June 27, 2004

The McGraws of Irish Settlement

It's been a little while since I had time to enter more of the Goodrich Centennial History of Dryden, but here's a short piece, looking at the McGraw family, residents of "Irish Settlement" and donors of the McGraw building at Cornell.

Chapter XLV.

The McGraw Family in Dryden.

Some time about the year 1827, two sturdy lads, tall and well proportioned but clad in homespun and barefooted, came to "Dryden Corners" from the South Hill neighborhood, driving an ox team and bringing to market a wagon load of pine shingles which they had shaved by hand. They drove up to the store kept by Phillips & Brown near the spot where the M. E. church now stands, and, after exchanging their cargo of shingles for such store goods as they needed and could afford to buy, returned to their home in the Irish Settlement. These young men were Joseph, Jr., and John McGraw, who afterwards became men of prominence and influence in the business and social affairs of their native town of Dryden, afterwards becoming residents of Ithaca, where both resided when they died.

Their father, Joseph McGraw, Sr., had emigrated in the year 1806 from Armagh, in the north of Ireland, a locality inhabited by a race of Scotch people who came there from Scotland at or before the time of Cromwell. The maiden name of their mother was Nelson, and the McGraws, Nelsons, and Teers brothers, as well as Hugh Thompson and others of this Scotch-Irish descent, temporarily settled in Orange county, N. Y., where Thomas, the oldest son of the McGraws, was born in the year 1808. After another sojourn of two years in Delaware county, they moved to Dryden, where they founded the "Irish Settlement" in 1811.

It seems, at first thought, surprising that the early settlers should many of them have sought their homes in the most inaccessible and least productive portions of the township, but we must remember that the qualities of the soil in the different localities were not known then as they are now, and the higher hilly lands were then considered more healthful than the low lands of the valleys, which, in early times, while the swamps were being drained and subdued by their first cultivation, were subject to epidemic fevers, which in those days prevailed with malignant severity and caused the premature death of many of the inhabitants.

As pioneers, Isaac Teers made his house on what is now the Cole place, and John upon what is now known as the Miller farm, while the McGraw family lived on the Hammond place, in the old log house then standing about four rods north-east from where the frame house on that farm is now located. In this log house Joseph, Jr., was born in the year 1812 and John in 1815, their only sister, Nancy (Clement), being older than either. There was still another son, Henry, a bright, promising boy, who died under twenty years of age.

John McGraw
John McGraw.

As already stated, the father was a weaver by trade, a man of fair education for those times, a great reader and a good talker, being able to quote from memory much of what he had read. The mother was a woman of intelligence, possessed of a quiet and amiable disposition, and very much loved and respected by her friends and neighbors. Both lived to old age, residing in the fifties a half-mile north of "Dryden Corners," and later at Willow Glen, where they both died. Their oldest son, Thomas, who, as we have seen, was born in 1806, died before he was thirty years of age. He is spoken of by those who knew him in terms of the highest admiration and is described as a compact, well built, handsome fellow, with good features and a face beaming with intelligence, naturally easy, graceful and attractive in his manners, and large-hearted and generous in his disposition. His early business enterprises as a merchant at "Dryden Corners" were successful and, had he lived to maturity, his prospects seemed equal to if not greater than those of his younger brother, John, who became a millionaire. His early death was greatly lamented at the time, He left a young wife, Sarah Ann (Southworth), who afterwards married Henry Beach and after his death Dr. D. C. White, all of whom she survived and is still living in New York city.

Joseph McGraw, Jr., also became a Dryden merchant and, in 1840, built the brick store now known as the Hardware block on the southeast of the Dryden four corners. He afterwards went into mercantile business with George W. Phillips in the brick store on the opposite corner, thus forming a partnership which resulted in a long and expensive as well as an unprofitable litigation for both parties. Joseph afterwards turned his attention to farming, bringing into the country improved breeds of farm stock, and finally retiring to Ithaca, where he resided when he died, in the year 1892. His first wife was Sarah Clement, by whom he had two children, Sarah Jane (Simpson) and John, both of whom were survived by their father, but both of whom left surviving issue. By his second wife, Sarah A. Sears, he had five children, all of whom are now living, viz: Thomas H., at Poughkeepsie, N. Y.; Lettie (Gauntlett) in Ithaca, N. Y.; Georgie (Curtiss), and Joseph W., at Portsmouth, Mich.; and Frank S., at Buffalo, N. Y.

