Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Mother’s Day Look Back: Little Rock’s first mother – Eliza Cunningham

Eliza CunninghamEliza Wilson Bertrand Cunningham was the First Lady of Little Rock.  She literally was the first lady and the founding mother.

She became the first permanent female resident when she joined her husband Matthew Cunningham in Little Rock.  She gave birth to Chester Ashley Cunningham, the first baby born in Little Rock, as well as several other children with Cunningham.  When he became the first Mayor of Little Rock, she was the first First Lady of Little Rock. They hosted the first Little Rock Council meeting at their house on what is now the block downtown bounded by Third, Main, Fourth and Louisiana Streets.  Her son Charles P. Bertrand, from her first husband, later served as Mayor of Little Rock, making her the only woman to be married to a Mayor and be mother of a Mayor.

Born in Scotland in December 1788, she emigrated with her parents to the United States as a young girl.  In 1804 or 1805, she married a French businessman, Pierre Bertrand in New York City.  She lived in New York City, while he traveled to his various business ventures.  He never returned from a trip to his coffee plantation in Santo Domingo and was presumed to have died in 1808 or 1809.  She and Bertrand had three children, Charles Pierre, Arabella and Jane. (Jane may have died in childhood, because records and lore only indicated Charles and Arabella coming to Little Rock with their mother.)

Eliza married Dr. Matthew Cunningham in New York City.  He later moved to Saint Louis and settled in Little Rock in early 1820.  Eliza and her two children came to Little Rock in September 1820.  In 1822, she gave birth to Chester Ashley Cunningham, the first documented baby born in Little Rock.  (There are unsubstantiated reports that at least one slave child may have been born prior to Chester.)  She and Matthew also had Robert, Henrietta, Sarah and Matilda.  The latter married Peter Hanger, after whom the Hanger Hill neighborhood is named.

Dr. Cunningham died in June 1851.  Eliza died in September 1856. They and Chester (who died in December 1856) are buried in the Hanger family plot at Mount Holly Cemetery.

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Women’s History Month: Eliza Cunningham, first First Lady of Little Rock

Eliza Wilson Bertrand Cunningham was the First Lady of Little Rock.  She literally was the first lady and the founding mother.

She became the first permanent female resident when she joined her husband Matthew Cunningham in Little Rock.  She gave birth to Chester Ashley Cunningham, the first baby born in Little Rock.

When her husband, became the first Mayor of Little Rock, she was the first First Lady of Little Rock. They hosted the first Little Rock Council meeting at their house on what is now the block downtown bounded by Third, Main, Fourth and Louisiana Streets.

Her son Charles P. Bertrand, from her first husband, later served as Mayor of Little Rock, making her the only woman to be married to a Mayor and be mother of a Mayor.


Mother’s Day Little Rock Look Back: Eliza Cunningham, Founding Mother of Little Rock

Eliza CunninghamEliza Wilson Bertrand Cunningham was the First Lady of Little Rock.  She literally was the first lady and the founding mother.

She became the first permanent female resident when she joined her husband Matthew Cunningham in Little Rock.  She gave birth to Chester Ashley Cunningham, the first baby born in Little Rock, as well as several other children with Cunningham.  When he became the first Mayor of Little Rock, she was the first First Lady of Little Rock. They hosted the first Little Rock Council meeting at their house on what is now the block downtown bounded by Third, Main, Fourth and Louisiana Streets.  Her son Charles P. Bertrand, from her first husband, later served as Mayor of Little Rock, making her the only woman to be married to a Mayor and be mother of a Mayor.

Born in Scotland in December 1788, she emigrated with her parents to the United States as a young girl.  In 1804 or 1805, she married a French businessman, Pierre Bertrand in New York City.  She lived in New York City, while he traveled to his various business ventures.  He never returned from a trip to his coffee plantation in Santo Domingo and was presumed to have died in 1808 or 1809.  She and Bertrand had three children, Charles Pierre, Arabella and Jane. (Jane may have died in childhood, because records and lore only indicated Charles and Arabella coming to Little Rock with their mother.)

