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By Dr. David E. Gregg
OBI Bulletin, 2010
     There have been many things written about J. R. Graves, and yet there are still many more documents to be uncovered that will allow us to understand his life more completely. While searching through the Confederate Amnesty Papers, I came across a file with the name J. R. Graves written across one end. Immediately the question, why would Graves need to apply for amnesty, ran through my mind. After doing some additional research I learned that on May 29, 1865, President Andrew Johnson signed his Amnesty Proclamation which provided for amnesty and the return of property to those who would take an oath of allegiance. However, President Johnson excluded fourteen different "classes of persons" from the benefits of this proclamation. Number thirteen of his proclamation stated, "All persons who have voluntarily participated in said rebellion, and the estimated value of whose taxable property is over twenty-thousand dollars."

     In File #1316 of the Tennessee Confederate Amnesty Papers, filed July 27, 1865, are three letters in behalf of J. R. Graves. Before the content of these letters is revealed the stage should be set for them.

      Graves was the editor of the

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Tennessee Baptist in Nashville, TN. He and his brother-in-law, Wm. P. Marks, established The South Western Publishing House of Graves, Marks, and Co. In 1860, the value of his real estate was $50,000 and that of his personal estate was $30,000. Their business was doing very well until the Union army marched into Nashville on February 24, 1862.

     Graves fled Nashville just before the Cumberland River Bridge was destroyed. Graves wrote,

"My departure was hasty because I had been forewarned that my name had been marked for a Northern prison. As there was no passage allowed for citizens upon the cars I turned my course towards Huntsville in the face of a driving rain, over roads cut up by military wagons, and in places almost impassable - along and dreary journey; arriving there, I secured seats in the cars, and rested not until I found asylum for my homeless babes under the roof of my wife's father, within one hundred miles of the Gulf of Mexico."
     After the war was over, Graves made a trip to Nashville. He wrote,
"I returned to look upon the sad wreck of property and business. Scarce anything was left of the entire stock of books and type of the publishing-house. What had not been carried off was destroyed, and the house itself and the resident of one of the partners had been sold for a paltry sum due a Northern creditor. No alternative was left, but to sell property at heavy sacrifice and pay off indebtedness, and give up all thoughts of business until Providence should provide means for its re-establishment."
     Not only did he face the loss of his business and home, but he also faced the Federal Government's requirements for returning to Tennessee as an American citizen.

     This brings us now to the examination of File #1316 of the Tennessee Confederate Amnesty Papers. The first letter was written and signed by Senator John W. Smith. There are also four other signatures on the letter: Pastor A. B. Miller and Deacon P. S. Jones (First Baptist Church, Memphis), R. Hough, US Collector, and G. N. Canton. This letter was addressed to President Andrew Johnson, written from Memphis, TN, on June 28, 1865. It reads as follows:

The Rev. J. R. Graves, formerly of Nashville, Tennessee, but now of Summit, Mississippi, having expressed earnest desire to return to the state and establish his publishing interests, to exert whatever influence he may be able to bring to bear to and in the pacification of the country; and knowing that perhaps no one man can reach so many minds in the south or exert to controlling an influence over them. We make this earnest petition that you will _____, or signify your willingness for him to return, assuring you that no one will render you a more ardent support in the great work of restoring peace, order, and harmony to our country.
     The second letter is dated June 29, 1865, from Memphis, TN, and simply signed "Your Friend Truly, Sam Tab. It reads as follows:
From the character of the gentlemen whose names appear to the within petition asking the authority of the Pres. For the Rev. Mr. Graves to return to his home and resume his business, and from the pledges given by them, for his future support of the government of the United States. I am satisfied he will maintain their pledges _____, and I hope the President will grant the privilege asked as he represents one of the _____ most respectable and influential churches (the Baptist) in this section of the country, who will receive this token of his kindness as one extended to them as a body.
     The third letter was written from Baltimore, MD, and is dated July 6, 1865. The author of this letter was Richard Fuller, a well-known Baptist minister of Virginia. He was one of the founders of the Southern Baptist Convention and served as its third president from 1859 to 1865.
To His Excellency the President, Dear Sir:
I was in the White House last week with a note from Mr. Chase and saw Mr. Preston King {White House Chief of Staff}, but regretted that I could not see you. I am unwilling to trespass upon you - even if I could at this time. The petition herewith sent is in behalf of a friend and a most pious Baptist minister. I do most heartily unite with the petitioners. The Rev. Mr. Graves was the editor of a Baptist paper and wishes to resume his editorial and pastoral work. He will not only take the oath, but most religiously observe it; and pledge myself that he will lend his whole and great influence on the work of reconstruction according to our present plan and to the cause of order, peace, and union.

     With these three letters President Johnson granted amnesty to J. R. Graves. For the next twenty-eight years Graves continued his work as an editor and pastor in Memphis, TN. In Memphis the name of The Tennessee Baptist paper was shortened to The Baptist, and the new publishing firm was known as Graves, Jones and Co. Later he was involved with Graves, Mahaffy & Co. which operated the Baptist Book House in Memphis.


[From Oxford Baptist Institute Bulletin, Mississippi, July-August, 2010. Used with permission. Document provided by Ben Stratton; David Gregg pastors in Florence, AL. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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