With the exception of a son of Nancy Clement, the children and grandchildren of Joseph McGraw, Jr., are the only descendants of the original McGraw family which now survive.

John McGraw, the youngest and most noted of the children who reached maturity, was in some respects different from the other members of the family. The others, like their father, were sociable and loquacious, while John was reserved and sedate, but all were possessed of a gentle dignity which was characteristic of all of these brothers. The florid complexion, with light or sandy hair, which prevailed in the family, found an exception in John, whose hair was black. We are told that his father obtained for him a position as a clerk with Daniel J. Shaw, who was then a Dryden merchant, at a salary of eight dollars per month, one-half of which was given to his mother. In after years he said that one of the happiest moments of his life was when, after working for his employer for the first few weeks, he ventured to ask him one evening after the store was closed if he was satisfied with his services, and received the reply, "More than satisfied." Upon the death of his older brother, Thomas, John succeeded to his business, in partnership with their common father-in-law, John Southworth. Soon after this, in September, 1840, his only child, Jennie McGraw-Fiske, was born in the house since owned by Erastus Lord, nearly opposite to the Southworth homestead, and in 1847, his wife, Rhoda (Southworth,) died of consumption.

While a Dryden merchant, Mr. McGraw became interested in lumber speculations in a small way, which prepared him for his future success upon a large scale in that line of business, first in Allegany county, and afterwards in Michigan, where he operated near Bay City one of the largest lumber mills in the country. He at one time resided in New Jersey and again in Westchester county, N. Y., after taking for his second wife, Nancy Amelia Southworth, who died in 1857. He afterwards retired to Ithaca, where he married Jane P. (Turner,) widow of Samuel B. Bates, who survived him, he having died in the year 1877, possessed of a fortune of over two millions.

Of John McGraw, the late Henry W. Sage, at one time his partner in business, said: "He was upright, prompt, true, and sensitive to the nicest shade of honor. His active, practical life was a living exponent of that within, which abounded with faith, hope, courage, and fidelity - the qualities which make up and stamp the noble man. He was the donor of the McGraw building to Cornell University and in his latter years was president of the First National Bank of Ithaca.

Of his only child, Jennie McGraw-Fiske, who survived him, we have spoken more fully in the chapter devoted to the Southworth Library, of which she was the founder.

Goodrich, George B. The Centennial History of the Town of Dryden, 1797-1897. Dryden: Dryden Herald Steam Printing House, 1898. Reprinted 1993 by the Dryden Historical Society. Pages 199-202.

(The Dryden Historical Society, which sells this book, may be reached at 607-844-9209.)

Posted by simon at June 27, 2004 2:46 PM in
Note on photos


Carol Brennan Moss said:

I appreciate the posting of this family information for the McGraws of Dryden, New York. Joseph McGraw, Jr. is my second great grandfather. I have done a considerable amount of research on this family and connecting lines. If anyone is interested in the information I have gathered, please contact me at my email address: carolbmoss@gmail.com
Thank you,
Carol Brennan Moss [Mother: Jane Frances McGraw]

Nancy Pierce Woolley said:

I, also, appreciate the posting of my grandmother's family. My grandmother was Grace McGraw Pierce. This posting also put me in touch with a 'new' cousin, Carol Brennan Moss, for which I am most grateful. Many thanks.
Nancy Pierce Woolley


The Nelson line you mentioned interests me. Do you have info to expand?


This posting was very interisting to me. My connection is: Jennie Mcgraw married John Payn Gauntlett. They then had John Mcgraw Gauntlett. He and his wife gave birth to John Harris Gauntlett. John Harris Gauntlett married Helen Vanpelt then came my dad, John Vanpelt Gauntlett. That makes Jennie and John my great great grandparents.

Carol Brennan Moss said:

I would like to be in touch with Amanda Kraft. I have additional information on her genealogy that she lists here. Jennie McGraw, daughter of John McGraw, pictured above here, was only married to Daniel Willard Fiske and they had no children. On the other hand, John Payne Gauntlett was married to Susan Jane Burritt, who were parents to John Charles Gauntlett. He, in turn was married to Mary Celestia McGraw, niece of John McGraw, daughter of Joseph and Sarah Sears McGraw [John and Joseph were brothers]. They had John McGraw Gauntlett who was the father of John Harris Gauntlett.
If you would like any more information, please contact me at carolbmoss@gmail.com. Thank you.