenced to transportation for life.

Press reports of the time showed that the trial had attracted a lot of public attention.  There had been a rush for admission, clothing was torn, women fainted, and there was scratching and bruising among spectators.  When the verdict of "guilty of manslaughter only" was reached, a hearty and even enthusiastic cheer burst out from every part of the crowd.

The public focus then soon translated into popular ballads.  The Graham ballad began in typical style:

"Now you gallant lads of England, just listen to me,
It's the last song I shall pen in my old country,
For I have received my sentence as you shall understand
I am transported for life, my boys, into some foreign land."

Another version went:

"Come all you thinking Christians, wherever you may be
One moment give attention and listen unto me;
It is of Graham, the poacher, for all do know his doom,
For life he is transported, all in his youthful bloom."

The ballad then narrated his capture (Graham's two brothers were "taken up" but "it was me that killed the game"), the course of his trial, and his escape from the death sentence.

"I was tried for wilful murder but thanks to a feeling judge
The jury to manslaughter the charge they did reduce;
Now for to receive my sentence I was called upon to stand,
Which was, that I for ever should leave my native land."
There was an attempt in the song to turn Graham into some sort of popular hero.  He probably did not become that.  But the song did endure in popular folklore in Cumberland.  It was still being sung in the 1950's by Len Irving and his cronies. 

Reader Feedback - Grahams in the Caribbean

Don't let the name Barbados throw you off.  Many Scottish clans including the Grahams were sent there.  You can still find them in Barbados.  My grandmother side is a Graham that ended up on the Virgin Islands.  Three good books to read on this subject are The Red Legs of Barbados, To Hell or to Barbados, and The Border Reivers.  They tell the history of the various clans that were escorted out.  They still have them living in Barbados. 

Jado Graham (

Reader Feedback - Grahams in Mexico

You have very valuable information about the Graham family in many countries of the world.  However, you have failed to research about the Grahams in Mexico.  

The first Graham I know to have arrived to Mexico was in the 19th century.  His name was John Graham.  He was born in South Carolina and died in Campeche, Mexico.  

John was not alone. There was an American colony in Campeche composed of several families such as the Buchanans, Grahams, Holdens, MacGregors, McKineys, Mortons and others.  They were plantation owners in South Carolina who had a regular trade basis between US and Mexico.  

They traded logwood or bloodwoodtree (Haematoxylum campechianum), a tree that was of great economic importance from the 17th to the 19th century when it was commonly logged and exported from Mexico to the US and Europe for use in dyeing fabrics.  

In his youth
John married Maria Isabel MacGregor Nuñez de Castro of a prominent Mexican-US family.  Her father was John Louis MacGregor (1785-1841), who was born in south Carolina and died in Campeche.  John and Maria had four children, the eldest Eduardo being my mother’s great grandfather.  My late grandma Isabel Graham Escalante was one of six children and was the first Mexican model to pose for Kodak in the 1930’s in Mexico. 

Best regards  
Lic. Roberto Germán Bauzá Preciat (

Peter Graham the Mountaineer

Widely referred to as one of the greatest names in New Zealand mountaineering and mountain guiding, Peter Graham and his almost equally famous brother Alex's climbing careers began in 1896 and coincided with "the first flowering of New Zealand alpine climbing."

Peter was chief guide at the Hermitage, Mount Cook from 1906 to 1922.  During that time he climbed or traversed almost every peak of the cental Southern Alps, claiming a great many first ascents.  Through his exemplary technique Graham was recognized for founding a doctrine of safe technique and sound judgement that would permeate professional guiding in the years to come.

He was not only one of New Zealand's finest ever climbers.  He also built and maintained huts and tracks; advised hotel guests on outside activities, and informed them about mountain plants.  Added to this he was a big and a lovable but a deeply respected figure, "Mr. Peter" he was, to his proteges.  He began this autobiography late in life and had brought it only as far as the year 1910 when he died, literally with pen in hand.  His story was completed in an epiligue by John Pascoe, a mountain writer and photographer.

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