north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

     Calvin Graves, state legislator, was born on January 3, 1804 in Caswell County, the son of Azariah and Elizabeth Williams Graves. The son and grandson of state legislators, Graves was sent to Bingham School, for his education. In 1823 he entered the University of North Carolina, before withdrawing a year later to study law with his brother-in-law Thomas Settle. Shortly thereafter, Graves left Settle for the tutelage of Leonard Henderson. He studied with Henderson until he was admitted to the state bar in 1827.

     Graves opened a law practice in Yanceyville, which he operated until entering politics as a Caswell County delegate to the North Carolina Constitutional Convention of 1835. Five years later he was elected from Caswell County to the General Assembly, the first session to meet in the newly constructed state capitol building. Reelected to the house in 1844-1845, he was elected to the state senate in 1846, where he served two consecutive terms.

     Graves was appointed speaker of the senate in 1848, and in the following session cast the deciding vote on whether to allow the expansion of railroads within the state. Going against his party’s wishes, Graves voted to approve the east-west North Carolina Railroad confident that North Carolina’s economic future was at stake. The courageous move cost him his political career. After leaving the assembly in 1849, Graves joined Governor John Motley Morehead on a tour of the state to drum up support for the railroad. Governor Charles Manly later appointed him a commissioner on the Board of Internal Improvements as a result, and in 1854 he was reappointed to the board by Governor David S. Reid.

     Aside from politics, Graves held strong beliefs in the importance of religion. He supported the construction of Dorothea Dix’s proposed insane asylum on moral and religious grounds, and was as a trustee of Wake Forest College from 1844 to 1862. In 1858 his wife, Elizabeth Lea Graves, died after a two-year illness. Graves subsequently retired to his plantation, Locust Hill, and focused his energy on agricultural pursuits. With Elizabeth Graves he fathered two sons and two daughters. He remarried in the early 1860s to Mary Wilson Lea, his first wife’s niece, but had no further children. He died on February 11, 1877, and is buried in the family cemetery near Yanceyville.

William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, II, 342-344—sketch by John L. Humber
John H. Wheeler, Reminiscences and Memoirs of North Carolina (1884)
Calvin Graves Papers and Charles Graves Papers, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, online finding aid at:
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north carolina highway historical marker program

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