WWilliam Graham's War Between the States

Mary Platt Graham

Mary Platt Graham about the time of her marriage
Mary Elizabeth Platt was born on Christmas day in 1842 in Townsend in what eventually became Schuyler County. Her parents were some of the first pioneer settlers of the area.


Mary's father, Brewster Platt, (to quote from his obituary) at 25 (1823) together with an older brother John migrated to what was then the Town of Catlin in the county of Tioga and settled on a farm of 150 acres about a half mile southeast of what was known as the Townsend settlement. The brothers drove back the forest and built a home to which soon came the parents and one other brother and sister.

Mary's mother, Elizabeth (Betsey) Scribner Hovey, was the descendant of an old New England family that could trace its roots to Daniel Hovey who arrived in Massachusetts in 1635 at the age of 17. Her immediate family entered the State of New York at Niagara Falls. The British burned them out during the War of 1812 and they migrated to Canadaigua, New York. Around 1830 they arrived in Townsend. She married Brewster in 1835.

After Brewster's 1835 marriage to Betsey Hovey, the brothers divided the farm with Brewster taking the south portion. John Platt subsequently sold his portion and moved on to Illinois. Brewster and his wife had one son, Hiram Hovey and one daughter, Mary Elizabeth. The son, Hiram died at 24 in the Civil War.

Platt/Graham farmhouse prior to being torn down

Married Life & Widowhood

On March 1, 1869, Mary married William Graham, a Civil War veteran and neighbor, in Townsend, New York. She was 27 and he was 35 years old. Mary was acquainted with his sister Elizabeth, if not William, since before 1860. Upon their marriage, William moved into Mary Platt's family homestead and received a share of the farm.

Mary and William had two children, Hiram Hovey and Sarah. William's premature death in 1877, at the age of 44, left Mary a widow with two small children - age 6 (almost 7) and 2 years. Mary's elderly father died in 1883 and her invalid mother in 1886. Mary never remarried.

As stated in Mary's pension application, the farm included 106 acres and was valued at $2000 in 1900. It was her family's sole source of sustenance.

Life was hard on that farm. According to Mary's granddaughter Irene,"it was such a little farm. I do not know how they made a living. They must have had lots of chickens, as I remember at family dinners Dad would always pass on the chicken as he said he had had his fill in early life."

To put some hard numbers on their poverty, the following was stated in Mary's pension application: Personal property consisted of $500 of furniture, farming implements and stock plus $500 in US Bonds. Gross yearly income does not exceed $200 out of which must be paid taxes and repairs. This leaves a net income of $100. Produce of the farm included wheat, oats, potatoes, butter, wool, pigs, calves and other livestock.

Mary Platt Graham in 1900. Clearly, the hard farm life has taken its toll.
Specifically, between 1895 and 1902, the highest annual gross income from the farm was $250. After taking out produce kept by the family and the expense of hired help, repairs and taxes, the highest annual net income was $5. Four of those years the farm operated at a loss.
Mary Platt Graham's farm in today's dollars

Putting some perspective on these numbers, I thought it would be interesting to see what they might translate into in today's economy. I checked a dollar value translator as a first step. In 2008 dollars, the $2000 farm would be worth $51,000 per the consumer price index (CPI). A quick look at real estate agriculture land listings for Schuyler County showed prices of $159,000 to $250,000 for 100 acres of agriculture land.

Based on the CPI, the personal property of $500 would be worth $13,000.

$250 in gross income would be $30,000 based on the inflation of the unskilled wage. More realistically based on market value, the $250 wholesale value of the farm's products in 1902 would have inflated in value to $4600 today. This is a relatively small inflationary impact. It reflects the efficiency of 21st Century American agriculture that produces meat and produce at a relatively low cost per unit.

The foregoing figures are pretty good evidence of why the small farmer is virtually extinct in America today.

Mary wanted to educate her son and sent him to school 13 miles north in Dundee in a horse and buggy. Hiram finally had to quit school when she could not get help in running the farm. He self educated himself from that beginning, becoming a political power in Schuyler County and was elected a member of the State Assembly (lower legislative body) in 1918. In 1983, Hiram's only son, Joseph Graham, described him as "pretty well known as a raconteur and he enjoyed nothing more than getting together with a group of three or thirty to tell a humorous episode."

Mary died in 1905 at age 62.

H Graem © 2008