Honorable Jesse Franklin Graves
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He was born in August 1829, and death came to him in the maturity of his usefulness, on November 9, 1894.
Barzillai Graves, grandfather of the late Judge Jesse Franklin Graves, was born in 1759. He became a Baptist minister, distinguished for his eloquence and powerful intellect. He married a lady of like mind and heart and culture, Ursula Wright. Their seven children were: Solomon; Barzillai, who died unmarried; Elizabeth, who married James Lea; Isabella, who married Hosea McNeill; Margaret, who married William Lipscomb; Jeremiah, who married Delilah Lea; and Mary, who married Thomas W. Graves. Reverend Barzillai Graves died July 14, 1827.
General Solomon Graves, father of Jesse Franklin Graves, was born in 1784, and died April 28, 1862. He acquired the title of general through his service in the state militia.
After completing his literary education, Solomon Graves studied law under Honorable Bartlett Yancey of Caswell County. When admitted to the bar he moved from Caswell and located in Surry County. There he soon became prominent as a lawyer of sterling worth and ability, and for several terms was a member of the General Assembly, serving both in the House and Senate. For thirty-two years he was clerk and master in equity for Surry County, and was also for many years a trustee of the State University. Patriotism was a keynote to his character and he possessed a depth and sincerity of conviction beyond most of his contemporaries.
In a time when little attention was given to the subject he was a strong advocate for temperance. About 1818, General Graves married Mary Cleveland Franklin, daughter of Jesse Franklin, whose career as an early governor of North Carolina and subsequently United States senator is the subject of a sketch for other pages of this publication. Mrs. Solomon Graves died about four years before her husband. They had seven children: Meeky Ann, who married Reverend Miles Foy; Sarah Emily, who married Major J. W. Hackett; Mary Ursula, who married Colonel Harrison M. Waugh; Elizabeth Franklin; Jesse Franklin; Margaret Isabella; and Barzillai Yancey.
Jesse Franklin Graves spent his boyhood and youth in a home which furnished every incentive to the attainment and realization of his best inbred talents. He completed his education at Emory and Henry College in Virginia, and read law with Judge Richmond M. Pearson, afterwards chief justice of the Supreme Court at Rockford. Admitted to the bar in 1852, he at once began the practice of his profession at Mount Airy, and continued as a resident of that town until his death more than forty years later.
He was a student, patient, systematic and untiring; he loved his work and determined at the outset to make of himself a proficient lawyer. He delighted in the study of law as a great science, had a contempt for the superficial, and in his research and analysis sought to go to the very bottom and find truth and right in their essence. Not only did he store his mind with strictly legal learning, but enjoyed the companionship of the world's greatest authors and thus acquired a literary style which made his utterances and writings both accurate and pleasing. His conception of the essentials in life and in his profession may be more easily illustrated than expressed: On occasion when a young attorney asked him what were the most important and valuable books for the lawyer's library, he immediately answered, "The Bible, Blackstone's Commentaries on the English Law and Shakespeare's works," and he used them more than any other in his own. Thus, upon the broadest foundation he built with cleanness of thinking, soberness of opinion, accuracy of judgment and conscientious conduct of life's affairs, personal and professional.
In the earlier days the older and more experienced lawyers would make the round with the judge holding the courts of the district, appearing in counsel with the younger brethren in the several counties. Among those with who Jesse Franklin Graves practiced for many years, and whose companionship he enjoyed were, Colonel R. M. Furches, Col. E. L. Vaughn, Hon. Marsh Clement, Hon. R. Z. Linney, Col. A. H. Joyce, Col. James Morehead, Hon. John A. Gilmer, Maj. Quincy F. Neal, Capt. J. W. Todd, Hon. Joseph Dobson, Hon Cyrus B. Watson, Hon. W. B. Glenn and others equally prominent in the profession in this section of the state. Intimate association during the many weeks they were traveling the circuit, interchange of opinions on all sorts of questions, legal, scientific, political, moral and ethical, and hard-fought battles in the court-room, broadened and developed and made yet stronger lawyers and advocates.
His law practice was varied, as was that of all lawyers in this part of the state, and he attended courts in Surry, Stokes, Yadkin, Alleghany, Wilkes, Davis and Ashe, appearing occasionally in Davidson, Forsyth and Guilford counties.
Only once did he yield and accept nomination for a political office. The matter of extending the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railway to his home county and town came up, and at the instance and solicitation of friends who felt he might be of peculiar service, he accepted nomination at the hands of his party and was elected a member of the General Assembly of 1875-6. He aided in securing the construction of the railroad and went back to his practice.
