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Looking through the eyes of Slaveholder Daniel Graham

Cropped Daniel Graham photocopy courtesy of Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Daniel Graham (1794 – 1869) was the recorder of these slave records.  Looking through his eyes we see a large plantation, of which a slaveholder was required to document his business ventures.  Slaving was first and foremost a business and maintaining an overview of the business entailed documenting for economic purposes.  The lives of slaves from their purchase through their death, their occupation and skills and their sale or running away - all were recorded.


Graham was born in North Carolina, lived in Tennessee as well as Washington, D.C.  Graduating from University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, he was surrounded and supported by fellow alumni whom would become  legislators, governors and presidents.  Along with President James K. Polk, Graham was a friend and peer of  President Andrew Jackson, both of whom Graham would become administrator and executor of their estates.  Graham’s career started with teaching and advanced to an attorney, bank cashier, bank and state comptroller, register of the US Treasury, and plantation owner.

Graham married Maria McIver, daughter of John McIver.  Although the Daniel and Maria did not have any children, Graham maintained a very close relationship with his wife’s family.  John McIver sponsored Graham’s political career as Tennessee Secretary of State and also sold him slaves.  McIver held many land deeds and was a plantation owner.

Congressmen, governors, lawyers, legislators, mayors and presidents were alumni, friends and/or peers of Graham.  Sharing and learning their political skills and strategies learning the business of slave ownership, he became a large plantation owner with over 900 acres and averaging forty to sixty slaves while continuing to grow in the political arena.  There is a parallel relationship between wealth and politics.  Slaving increased wealth and promoted political power.

Among Graham's peers were David McGavock and Giles T. Harding with whom he loaned (hired out) slaves.  The funds received for hiring a slave could amount to $1.50 per month, which was considered an annual income of a slave’s labor.  During the Civil War while Union and the United States Colored Troops occupied Nashville, Graham profited an average of $7.00 per month for an individual slave’s labor.

Around 1862, Graham's entries into his slave record book stopped.  He relayed to a Harding neighbor his desire to be dead because of the financial devastation resulting from the departure of his slaves..   Graham sold his plantation and moved into a downtown hotel with his wife.  His estate inventory consisted of furnishings for only one room versus the large plantation home.  From the years of 1860 to 1870 Graham's personal value decreased  from $153,000 to $15,000, leaving  Maria, a widow by 1870, with assets less than 10% of the couple's worth ten years prior.  Was the drastic wealth decrease proof of the financial power of slaving?

Resting place of Slaveholders

Tombstone of Daniel and Maria Graham

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