The Salmon Brook Historical Society recently received several boxes of family documents collected by the late Carol Guy Barnes. They were saved and donated by a cousin, Thomas Forsyth, after the death of Carol’s husband, Byron “Biker” Barnes.
The documents, from the 1840s through WWII, cover several generations of the Graham and Guy families of West Granby. They were not Granby natives and there was only one Graham family and one Guy family in town. However, these faded letters, deeds, awards and other papers, allow a look into the life of Myron Graham, Esq.
The earliest ancestor, Henry Graham, was in Hartford in 1661. Graham is sometimes spelled Grihms or Grimes in early records. As in most early families, sons and grandsons moved to other towns in search of land. By the fourth generation, three brothers, Isaac, Daniel and Elisha Graham, had moved to West Simsbury, in an area that later became North Canton. Daniel moved from Wintonbury (Bloomfield) to West Simsbury in 1756. He farmed the land, married three times and raised at least seven and possibly nine children.
The seventh child of Daniel Graham and his third wife, widow Anna (Roberts) Adams, was Erastus, born around 1780. He married Hilpah Roby and they had three sons, Erastus Nelson (called Nelson) born 1806, William P. born 1809 and died age 1 year 7 months, and Myron William born 1812. Census records from 1810 to 1840 show Erastus in Canton. Many Graham family burials are in the North Canton Cemetery.
The eldest son, Nelson, was married and had three children, but by 1860 he was without family and working as a farm laborer in West Granby. His wife and son are buried in North Canton Cemetery. His two daughters may have been raised by other family members.
Myron William Graham, the youngest son, was living with his parents in Canton in 1830, age 17. Before 1837, he had moved to West Granby, courted and married Gunelda Higley, daughter of Asa Higley. The Granby census for Myron Graham in 1840, lists two sons under the age of five with the young couple. The boys were Oscar age 2 and probably an infant born around 1840. An unnamed child of Myron and Gunelda was buried in North Canton in 1845. Myron may have been struggling financially, because he received a tax abatement in 1840 of 80 cents.
By 1850, Myron and Gunelda were back living in Canton, where three more children were born, Rosalia 1843, Adelbert 1845 and Estelle Adelia 1849. Myron was working as a wheelwright and tanner.
Granby Land Records show that Myron had returned to Granby by 1851, when he bought the Benjamin Hayes estate in West Granby, from the heirs. Myron’s occupation changed through the years. In 1850, he was a wheelwright and tanner, the 1860 census called Myron a farmer, but when he died in 1868, his profession was Attorney-at-Law.
Granby Town Records indicate that Myron was very involved in town government. The many letters he received provide ample proof of the broad scope of his activities. As early as 1852, he was on the Board of Assessors. For the next 16 years, he held a variety of offices, many of them multiple times. He was a Wood Measurer and Gauger (to ensure proper measurements of items sold), Tythingman (to enforce observance of the Sabbath), Grand Juror, Registrar (town clerk), Justice of the Peace and long-time member of the Board of Education.
Multiple occupations were not rare for men in the mid-nineteenth century. However, even the limited samples of Myron’s letters reveal that he was definitely a multi-tasker. He was a farmer, planting and harvesting crops; he had a business partnership, Fancher and Graham, making carriage wheels; also Higley and Graham for legal matters; he served as a Judge for local lawsuits; hired teachers and ordered books for West Granby schools; invested in western lands; was asked to prosecute criminals; lent and borrowed money; administered estates for the Probate Court and in his spare time he sold subscriptions to the New York Tribune.
Business in the 1800s was mostly on credit. Hard cash was a rare commodity. Farmers could not pay their bills until their crops were sold. Many of the letters to Myron illustrate his attempts to collect money owed to him.
In 1853, Thomas G. Hazen of New Hartford sent a $15 partial payment for a set of wheels, although “the last set of wheels which you built me, I did not think very favorably of them.” Instead of paying the balance due, Hazen sent another letter suggesting that Myron collect it from Marcus Edgerton, who owed $25 to Hazen.
Sylvester Judd of North Canton sent four letters to Myron in 1855. Every letter contained elaborate reasons why he hadn’t paid and fervent promises to pay—eventually.
February 1855 “I had the promise of some money last month for you but didn’t get it. I have not sold my potatoes or corn as I expected. I shall come to see you as soon as I can get money to pay part of all I owe you.”
June 1855 “I got some money last week and expected to have started for Hadley for eels this morning and stop and pay you some, but my hired hand went off and I had to pay him.”
In September 1855, Sylvester was told that Myron was going west in the fall and wanted his money. Again, Judd had to harvest and sell his crop first.
The bill was still not paid in November because of some deal with the Collinsville Savings Bank that didn’t work out. “I shall get it as soon as I can.”
Another debtor skipped town and Myron had a petition issued for his arrest. C. T. King wrote from Titusville, Pa., where oil had recently been discovered.
“As I was getting into a great deal of trouble, I thought that the best thing that I could do was to get away as soon as I could and give up the idea of getting a bill this fall, so I wish that you would withdraw that petition and make out our bill and send it to me and I will forward you the money by the next mail. Perhaps you may think that I want to cheat you out of your pay by my coming out here, but that is not so. I can and will pay you. I am at work and getting good pay. They have struck a new well here which flows 3000 barrels per day.”
(to be continued)