Isabella Graham, 1834-1902

I am seriously obsessed with Isabella Lawton Graham. 

What a convoluted life she had. She started as a slave, being owned by Col. Alexander James Lawton of Mulberry Grove in St. Peter’s Parish, Beaufort District, South Carolina. She married Moses Graham in 1854 on Col. Lawton’s plantation by Parson Jack Lawton, alias Jack Taylor, a colored preacher who was also owned by Col. Lawton. Isabella and Moses had 4 children when he entered the service in the United States Colored Troops. He died of smallpox while in the service. 

Isabella applied for a widow’s pension, which she received with the help of Col. Lawton, who was an attorney and advocated for her rights by law. After he died, his son Alexander Robert Lawton, also an attorney, continued to process the paperwork demanded by the government. Then when he died, his son Alexander Robert Lawton, Jr., continued to maintain the files at his firm of Lawton and Cunningham. I stand amazed that this family, for three generations stood by this poor widow to see that she continued to get her pension. 

I found a Richmond Graham who was living in Savannah, and died and was buried in Laurel Grove South, a traditionally black cemetery. When I searched to see if there were other Grahams buried there, the name Isabella Graham popped up. 

I also found her in the Savannah city directory in 1898. She’s living at 321 Liberty Street, east, employed as a cook. 

So off we go to 321 Liberty Street, east. 

The house to the left is directly on the corner. 


It is the Augustus Barie Tenant House. I’m saying, ” Who is Augustus Barie?”, and Sugar is saying, “No, his last name is Tenant.”

I will be glad when the family reunion is over this weekend and we can get back to our own version of normal. 


2 Responses to “Isabella Graham, 1834-1902”

  1. Laverne Says:

    Ruth was she kin to the Lawton or a slave who carried their name?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ruth Rawls Says:

      Laverne, I truly don’t know how to determine a clear answer. So, I’ll say what I know.
      She is reported as a slave in the widow’s pension file.
      Some reports say that her name before marriage was Isabella Lawton.
      She is reported as black on a census.
      Three generations of Lawtons, all attorneys, defended and supported her claim of a widow’s pension.
      I can’t find any modern-day descendants, so there’s no one to test for autosomal DNA.
      There are other people who gave sworn testimony to support her case. They were black, they reported themselves as former slaves of Alexander James Lawton, and their last name was Lawton. Does this mean they took the last name of Lawton when they were freed? I *think* that’s what it means, and not that they were blood Lawtons, but I can’t be certain without more facts. I don’t think that any of us can be certain, because we weren’t there.
      Your thoughts?


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