In 1878 he was nominated by the democratic convention of the then Ninth Judicial District, the delegates composing it being largely the lawyers with whom he had been associated for many years, judge of the Superior Court, to which honorable position he was elected for a term of eight years. Upon the completion of this term he was re-nominated and re-elected and had served on the bench nearly sixteen years at the date of his death. He presided over the Superior Court in every county in North Carolina at least two terms and thus came to know every lawyer in the state. He had high sense of appreciation of the ethics of the profession, and in maintaining the dignity of the court he never forgot the courtesies due the attorneys and other officers of the court.
He was especially considerate of the young lawyer and smoothed over many a rough place for the new attorney with his first case, relieving his embarrassment and giving confidence. He had a fine view of humor and enjoyed sallies of wit, but never did he indulge his sense of the amusing to the discomfiture or humiliation of either lawyer or witness.
Being naturally of a judicial temperament, possession abundant patience and capacity for work, always painstaking and diligent, enjoying the study of law, having a clear, strong, intellect and nearly absolute self-control, he earned the high esteem and approbation of the bar and people, and won exalted position among the illustrious judges of North Carolina. He justly deserves the tribute paid to him by the distinguished Judge David Schenck in his History of North Carolina, who in referring to Judge Graves says: "Than whom no better man nor purer judge adorns the bench of our state. I know of no life presenting a fairer and brighter example of all that human life at its best and noblest ought to be than that of my cherished and honored friend. He was indeed an accomplished lawyer, an able and right judge, and a truly good man. And if I knew any higher praise I would utter it of him."
His was a well-ordered life, free from selfishness, self-promotion, self-laudation, self-interest, abounding in kindness, gentleness, charity and good-will to men; his character was pure and unsullied, his love of home and family was beautiful, his Christian faith was sublime.
On January 26, 1858, Jesse Franklin Graves married Mary Elizabeth Porter, daughter of Stephen and Margaret (McNutt) Porter of Wythe County, Virginia. Her grandfather, Andrew Porter, married Mary Gleaves.
Judge Graves and wife had seven children:
Mary Blanche Graves
Margaret Virginia Graves (died in infancy)
Bernard Franklin Graves
Lillian McNutt Graves (died in infancy)
Stephen Porter Graves
Susan Isabel Graves
Mary Blanche Graves graduated with distinction from Greensboro Female College and married Arch Hines of Surry County; their three children are: Mary Graves, who married Luther Montrose Carlton of Roxboro; Margaret who married John Worth McAlister of Asheboro; and Jesse Franklin, now in the United States army. Mrs. Hines was especially gifted in music and for many years after the death of her husband conducted a music school in Mount Airy.
Bernard Franklin Graves was a student at the University of North Carolina but was compelled to give up his college career on account of ill health. He engaged in farming as a means of recuperation, and while so engaged wrote many valuable articles for agricultural journals. Regaining his health, he became associated with his uncle, Col. B. Y. Graves in the warehouse business and continued in that work to the time of his death October 2, 1894. He was twice elected mayor of the Town of Mount Airy.
Stephen Porter Graves was educated at Bingham School and the University of North Carolina. After completing his law course at the same institution, he located in his home town for the practice of his profession. His career is the subject of another sketch in this publication.
Susan Isabel Graves was graduated at St. Mary's in Raleigh as valedictorian of her class, won two medals offered by the Teachers' Assembly of the state for best examination on history of North Carolina and history of the United States, contests being open to every teacher in the state. She is a teacher in the graded schools of Mount Airy and is regarded as a veritable encyclopedia of information on almost all subjects. She is a member of Raleigh Chapter of Daughters of the Revolution.
Malvina Graves received her education at St. Mary's in Raleigh, also, and became quite an accomplished pianist. She married Barzillai Shuford Graves, of Caswell County, and they have one child, Mary Elizabeth Graves, now studying music in New York. Mrs. Graves has for many years been president of the Daughters of the Confederacy of Caswell County.
Connor, R. D. W., Boyd, William K., de Roulhac Hamilton, Joseph Gregoire. History of North Carolina, Volume V Chicago, New York: Lewis Publishing Co., 1919, pp. 128-129.
Today, the Mount Airy Public Library stands on the site of the Jesse Franklin Graves house.
Judge Graves was a friend of Siamese twins Chang and Eng and wrote an unpublished biography of the twins. Graves, Jesse Franklin. "The Siamese Twins as Told by Judge Jesse Franklin Graves." Unpublished manuscript, North Carolina State Archives (undated).