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James Duncan Graham
James Duncan Graham.png
James Duncan Graham c. 1845
Born (1799-04-01)April 1, 1799
Died December 28, 1865(1865-12-28) (aged 66)
Boston, Massachusetts
Nationality American
Occupation Topographic engineer
Charlotte Meade
(m. 1828; died 1843)
Frances Wickham
(m. 1857)

James Duncan Graham (April 1, 1799 – December 28, 1865) was an early member and founder of the Corps of Topographical Engineers who engaged in many topographical exercises. A topographical engineer, he directed the re-survey of the Mason–Dixon line, and served on the boundary commissions between the United States and Canada and between the United States and Mexico. He also supervised harbor improvements on the Great Lakes, and documented the lunar tide there.

Early and personal life

James Duncan Graham was born on April 1, 1799 in Prince William County, Virginia, to parents William and Mary Campbell Graham. He attended the United States Military Academy from June 19, 1813, to July 17, 1817, when he graduated, and was promoted to third lieutenant in the artillery corps. He worked as an adjunct at the academy from October 12, 1817, to February 10, 1819, during which he was promoted to second lieutenant. In 1828, he married Charlotte Meade, the daughter of merchant Richard W. Meade and sister of Civil War general George Meade. Their sons would serve in the military as well, William Montrose Graham Jr. eventually becoming a Major General and James D. Graham Jr. a Commander in the U.S. Navy. He married twice, to Charlotte Meade and after her death, to Frances Wickham.

Early career (1819–1850)

Graham was on Stephen Harriman Long's exploration of areas acquired in the Louisiana Purchase, from 1819 to 1821. He was on topographical duty from January 14, 1822, to January 15, 1829; and then on surveys in Vermont during 1829. Graham then worked on railroad surveys on the Winchester and Potomac Railroad in Virginia in 1831 and 1832, and later in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia from 1836 until 1837. During the Second Seminole War, Graham served under Major General Thomas Jesup, who commanded American troops in Florida.

Graham then was involved in reconnaissance and surveys for military defenses in Missouri during 1838. He served on a Court of Inquiry at St. Louis, in 1838–1839. He was on tour of inspection of harbor improvements on Lakes Ontario and Champlain in 1839. Graham was astronomer for the United States, working for the joint demarcation of the boundary between the United States and the Republic of Texas, in 1839–1840. He served as commissioner for the Survey and Exploration of the Northeast Boundary of the United States from 1840 to 1843. In 1840, he was elected to the American Philosophical Society.

Graham next was head of the Scientific Corps and principal astronomer for the joint demarcation of the boundary between the United States and Canada, under the Treaty of Washington, from 1843 until 1847. That year, he was made a brevet lieutenant-colonel, for "Valuable and Highly Distinguished Services, particularly on the Boundary Line between the United States and the Provinces of Canada and New Brunswick". He worked on remaking maps of the Webster–Ashburton Treaty, that had been destroyed by fire, from 1848 to 1850, and 1852 to 1853.

Later career (1850–1865)

Graham was on the survey of the Mason–Dixon line, from 1849 to 1850. During 1850 and 1851, he was the principal astronomer and head of the Scientific Corps for the joint demarcation of the boundary between the United States and Mexico, under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. He was then general supervisor of the harbor improvements on Lake Michigan, from April 20, 1854, to December 11, 1856, and of the channel improvement on the St. Clair Flats, from April 25, 1854 to September 1856. Graham was next superintending engineer of the harbor improvements on the North and Northwestern Lakes, December 11, 1856, to April 20, 1864, in which he documented the existence of a lunar tide in around 1859.

Graham served during the American Civil War as superintendent of the United States Lake Survey, from August 30, 1861, to April 20, 1864; then as lighthouse engineer of the 10th and 11th Districts (comprising the Northern Lakes, except Champlain), the 10th District from August 30, 1861, to April 20, 1864, and the 11th District from August 30, 1861, to March 1863. His loyalty to the Union was questioned in 1864, and Graham was briefly under investigation and removed from his post. Graham served as superintending engineer of sea-walls in Boston harbor, and in charge of preservation and repairs of harbor works on the Atlantic Coast from Maine to the Chesapeake from August 1, 1864, to December 28, 1865. He died in Boston on December 28, 1865, and is buried in Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C..


James Duncan Graham is commemorated in the scientific names of three species of reptiles: Anolis grahami, Regina grahamii, and Salvadora grahamiae. He is the namesake of Mount Graham, and Graham County, Arizona is named after the mountain.

Dates of Rank

Insignia Rank Component Date Ref(s)
No Insignia in 1817 Third Lieutenant Corps of Artillery July 17, 1817
Union army 2nd lt rank insignia.jpg Second Lieutenant Corps of Artillery October 14, 1817
Union army 1st lt rank insignia.jpg First Lieutenant Corps of Artillery September 8, 1819
Union army 1st lt rank insignia.jpg First Lieutenant 4th Artillery June 1, 1821
Union army cpt rank insignia.jpg Brevet Captain Staff — Assistant Topographical Engineer January 15, 1829
Union army maj rank insignia.jpg Brevet Major Staff — Topographical Engineer September 14, 1834
Union army maj rank insignia.jpg Major Corps of Topographical Engineers July 7, 1838
Union army lt col rank insignia.jpg Brevet Lieutenant‑Colonel Corps of Topographical Engineers January 1, 1847
Union army lt col rank insignia.jpg Lieutenant-Colonel Corps of Topographical Engineers August 6, 1861
Union army lt col rank insignia.jpg Lieutenant-Colonel Corps of Engineers March 3, 1863
Union army col rank insignia.jpg Colonel Corps of Engineers June 1, 1863
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