History of the Restoration Movement


Robert Graham
1822-1901

"The Sacred Trio"

Robert Graham, Isaiah Boone Grubbs, John William McGarvey, the three men who came together to form the faculty of the "New" College of the Bible in the Main Street Christian Church, remained together for several decades. They came to be associated in the minds of students and friends of the Seminary under the affectionate title of "the Sacred Trio." An three had been Alexander Campbell's students in Bethany College. For several years they had served together on the editorial board of the Apostolic Times, published in Lexington, Kentucky. When they joined forces on the faculty in 1877, Graham was fifty-five years of age; McGarvey was forty-eight; and Grubbs was forty-four.

Robert Graham's father, William, had been an English sea captain. He brought his family to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to live when Robert was nine years of age.

At the age of twelve Robert began a five-year apprenticeship in the shop of a Pittsburgh carpenter. While thus employed he worked in the shop by day and went to school by night. And while still working at his carpenter's trade only a few years later he helped erect the first buildings of Bethany College. It was then that the desire to attend the College he was helping to erect became overpowering. And in 1844 with the personal encouragement of Alexander Campbell he laid down his saw and carpenter's rule to take up the Bible and the textbook.

He became student pastor of the Dutch Fork Christian Church, eight miles from Bethany; with his salary from this plus earnings as a Greek instructor in his junior and senior years, he was able to complete his work. He graduated as the salutatorian of his class.

Following his graduation from Bethany College in 1847, he rode horseback to Fayetteville, Arkansas, where he established the Christian Church and where he also founded Arkansas College, forerunner of the University of Arkansas.

When Bacon College had been revived as Kentucky University at Harrodsburg in 1859, Robert Graham joined the faculty as teacher of English and related subjects. But he stayed only one year, then returned to Arkansas. Caught in the emotional tides of the Civil War he was compelled, because of his Union sympathies, to leave Arkansas. First he served as pastor of the Walnut Street Christian Church of Cincinnati from 1862-1864, and then in 1864 moved to California where he became minister of the Santa Rosa Christian Church.

He left this church in 1866 to become presiding officer of the Liberal Arts College of Kentucky University, recently removed to Lexington. This completed the circle from Kentucky University and return in six years. But, anticipating trouble with Regent John B. Bowman, Graham resigned this University post in 1869 to accept the presidency of Hocker Female College (later called Hamilton College). At the death of President Milligan in 1875, Graham left Hocker College to become presiding officer of the College of the Bible in Kentucky University.

Graham was later described by his students as "a solid block of a man." He had a florid complexion, light blue eyes, and "an orator's mouth," and in later years, "a halo of white hair." The dress of the day was a Prince Albert. But later, in the nineties, says Harvey Baker Smith, Graham wore an English walking suit, a standing collar, and a white bow tie. Priding himself on the control of his emotions, he almost never laughed or smiled.

President Graham began his teaching at The College of the Bible in the chair of English Literature and Homiletics, but after 1880 he occupied the chair of Mental and Moral Philosophy. This covered a wide range of subjects, also required of students in the Arts College of Kentucky University: psychology, logic, political science, civics, and economics.

As a teacher Graham was methodical and exacting. Though disposed to be kindly, he could be "sharp, even caustic" toward slipshod work." He was capable of acting out his lessons and took great pains to make things clear.

Robert Graham resigned the presidency June 28, 1895, less than two months before his seventy-third birthday. He continued to teach three years longer, but retired altogether in 1898, at which time, in recognition of a distinguished career, Kentucky University awarded him the LL.D. degree. He died January 20, 1901, at the age of seventy-eight.

--From Lexington Theological Seminary 1865-1965, Dwight E. Stevenson, Bethany Press, pages 67-70

Robert Graham

I was sorely grieved to read in the Sun this morning:  "The Rev. Dr. Robert Graham, formerly President of the Bible College of Kentucky University, died yesterday at Bellevue, Pa. "

Brother Graham was my generous personal friend and Christian brother, the mutual sympathies between whom and myself had been kept active by a voluminous correspondence extending through more than a third of a century, following a brief association in the Gospel ministry during our residence in Cincinnati.

