Grahams Polley Forgotten Philanthropist of Williamsburg

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Doing research today I came across the amazing story of Grahams Polley, the man who started free primary school education in Williamsburg. When he died at only age 44 ten thousand Williamsburgers came out to pay his their respects. According to a Brooklyn Eagle account there was not a dry eye amongst the ten thousand.

He was born into poverty in 1816 and according to his employee never learned to write his own name. He started out working in a rope works, but he ended up as a bank president and one of the five richest men in Williamsburg with a fortune of $40,000

It was not his money that won him hearts, but his charity. At a time that the rest of Brooklyn did not have public schools he financed the founding of five public schools in Williamsburg, including one for black children, something almost unheard of in the 1840’s He was moved by the suffering of the poor, probably because he could recall his own childhood poverty far too well. The race, creed or color of the poor did not matter to him, he bestowed his largess on anyone who was in need.

He gave principals carte blanche to buy what they needed. Polly spent large sums of money buying school books.  He secretly gave the principals money to buy winter clothing and shoes for the indigent. He rewarded kids with good behavior with books and took care of sick teachers. Polley took whole schools on outings paying for it all. He purchased paintings, pianos and organs for the schools, but never wanted to take credit.

He even hosted a May Day festival for the students in the schools all at his own expense.

He loved the teachers who worked in his schools and hosted receptions for them.

During the depression of 1857 he set up a store to help the poor eat. His generosity meant that he spent $6,000 more than the store took in.

Half a century later his pupils could not forget him and wept at recalling his many acts of charity.

What a man!

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