Hiram De Graff



The personal appearance of this gentleman, one of the most highly esteemed residents of Apple River, invariably attracts the attention of the stranger as indicative of a man of more than ordinary intelligence and strength of character. In stature he is about six feet in height, and pulls down the scales at 220 pounds. He is erect and of commanding presence, of magnificent frame, which has never been impaired by intemperate habits. He stands well among his fellow-citizens as a man honest and upright in his transactions, industrious and energetic, religious and patriotic. His career has been one of more than usual interest, and in submitting it we begin with his birth, which took place in Amsterdam, N.Y., April 20, 1817, on the banks of the Mohawk River, thirty miles west of the city of Albany.

The father of our subject, Frederick De Graff, was also a native of Amsterdam, and a farmer by occupation. He served as a Major in the War of 1812; was at Sackett Harbor and distinguished himself as a brave soldier. His company was a band of Amsterdam boys, and none of them were less than six feet two and one-half inches in height. The De Graff family traces its descent to Holland, whence the mother of our subject, in her girlhood Miss Van Wermer, also traces her descent. The great-grandfather De Graff was born in Holland and spent his last years in Amsterdam. Frederick De Graff was born in 1775, and died in Amsterdam, N.Y., at the age of sixty years. The mother survived her husband a period of fifteen years, dying at Amsterdam in 1850, at the age of sixty-seven. They were the parents of eight children, namely: John, Andrew, Lawrence, David, Hiram, Rachel, Garrett, and Mary.

The subject of this sketch spent his first years in his native place, attending the subscription schools. He was at an early age made acquainted with various pursuits of farm life, when labor-saving machinery was almost unknown. He has an indistinct recollection of the construction of the Erie canal, and in a few years entered the employ of his cousin, John N. De Graff, as driver, having gained the consent of his father. He was thus employed on the canal a number of years, and although not having much opportunity for reading, was brought into contact with thousands of persons every year, and obtained a good insight into human nature. This to him was always an interesting study, and he lost no opportunity of informing himself upon different matters when meeting with intelligent men. In reading he was careful in his choice of books, selecting only those which he conscientiously believed would be of real benefit.

Young De Graff worked his way upward until he became captain of a boat,
"The Pennsylvania"; but was only connected with it thereafter for one year. He had now become dissatisfied with his life, and with a strong desire of bettering himself in more ways than one, determined to seek his fortunes in the great West. He accordingly emigrated to Illinois, which had been then "extensively explored, but thinly settled;" but it was the magnet which attracted him. He started on his journey alone, taking a steamer to Detroit, and upon arriving there set out on foot for Chicago, reaching the future great city in November, 1836. After a short stay in the then unattractive town he pushed on westward to Rockford, where he met a Government official in the post-office department from a little place called Freeport, to which he traveled over the Indian trail before the state-line from Rockford to Freeport had been established. Thence he went to Pecatonica, and took up a claim twelve miles northwest, where he began splitting rails - 300 per day - or sometimes three cords of wood.

The spring following, Mr. De Graff sold his lumber and his claim and removed to the vicinity of Galena, purchasing a claim near Scales Mound. Not long afterward he was married, Oct. 3, 1839, to Miss Rachel Phelps. The newly wedded pair took up their abode in a snug dwelling, and Mr. De Graff was occupied at farming until the present time. Of this union there were born four children: The eldest daughter, Isabelle, is now the wife of Walter Scott, of Vernon County, Mo., and the mother of five children; William F., during the late war enlisted in Company E, 96th Illinois Infantry; was promoted to Sergeant and was wounded at the battle of Chickamauga. His father went south and brought home the boy, but the ambition of the latter would not allow him to remain while his comrades were fighting for their country. Before he was fully recovered he started back to join his regiment at Buzzard's Roost, where he was mortally wounded and taken to Chattanooga, where he died on the 12 of May, 1864. He was a young man of great promise, and his death was a great affliction to his father. The third child, Virginia, died in infancy; David, the younger son, went to Missouri, where he engaged in farming , and died in Ft. Scott, Kan., in 1870. Mrs. Rachel (Phelps) De Graff departed this life April 9, 1849, at her home in Jo Daviess County, when but thirty years of age. She was a lady of many estimable qualities, and possessed the affection of her family and friends in a remarkable degree.

Mr. De Graff was married a second time, in 1850, to Miss Sarah Torrence, who was born near Columbus, Ohio. She became the mother of two children: Emma J., who died at the age of sixteen years; and Rachel C., who is now the wife of John L. McDonald, a business man of Scales Mound. They have three children: Earl E., Myrtle, and a babe unnamed. Mrs. Sarah (Torrence) De Graff died at her home in Apple River, Dec. 7, 1866. The third wife of Mr. De Graff, to whom he was married June 17, 1867, was formerly Mrs. Sarah Crase, widow of Henry C. Crase and daughter of John Eplette, Sr. Mr. Eplette was born in Truro, England, and followed the occupation of millwright and machinist until emigrating to America, in 1852. He was accompanied on the journey by his wife, Mrs. Sarah (Nance) Eplette, and part of their family.

Mrs. De Graff, upon coming to America, was a young lady of twenty years, having been born in England. After coming to America she joined her aunt in Galena, with whom she made her home until her marriage. Of her union with Mr. Crase there were born four children, the eldest of whom, John H., died in infancy, and the others, Elizabeth, John H. and Charles, are now also deceased. Mr. De Graff by this marriage became the father of three more children: Ella, Lawrence, and an infant who died unnamed. Lawrence is a very bright and intelligent young man, and at present engaged as a teacher in the intermediate department of the Apple River school. He graduated from the Apple River High School in the class of 1888. Mr. And Mrs. De Graff came to Apple River village in November of 1870, and our subject has since lived retired from active labor. He is the owner of a large farm in La Fayette County, Wis. As a citizen he has been liberal and public-spirited, taking pleasure in encouraging the enterprises calculated to uphold the standard of religion and morality in the community. He has contributed of his means to the building of nearly all the churches in the northeastern part of this county of the Methodist Episcopal persuasion, with which he has been identified for a period of forty years. He was Trustee of the church funds at the time of building, and assisted in the organization of the first Sunday-school in Jo Daviess County. He has been engaged in Sunday-school work more or less since that time, and frequently is sent as a delegate to the various conferences and conventions of his church.

Mr. De Graff cast his first Presidential vote for William Henry Harrison, and since that time has been an ardent supporter of Republican principles. He has represented his township in the County Board of Supervisors, officiated as Village Trustee, and served on the Grand and Petit Juries from time to time. His influence in his community will continue to be felt long after he has been gathered to his fathers. He is a remarkably well-preserved man, and has reason to feel that he has not lived in vain, for his very example has been a stimulus to good and generous deeds on the part of others.

About 1841 Mr. De Graff returned to his old home in New York State, and after a pleasant visit among the friends and associations of his youthful years, he set out on his journey homeward, embarking at Buffalo on the ill-fated steamer "Erie." After the vessel had fairly gotten under way on the waters of Lake Erie, and while Mr. De Graff was carrying on an animated conversation with one of his fellow-passengers, being in the best of spirits, and prophesying great things in connection with the future of Jo Daviess County, the steamer seemed all at once to burst into flames, and out of the 200 passengers on board only twenty-one were saved. The vessel was eight miles from land, and the subject of our sketch was in the water two hours before being rescued. Such praying he never heard before nor since that time. Up till that time our subject had not been connected with any church; but at that time he promised God Almighty that if He would spare his life he would serve Him all the rest of his days.

Source: Portrait and Biographical Album of Jo Daviess Co., IL (1889)