Eliza married Dr. Matthew Cunningham in New York City.  He later moved to Saint Louis and settled in Little Rock in early 1820.  Eliza and her two children came to Little Rock in September 1820.  In 1822, she gave birth to Chester Ashley Cunningham, the first documented baby born in Little Rock.  (There are unsubstantiated reports that at least one slave child may have been born prior to Chester.)  She and Matthew also had Robert, Henrietta, Sarah and Matilda.  The latter married Peter Hanger, after whom the Hanger Hill neighborhood is named.

Dr. Cunningham died in June 1851.  Eliza died in September 1856. They and Chester (who died in December 1856) are buried in the Hanger family plot at Mount Holly Cemetery.


Little Rock Look Back: Jesse Brown

Map showing boundaries of original City of Little Rock

Map showing boundaries of original City of Little Rock

This is Teacher Appreciation Week.  In keeping with that, today highlights one of Little Rock’s first mayors, who was also a teacher.

Jesse Brown was Little Rock’s sixth mayor. He was also Little Rock’s first teacher. In the 1820s and 1830s he operated Little Rock’s first school.

On March 10, 1823, he founded the coeducational Little Rock Academy. One of his early pupils was C. P. Bertrand, stepson of Little Rock’s first physician, Dr. Matthew Cunningham.  Cunningham, Brown and Bertrand would each serve as Little Rock mayor prior to the Civil War.

By 1826, Brown had added a second employee.  In his advertisement in the Arkansas Gazette for March 7, 1826, he says: “Jesse Brown, principal of the Little Rock Academy, returns thanks for patronage during the past year and solicits its continuance.” His terms for spelling, reading, writing, and arithmetic were $24 per annum. (This is the equivalent of $556 in 2016–a bargain for private school!)  These branches, with geography, grammar, elocution, history, chronology, bookkeeping, and ”Italian method,” were taught for $36. Subscriptions less than a year were $1 per month extra. French was also offered.

In 1829, Brown started offering night classes. He continued to expand his offerings throughout the 1830s.  However, by 1837, he was forced to remind customers who were in arrears to pay up because he “could not live upon the wind.”

Brown served as mayor from January 1838 until January 1841.  He was out of Little Rock recovering from illness from April to November of 1839, but was subsequently elected to a third one-year term commencing in January 1840.


LR Women’s History Month: Eliza Cunningham

Eliza CunninghamEliza Wilson Bertrand Cunningham was the First Lady of Little Rock.  She literally was the first lady and the founding mother.

She became the first permanent female resident when she joined her husband Matthew Cunningham in Little Rock.  She gave birth to Chester Ashley Cunningham, the first baby born in Little Rock, as well as several other children with Cunningham.  When he became the first Mayor of Little Rock, she was the first First Lady of Little Rock. They hosted the first Little Rock Council meeting at their house on what is now the block downtown bounded by Third, Main, Fourth and Louisiana Streets.  Her son Charles P. Bertrand, from her first husband, later served as Mayor of Little Rock, making her the only woman to be married to a Mayor and be mother of a Mayor.

Born in Scotland in December 1788, she emigrated with her parents to the United States as a young girl.  In 1804 or 1805, she married a French businessman, Pierre Bertrand in New York City.  She lived in New York City, while he traveled to his various business ventures.  He never returned from a trip to his coffee plantation in Santo Domingo and was presumed to have died in 1808 or 1809.  She and Bertrand had three children, Charles Pierre, Arabella and Jane. (Jane may have died in childhood, because records and lore only indicated Charles and Arabella coming to Little Rock with their mother.)

Eliza married Dr. Matthew Cunningham in New York City.  He later moved to Saint Louis and settled in Little Rock in early 1820.  Eliza and her two children came to Little Rock in September 1820.  In 1822, she gave birth to Chester Ashley Cunningham, the first documented baby born in Little Rock.  (There are unsubstantiated reports that at least one slave child may have been born prior to Chester.)  She and Matthew also had Robert, Henrietta, Sarah and Matilda.  The latter married Peter Hanger, after whom the Hanger Hill neighborhood is named.

Dr. Cunningham died in June 1851.  Eliza died in September 1856. They and Chester (who died in December 1856) are buried in the Hanger family plot at Mount Holly Cemetery.


Little Rock Look Back – Abraham Lincoln

Abraham_Lincoln_November_1863On February 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky.