I was supplying the pulpit at Eighth and Walnut streets in that city when he came as a refugee from Arkansas in 1862, having fled, as a Union man, from the advancing Southern army. He was at once engaged to minister for the church I was serving. The mutual friendships then formed were cemented by numerous incidents of our church relations, and were continued undiminished until his pilgrimage closed. I am in possession of many scores of responses to my letters from his pen, much of which, no doubt, would be as interesting to others of his numerous friends as to myself. And this is the more remarkable because he was always greatly averse to writing letters or other matter, either private or for publication, in consequence of which there ls little of his literary work on record for the benefit of those he leaves behind.

In reference to his personal qualities I quote from a sketch published ln 1864:

"Robert Graham is a heavy-set man inclining to corpulency, and, while of low stature, weighs about 180 pounds. He has all the external indications of a fine, healthy physical temperament. With a bright florid complexion, a brain largely developed in the intellectual and moral region—the more striking by his premature baldness—large, prominent, bright, blue eyes, and the orator's mouth, he is able and exceedingly fluent in speech on almost any topic, whether before an audience or in the private circle. His language and style are so highly finished, and yet so perfectly familiar and easy, that the stranger-critic is apt to suspect that the whole is memorized. But; aside from a few brief notes in the course of his thorough preparation, he does not write at all, that being too slow a process for his readiness of thought and speech. He stands in the front rank among our able preachers."

During the sojourn in Cincinnati Brother Graham officiated at the baptism of my eldest son, William, then a lad of 15 years, who; long since, passed away in this city. He also conducted the funeral services of my youngest son, Montgomery, a lad of 9 years, whose remains rest in Spring Grove Cemetery.

The fraternal correspondence between us continued until last July, when I received his last letter. I copy a few extracts from this beautiful, touching epistle:

“In addition to my other infirmities, my vision is becoming much impaired, and my oculist says I must abstain from reading and writing as much as possible, and I am trying to follow his direction. It is indeed hard to do this, but better this than to become blind altogether. I have not had any sense of smell for years, my hearing is fast falling me, and now my eyes are giving out. I have been under treatment for them for over a year, so you see I am rapidly losing my connection with and my interest in the outside world. Life ls but a dream.”

Again, after referring to what might be his arrangements for the future, he writes:

"When all this is arranged I shall have retired from public life. I want to do so now. I feel that my work is done and that I need and must have rest. I weigh only 125 pounds now. When the Master calls I want to be ready. If you do not hear from me you may infer the reason from the above; so good-bye, my constant friend, it pains me to say this, and I say it only from necessity. We shall meet ‘some sweet day.’ Love of wife and myself to Sister Tiers and what remains of your family, and believe me, as of your and my younger days, your sincere brother in Christ."

I deeply regret that I cannot mingle my tears and condolence with the friends of other days at the funeral services of our dear brother, so to pay tribute to his memory and worth.

And now let us remember the aged, stricken widow in her sad bereavement in our prayers and sympathies.

Thou, dear departed friend, I fondly hope to respond to thee in true spiritual cognition on the other shore "some sweet day."

M. C. Tiers.

New York, January 21, 1901

Source: The Christian Leader, February 5, 1901, page 9.

Robert Graham: An 1864 Sketch

The present able and efficient incumbent of the pastorate of the Church at the corner of Eighth and Walnut Streets, Cincinnati, comes near, in order of age, to his personal friend and Christian brother William Baxter. It will, doubtless, be a matter of interest to the reader to observe the remarkable connection between the events in the history of these two ministers of the Gospel, both born on English soil, unknown to each other until they are found together in Pittsburg, Penn., when approaching manhood—together in the Methodist Church at Alleghany—together under the same ministry (that of Samuel Church) in the congregation of Disciples—together at Bethany College—eventually together at Arkansas College, and the one following the other as its president—almost together as refugees, through the rebel lines to Cincinnati—and now together, having lost all earthly property, in charge of the two Churches in Cincinnati. They are, however, in all respects save stature—which is not more in either case than five feet six inches—almost the direct opposites of each other.

