Alabama Pioneers Honored

BIOGRAPHY: John G. Graham (ca. 1800 – aft. 1852)



(ca. 1800 – aft. 1852)

(ca. 1800 – aft. 1852)

Texas, 1North Carolina, Coosa County, Alabama

(Excerpt from History of Coosa County: by the Rev. George Evans Brewer, 1887)

While John G. Graham took no active part in political affairs publicly, yet he was known well in the county and beyond. He came with his father, Archibald Graham, from North Carolina in 1820, first settling in Autauga. He moved into Coosa not long after its settlement, and, being a man of means, bought a large body of land about three miles above Nixburg, upon which he built what was one of the best and prettiest houses of the county.



Click to see how

Become a Patron!

His attention was given to his farm and educating his family until he leased the Penitentiary. He gave his sons and daughters good educations. He was a man of fine personal appearance, courtly in his manners, always well dressed, and his bearing was that of the perfect gentleman. He had a daughter who married Maj. Boling Hall, who lived for some years at the Graham home, after Mr. Graham went to Wetumpka. He had two sons, Neil and Malcolm, who became prominent men. He was a Presbyterian.


On February 4, 1846, an act was passed which permitted private individuals to lease WSP’s facilities and convicts. J. G. Graham became the first private sector contract warden.  (

The Alabama state legislature voted to construct the first state-run prison on January 26, 1839. In 1841, the Wetumpka State Penitentiary was built in Wetumpka, Alabama. The prison received its first inmate in 1842: a white man sentenced to 20 years for harboring a runaway slave. In the antebellum penitentiary, 99 percent of inmates were white, as free black people were not legally permitted to live in the state, and enslaved black people were instead subject to unregulated “plantation justice” at the hands of slaveowners and overseers.

The penitentiary was supposed to be self-sufficient, but soon proved costly as the prison industries of manufacturing wagons, buggies, saddles, harnesses, shoes, and rope failed to generate enough funds to maintain the facility. On February 4, 1846, the state legislature chose to lease the penitentiary to J.G. Graham, a private businessman, for a six-year term. Graham appointed himself warden and took control of the entire prison and its inmates, claiming all profits made from inmate labor and eliminating every other employment position except physician and inspector.

John G. Graham’s lease expired in 1852 and the penitentiary was then leased to Jordan & Moore.

Alabama continued to lease the prison to private businessmen until 1862, when warden/leaser Dr. Ambrose Burrows was murdered by an inmate. (

After 1852, he moved to Texas1

1Leonidas John Graham, M. D., was born 17th of February, 1831, in Autauga county, Alabama. His parents were John G. Graham and Jennet Smith Graham;both descendants of ScotchPresbyterians, and reared in North Carolina. When quite young he removed with his parents to Coosa county, Alabama, and there was instructed by the best scholars of the day, to-wit: Rev. Robert McAlpine, a Presbyterian minister, and Dr. McDougal, of Wetumpka, Alabama; finished his literary education at Oglethorpe University near Milledgeville, Georgia, a Presbyterian institute, under the Presidency of Rev. Dr. S. K. Talmage, uncle of the renowned T. DeWitt Talmage, of Brooklyn; begun the study of medicine in 1853, under the instruction of Doctor James A. Kelley; attended lectures at the Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, two courses, and graduated M. D., on the 10th of March, 1855. ….Coming at once to Texas, he located at Jefferson. Here he practiced medicine during the years 1856-7 and part of 1858. In 1857 married Miss Sarah C. Robertson, daughter of John Robertson, Esq., of Rusk county, Texas, a descendant of the South Carolina Scotch-Presbyterians. (Types of Successful Men of Texas By Lewis E. Daniell E. Von Boeckmann, printer, 1890)

1William Graham, of Autauga, was a native of North Carolina, and a brother of Daniel Graham, who was many years Secretary of State of Tennessee. He was also a brother of John G. Graham, formerly of Alabama, but now a citizen of Texas (Reminiscences of Public Men in Alabama: For Thirty Years, with an Appendix By William Garrett 1872)