Lincoln never visited Arkansas. In the 1860 election, he barely registered on the Arkansas election map. Arkansas counties went strongly for Southern Democratic candidate John Breckinridge.  John Bell, the Constitutional Union/Whig candidate ran strongly in Pulaski County and a scattering of other counties.  Neither Lincoln nor Northern Democratic candidate Stephen Douglas carried a county in Arkansas.  In 1864, though Arkansas was officially under control of the Union forces, the state had not been readmitted. Therefore no Arkansans voted for Lincoln that year.

As President, Lincoln did correspond with several Arkansans.  It is said that the polite written exchanges he had with former Mayors C. P. Bertrand and Gordon Peay were helpful in maintaining a fairly peaceful occupation of Little Rock by federal forces.

In the listing of Presidential Streets of Little Rock, Lincoln is omitted.  On first blush, this might seem to be intentional to skip the name of the President who oversaw the “occupation.”  However, if that were the case, then surely Johnson would have been left out as well since he was President during the final years of the federal military occupation.  In fact, there once was a Lincoln Street. A portion of what is now Cantrell/Highway 10 was named for Lincoln. It predated the other Presidential streets.  At the time the other streets were laid out, Lincoln was skipped because a street already bore the name.

Over time, Highway 10 had been given multiple names for various sections: Lincoln, Q, and Cantrell. In the 1930s, these names were consolidated into Cantrell which was the longest section. The name Lincoln was dropped. There were very few addresses on Lincoln, most of it was railroad property.  The viaduct connecting Highway 10 with LaHarpe still bears the name of Lincoln Avenue.

In 2008, Sam Waterston appeared at the Clinton School of Public Service to kick off the Abraham Lincoln Sesquicentennial celebration activities. The official launch was supposed to be elsewhere but was cancelled due to inclement weather. So it happened in Little Rock as Waterston appeared in a program reading letters and writings from throughout Lincoln’s lifetime.  In 1994, Waterstson had received a Tony Award nomination for starring in the Lincoln Center revival of Abe Lincoln in Illinois.


Little Rock Look Back: Mayor C. P. Bertrand

Bertra1On November 23, 1808, future Mayor Charles P. Bertrand was born in New York.  He was the son of Pierre and Eliza Wilson Bertrand; his father died in 1809 in an uprising in Haiti and his mother eventually remarried.  With her new husband, Dr. Matthew Cunningham, she and the family moved to Little Rock in 1820.

After apprenticing with family friend William Woodruff at the Arkansas Gazette, Bertrand opened the Arkansas Advocate newspaper.  He later studied law under Robert Crittenden and entered the legal profession.

In 1835-1836, he served as State Treasurer for the Arkansas Territory, and in 1836 as secretary for the first constitutional convention. He was a member of the Arkansas House of Representatives from 1840-1841 and 1844-1849.

Bertrand followed in his stepfather’s footsteps and became Mayor of Little Rock.  (Dr. Cunningham had been the first Little Rock Mayor in 1831.)  He was in office from January 1855 through January 1857, serving two one-year terms.  He later served on the City Council and filled in as acting mayor. (Another influence on his upbringing was studying under future Mayor Jesse Brown who taught at the first school in Little Rock.)

Bertrand, as acting mayor, was involved in the negotiations of the surrender of Little Rock to federal troops in 1863.  He also later corresponded with President Lincoln on behalf of Little Rock citizens.

Though a staunch Confederate, his good will toward the Union soldiers and federal officials is credited with helping to save Little Rock from the destruction which befell many other Southern cities.  He is also credited with delaying the start of the Civil War.  Prior to the attack on Fort Sumner, members of the Arkansas Militia were planning to attack the Federal Arsenal at Little Rock during the absence of Governor Rector.  This would have been viewed as an act of war.  Bertrand was able to dissuade them from the attack.  Had he been unsuccessful, the Civil War would have likely started in Arkansas instead of South Carolina.

He had put his considerable fortune into Confederate money during the war. At the Civil War’s conclusion, the family was financially ruined. Though they had vast land holdings, those would be sold off in parcels to pay for taxes.

Bertrand died August 27, 1865, shortly after the conclusion of the Civil War.  He, like his mother, step-father, and several other relatives, is buried in Mt. Holly Cemetery.