Robert Graham is a heavy-set man, inclining to corpulency, and, while of low stature, weighs about one hundred and eighty pounds. He has all the external indications of a fine, healthy, physical temperament. With a bright, florid complexion, a brain largely developed in the intellectual and moral region— the more striking by his premature baldness—large, prominent, staring, light-blue eye, and the orator’s mouth, he is able and exceedingly fluent in speech on almost every topic, whether before an audience or in the private circle. His language and style are so highly finished, in the “dotting of every i,” and the “crossing of every t” and yet so perfectly familiar and “ offhand,” that the stranger critic is apt to suspect that the whole is memorized. But, aside from a few brief notes in the course of his thorough preparation, he does not write at all, that being too slow a process for his readiness of thought and speech. He stands in the front rank among our able preachers.

“Robert Graham was born on the 14th of August, 1822, in the City of Liverpool, England. His parents were members of the Established Church, rigid Episcopalians, and their son was brought up in that communion. Before her marriage, his mother was a strict Methodist, and, for a long time, a teacher in the Sabbath-school. This circumstance, doubtless, always had an influence in making the family favorable to that sect. There were no decided religious impressions made on his mind in early youth. An observance of the forms and common morality of the Established Church was all that was aimed at in the family. From earliest recollection, though full of fun and frolic, he was easily moved by religious instruction, due probably to a strong imagination, united with what might be called a religious organization.

“In the winter of 1836-37, being then only fourteen years of age, he was deeply impressed with the importance of religion, at a protracted meeting among the Methodist Protestants in Alleghany City, Penn., under the ministry of Rev. John Brown. It was while kneeling at the altar of prayer, at that meeting, that he resolved, God being his helper, to lead a new life. He went forward to be prayed for on but one occasion. Never experienced that of which many spoke in glowing terms, but he was conscious of a great change in his views, feelings, and conduct. Having joined the Church on probation, he was admitted to full fellowship at the expiration of six months.

“In the fall of 1838, he was made acquainted with the congregation of Disciples in Alleghany City, Penn., through Brother William Baxter. who had left the Church of which he was a member, and had united with the Disciples. He was thus brought to review the grounds of his religious belief. He examined the Scriptures with special reference to the baptismal controversy and kindred subjects, and, after much discussion with Brother Baxter, and a candid hearing of Elder Samuel Church, then the public teacher of the Christian Congregation in Alleghany City, he became convinced of the truth as held by our brethren.

“On the 17th of February, 1839, he was publicly immersed, on a profession of faith in Christ, in the Alleghany River, by Elder Church, and the same day received into communion, to the great joy of his heart, for, in making the change, he had well-nigh been lost in the mazes of unbelief.

“At that time he was an apprentice for five years, learning the art and mystery of house-carpentry, in the City of Pittsburg, Penn. He had a great passion for books; and, to acquire an education, he attended night-school during the winter, and, by industry and economy, collected quite a library of useful and entertaining books. He was deficient in education, but applied himself with great assiduity to acquire a knowledge of history, belles-lettres, Bible criticism, general literature, and science, and joined a private association of young men to study the Latin language and literature. “About this time the young men of the congregation formed the ‘Webster Literary Society,’ which met once a week in the Church. Graham became a zealous and active member of this organization, participating in its debates and other exercises with great pleasure and profit. It flourished about four years. He writes: ‘I here record my testimony in favor of such societies when properly conducted. Many besides myself have reason to think gratefully of that society.’

“Having completed his apprenticeship with satisfaction to his employer, he continued in his service as a journeyman. Occasionally he would take part in the exercises of the social meetings of the Church, and began to exhort in public. In the winter of 1842 his employer failed in business, and he not only was thrown out of work, but lost his all, accumulated in the employer’s hands. At the instance of Brother Church, he visited Bethany College, and conferred with Brother Campbell with reference to being employed in the college buildings, not then completed. A wise suggestion of the zealous Church, as the sequel has shown.

