Sylvester Graham

Sylvester Graham (1794 - 1851)

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Reverend Sylvester Graham
Born in Suffield, Hartford County, Connecticutmap
Ancestors ancestors
[spouse(s) unknown]
[children unknown]
Died in Northampton, Hampshire County, Massachusettsmap
Profile last modified | Created 28 Jul 2018
This page has been accessed 32 times.


Sylvester was the youngest of 17 children. His father was 70 years old when he was born in 1794 and died two years later. To compound his problems growing up, Sylvester's mother was mentally ill. He spent his youth living with relatives. One relative owned a tavern where Sylvester worked. Being around drunkards would have a profound influence on Sylvester for the rest of his life. He would never drink alcohol and looked at dietary nutrition as a result.

After working at several different jobs Sylvester decided, when in his late 20's, that he would attend Amherst Academy hoping to follow in his father's and grandfather's footsteps and become a Christian minister. He wasn't a normal student, being older and not partaking in alcohol and one thing led to another until he was accused of improperly approaching a woman. He was expelled from the school and soon thereafter had a nervous breakdown. He would move to Compton, Rhode Island, to recover renting a room from a man whose daughter, Sarah Manchester Earle, fell in love with him and helped him back to good health. They would marry in 1824. Together they would have the following children:

Sarah Sylvestra Graham Musgrave (1828–1891)

Henry Earle Graham (1833–1873)

Carrie E. Wortz Graham (1840–1844)


Sylvester studied Theology privately and became a Presbyterian minister before becoming a leading figure in the temperance movement, advocating lifestyle choices that included abstaining from alcohol, eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and decreasing sex drive. He called for relying on homemade wheat bread and is believed to have come up with the Graham cracker.

The Reverend took on English minister William Metcalfe's ideas on vegetarianism and abstinence, and reported that his health improved after adopting such practices. Graham advocated adhering to a diet where meat, condiments, coffee and tea were eliminated, focusing instead on fresh fruits and vegetables.

Graham's work with bread was particularly pronounced, as seen in his 1837 book Treatise on Bread and Bread-Making. He called for the use of coarser, whole wheat flour and thought that bread should be homemade, emphasizing a mother's touch while pointing out that industrialized bread had the nutrient-rich layer of bran removed and unhealthy ingredients added to whiten flour. By the late 1820s, he or one of his followers was the creator of a now ubiquitous snack found in modern supermarkets—the Graham cracker. Ideas on Sex

Graham, who left the ministry and became an in-demand lecturer, preached that his recommendations on diet could help stave off cholera, which was having a major outbreak in the 1830s. Other Graham lifestyle recommendations, which he felt had implications for moral character, included wearing loose-fitting clothing (with the belief that garments should be utilitarian and not constrictive), taking cold baths, sleeping on hard bedding, having three scheduled meals without snacks, unheated food, dancing, exercising and relaxing—though there were strict parameters on making sure everything was balanced.

Graham's advocacy of moderation also touched on sexual activity, where he argued that it was in one's best interest to avoid foods outside of his plan so as to encourage a decreased libido, a preferred state for a balanced body and to avoid gluttony. He was a believer in phrenology as well, a now discredited system which argued that modes of behavior can be inferred from the shape of the skull. Grahamite Movement

Those who followed Graham's ideas came to be known as "Grahamites." Graham boarding houses that catered to his recommendations were created, though the lecturer himself was not part of the enterprise. The Graham Journal of Health and Longevity was established by a Boston Grahamite as well in 1837, that same year that Graham himself co-founded The American Physiological Society.

Graham's teachings also inspired controversy, as he was critiqued by some via media and literally besieged by bakers and butchers for his anti-commercial stance on bread. Additionally, he was seen as a source of outrage in Maine for speaking openly about sexual activity. Legacy

Though Graham was a preacher of moderation, he was often overworked, and by 1839, had retired from lecturing, working as a poet and struggling with physical and mental health issues. Nonetheless, in 1850 he was still able to co-found with Metcalfe another organization, the American Vegetarian Society. Over the years, some of Graham's tenets were incorporated into various parts of the U.S. food system, with John Harvey and W.K. Kellogg particularly making use of Graham's grains in their breakfast cereal products.

Graham died on September 11, 1851, at the age of 57, in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Source: Biography.


  • "Rhode Island Marriages, 1724-1916," database, FamilySearch ( : 11 February 2018), Sylvester Graham and Sarah M. Earl, 19 Sep 1824; citing Little Compton,Newport,Rhode Island, reference ; FHL microfilm 908,270.
  • "United States Census, 1840," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 7 September 2017), Sylvester Graham, Northampton, Hampshire, Massachusetts, United States; citing p. 394, NARA microfilm publication M704, (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 184; FHL microfilm 14,677.
  • "United States Census, 1850," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 12 April 2016), Sylvester Graham, Northampton, Hampshire, Massachusetts, United States; citing family 62, NARA microfilm publication M432 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

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No known carriers of Sylvester's ancestors' Y-chromosome or mitochondrial DNA have taken yDNA or mtDNA tests and no close relatives have taken a 23andMe, AncestryDNA, or Family Tree DNA "Family Finder" test.

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Images: 2
Reverend Sylvester Graham
Reverend Sylvester Graham

Graham Crackers
Graham Crackers


Sylvester is 23 degrees from Sharon Caldwell, 16 degrees from Burl Ives and 13 degrees from Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on our single family tree. Login to find your connection.

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