With the stroke of Territorial Governor John Pope’s pen, Little Rock was officially chartered as a town on November 7, 1831. This followed approval by the Arkansas legislature a few days earlier.
As a chartered, officially recognized municipality, the Town of Little Rock was authorized to create a government and to plan for a Mayor and Aldermen to be elected. That election would take place in January 1832 with the initial council meeting later that month.
There are several earlier and later days which could be used to mark Little Rock’s official birth (La Harpe sighting in 1722, first settler in 1812, permanent settlement in 1820, selection of trustees in 1825, chartered as a City in 1835, chartered as a City of First Class in 1875) — but it is November 7, 1831, which has been the officially recognized and accepted date.
In 1931, Little Rock celebrated her centennial with a series of events. Likewise, in November 1981, Little Rock Mayor Charles Bussey signed and City Clerk Jane Czech attested Resolution 6,687 which recognized the Little Rock sesquicentennial.
The first permanent settlement of Little Rock started in 1820. But by 1825, it was little more than a loosely defined group of structures. One hundred and ninety-two years ago today, on October 27, 1825,Territorial Governor George Izard signed legislation which started establishing a framework for Little Rock to function as a city.
It established that Little Rock citizens could elect a board of trustees to decide matters. Those trustees would choose one of their own to be a presiding officer. Though Little Rock would not be officially incorporated until 1831, this was the first step towards incorporation. The first trustees, elected for 1826, were Robert Crittenden, Joseph Henderson, Nicholas Peay, Bernard Smith and Isaac Watkins. Smith was chosen to be the presiding officer.
Crittenden had been largely responsible for the relocation of the capitol to Little Rock, where he owned a lot of land. He was a major political force in Arkansas politics during the territorial days. Watkins was a nephew of a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He had established the first tavern in Little Rock in 1821 and later he first mill in 1826. He was murdered in 1827 and the perpetrator was never captured.
Peay bought the tavern from Watkins in 1826 and continued in the tavern and hotel business the rest of his life. He later served on the Little Rock City Council and was acting mayor. His son Gordon Neill Peay served as Mayor of Little Rock. The Peay family also co-founded Worthen Bank and Christ Episcopal Church. Members of several branches of Mr. Peay’s descendants including the Worthen and Hurst families remain active in Little Rock affairs.
Last week (November 2) marked the 1835 incorporation of Little Rock as a City. However, today marks the 180th anniversary of Little Rock first being incorporated as a town by the Arkansas Territorial Legislature.
The first Mayor of the Town of Little Rock was Dr. Matthew Cunningham; he was elected January 2, 1832. The first City Council meeting took place at his house. In 1931, a plaque was installed at that site to mark the historic event. (Though it implies that the first city council meeting took place in 1831 not 1832.)
Bennett’s Military Supply is now located on the spot at what is now 3rd Street and Main Street.
Prior to serving as the first Mayor, Dr. Cunningham had already made quite a few other “firsts” in Little Rock. He was the first physician to take up residence in the settlement known as Little Rock arriving in February 1820. His wife, soon joined and became the first female resident of Little Rock. She had children from her first marriage, but after arriving in Little Rock, she and Dr. Cunningham had their first child together — Chester Cunningham, who became the first baby born in Little Rock.
Dr. Cunningham, Mrs. Cunningham and Chester Cunningham are buried next to each other in Mount Holly Cemetery. Interestingly, Dr. Cunningham was involved in a 30 year land ownership dispute with Chester Ashley and Roswell Beebe who also donated the property on which Mount Holly sits.