“At Brother Campbell’s suggestion, he entered the college as a student on the 1st of January, 1843. In the following year he began to preach for the Church at Dutch Fork, seven miles from Bethany, and continued to labor for them on the Lord’s day, for three years. He supported himself at college by the sale of his library, carpenter’s tools, the small salary he received for preaching, and advances made by Brother Campbell. These last were liberal and generous, and were refunded in full, with interest, in May, 1854.

“While a student at Bethany, he was married to Miss Maria Thornley, of Alleghany City, Penn., on the 24th of December, 1844. She is of English birth, but, like himself, was brought to the United States in childhood. She has been the faithful partner of all his joys and sorrows, and the mother of nine children, only four of whom now live, the others dying in early infancy.

“Robert Graham graduated on the 4th of July, 1847, in the same class with A. R. Benton, now President of the University at Indianapolis, between whom and himself the first honor was divided, he delivering the Greek, and Graham the Latin salutatory.”

[It is not the neglect of the author that portraits of both these men do not appear.]

“On the 18th of December, 1847, leaving his family in Alleghany City, he started for Little Rock, the capital of Arkansas, on a collecting tour, acting as Brother Campbell’s general agent for Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. This tour continued nine months, during which time he traversed a great part of these States, preaching the Word, advocating the claims of Bethany College, collecting for the ‘Millenial Harbinger,’ and becoming extensively known among our Churches in the Southwest.

“It was during this tour that he was met by Brother J. T. Johnson, at Fayetteville, Ark., where they labored in a protracted meeting of great interest, resulting in the establishment of a fine Church, and the laying of a broad foundation for future influence in that part of the State. Soon after his return to the East, he received and accepted an invitation to become pastor of the Church in Fayetteville, arriving there with his family in January, 1849. Here he eventually established Arkansas College, to which allusion is made elsewhere.

“In 1858, he was unanimously elected to the chair of Belles-Lettres and History in Kentucky University, which he accepted, taking charge of his department at its opening in September, 1859, and continuing one session, with great acceptance to the University.

“While in the University, a brother of great excellence and piety was sent from Louisiana to Harrodsburg, to induce him to return to his former home, and give himself wholly to missionary work in the South, and become the General Agent of the Southern Christian Missionary Society.

“This proposition was accepted, and, resigning the professorship, he returned to Fayetteville in 1860, preparatory to entering on the work.

The whole arrangement, however, failed, on account of the breaking out of our national difficulties.

“Being a Union man without an ‘if,’ he suffered the loss of all his accumulations, about $10,000, and, after many tribulations, arrived in Cincinnati in the fall of 1862, where he now resides, and was immediately invited to the charge of the First Church, which he accepted. In November of the same fall, his family came away under the protection of General Schofield’s army, and were soon with him in Cincinnati.”

Source: Portrait Gallery of Christian Preachers, Montgomery C. Tiers,  Pages 241-245

Location Of The Grave Of Robert Graham

President Graham is buried at Lexington Cemetery, Lexington, Ky. Heading west from downtown on West Main Street enter the cemetery to the right. Continue through the iron gates on the main little road (Main Avenue). Just as you approach the "Sunken Garden" section you will want to turn right and head between it on the right and Section "8" on the left. At the end of "8" you will turn left. Section "11" will be on your right and "9" on your left. Continue down the lane until you reach near the end of section 9. Grave is tall spire on the left.

Note: Also in Section "9" are the graves of John B. Bowman and B.C. Deweese. Two sections over in Section "26" is E.E. Snoddy.

See Another Sketch On Robert Graham By J.W. McGarvey

GPS Location
38.059173,-84.506889
21 Ft. Accuracy
Grave Faces North
Section 9 Lot 97

View Larger Map


Maria Thornley
Wife of
Robert Graham
September 12, 1821
September 8, 1909


Robert Graham
August 14, 1822
January 20, 1901

See Where Graham Is Buried At Lexington Cemetery, Lexington Kentucky

History Home

History Index Page