Benjamin F. Graves was born on October 18, 1817, in Rochester, New York. However, his lack of physical strength prohibited him from taking up work on the family farm. His early schooling was nothing out of the ordinary, yet he mastered the subjects he studied.
Graves worked as a clerk to study law. Once admitted to the Bar, he worked as a journal clerk for the New York State Senate.
From New York, Graves moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, where he commenced a law practice. He immediately began a career in public service as the Master in Chancery as well as a civil magistrate. In 1857, he was elected Judge of the Fifth Circuit. In addition to beginning his judicial duties, he was appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court in 1857 to fill the vacancy left by Abner Pratt.
As a Circuit Judge, Graves made a name for himself as a tireless worker. Due to his ill health, Graves resigned in 1866 from Circuit Court, yet in 1867 he was elected to serve on the Michigan Supreme Court. The time period he served with Justices Cooley, Campbell, and Christiancy is noted as the most significant in Michigan’s Supreme Court History. He declined renomination to the Court in 1883 and retired to his farm in Battle Creek.
He spent his last years reading and enjoying his family, while still serving as a wonderful model and teacher for young lawyers. “He taught the use of books, the value of authorities and methods of logic in a way to impress the memory.” Benjamin F. Graves died on March 3, 1906, while living with his son in Detroit. (Reed, George I. Bench and Bar of Michigan: A History and Biography. Chicago: The Century Publishing and Engraving Co., 1897.)
Portrait presented on: (Click link to read transcript)
January 8, 1884
Oil on canvas
113.3 x 87.6 cm (44 5/8 x 34 1/2 in)
State of Michigan
Hall of Justice – 1st Floor: Lobby
Portrait photo by:
Doug Elbinger, Lansing – June 1996