Little Rock Look Back: Gordon Neill Peay

Mayor PeayOn December 12, 1819, future Little Rock Mayor Gordon Neill Peay was born.  The Peay family arrived in Arkansas from Kentucky in 1825.  They quickly became one of Little Rock’s leading families.

Mayor Peay’s father, Nicholas Peay served on the Little Rock Board of Trustees (which existed before the town was incorporated) and later served on the City Council and was acting mayor. It is Nicholas Peay’s Egg Nog recipe which inspired the Historic Arkansas Museum Nog Off!

Godon N. Peay served as mayor of Little Rock from 1859 to 1861.  During the Civil War, Peay served as Captain and later Colonel of the Capital Guard.  He later received a pardon from the federal government.  In the days leading up to the Civil War and during it, Mayor Peay was one of a select group of civic leaders who corresponded with President Lincoln and other Union leaders. It has been said that this conciliatory tone is a reason that Little Rock fared better during Federal occupation and Reconstruction than did many other Confederate cities.

The Peay family owned the Peay Hotel, Little Rock’s first hotel, and were also co-founders of what became Worthen Bank.  They were also a founding family of Christ Episcopal Church. Mayor Peay later served as Pulaski County Chancery Clerk.

He died on December 14, 1876, and is buried at Mount Holly Cemetery along with many members of his family.  A nephew of his, Ashley Peay, served on the City Council in the 1920s.  Mayor Peay’s great-grandson Joseph Barber Hurst, Sr. served on the Little Rock City Board of Directors from 1967-1971. One of Mr. Hurst’s sons, Howard, was born on Mayor Peay’s birthday.

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Little Rock Look Back: C. P. Bertrand

On 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

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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.

Little Rock Look Back: Mayoral Election of 1871

For the two years leading up to the November 1871 election for Little Rock mayor, the political scene had been chaotic. A. K. Hartman, who represented one faction of the Republican Party, was so disliked by the LR City Council that they repeatedly tried to have him removed from office.

After being rebuffed by the courts, the aldermen proceeded to simply appoint another mayor of Little Rock.  Thus from January 1871 to November 1871, Little Rock had two mayors: A. K. Hartman, and J. G. Botsford.

After having been elected first in January 1869 and re-elected, Hartman (whom the Gazette disliked and derogatorily nicknamed “Count Von Bismark” on account of his Germanic heritage and his corpulence) was seeking another term in November 1871. Thomas C Scott announced, in October 1871, that he would seek the office as an independent, but withdrew a few weeks later.  The only person who stood between Hartman and re-election was Dr. Robert Francis Catterson.

Dr. Catterson as a physician from Indiana who had served in the Union Army during the Civil War. He moved to Arkansas in 1866 first to work in cotton commodities, and then to serve in the militia fighting the Ku Klux Klan. He became affiliated with Joseph Brooks and his Brindletail faction of the Republican Party, which stood in opposition to the Minstrels faction, with which Hartman was associated. (This rivalry would play out in 1873 with the Brooks-Baxter War, in which Catterson was Brook’s chief lieutenant.)

A few nights before the election, approximately 500 of Catterson’s supporters paraded through Little Rock with signs bearing anti-Hartman slogans and caricatures.  They stopped off to hear an address by Mr. Brooks.

On election day, Catterson and his allies swept most of the City offices.  He bested Hartman by a vote of 710 to 374 and carried three of the city’s four wards.  He served in office until November 1873.

 

Little Rock Look Back: Mayoral Election of 1866

Following the cessation of Little Rock municipal government in September 1863, there was no mayor of Little Rock for the remainder of the Civil War.

In the late summer of 1865, plans were announced for the resumption of local government, and elections were set for October 16, 1865.  Former mayor William E. Ashley (the first mayor of Little Rock to be born in Little Rock) had expressed his intention to run for the office.  W. S. Oliver had also announced his candidacy. On that day, however, the elections were suspended by military leadership over Arkansas. There were issues related to the governance of Arkansas under Reconstruction.

Details in the Arkansas Gazette were vague. However whatever the actual issues were seem to have been resolved. A new election date was set for January 1, 1866.

On November 4, 1865, William E. Ashley issued a notice that he was withdrawing from the race. He had apparently been in ill health for a period of two months. As he was recovering, he found himself needing to devote his time to his business affairs he had neglected during the illness.

A week later, Ashley was the lead signatory on a letter sent to Dr. J. J. McAlmont (a local physician and pharmacist) asking him to be a candidate for mayor. There were a total of twenty-nine men who signed the letter including several former members of the City Council.  Dr. McAlmont sent a letter accepting the offer and announcing he would be a candidate.  Both letters were printed in the Arkansas Gazette.

On January 1, 1866, the election took place.  The Gazette reported approximately 600 people voted and that Dr. McAlmont won.  It did not give a vote total for him or any opponents.   He would serve in office for a year.

LR Culture Vulture turns 7

The Little Rock Culture Vulture debuted on Saturday, October 1, 2011, to kick off Arts & Humanities Month.

The first feature was on the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, which was kicking off its 2011-2012 season that evening.  The program consisted of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 in A, Op. 90, Rossini’s, Overture to The Italian Girl in Algiers, Puccini’s Chrysanthemums and Respighi’s Pines of Rome.  In addition to the orchestra musicians, there was an organ on stage for this concert.

Since then, there have been 10,107 persons/places/things “tagged” in the blog.  This is the 3,773rd entry. (The symmetry to the number is purely coincidental–or is it?)  It has been viewed over 288,600 times, and over 400 readers have made comments.  It is apparently also a reference on Wikipedia.

The most popular pieces have been about Little Rock history and about people in Little Rock.

155 years ago today: the “Battle” of Little Rock

The Civil War came to an end for Little Rock 155 years ago today (September 10) as Federal troops took control of the city.  Unlike some other Southern capitols, there was no long siege or bloody battle.

On September 10, 1863, Confederate forces under General Sterling Price evacuated Little Rock in advance of Federal forces, thus ending the Little Rock Campaign. By 5:00pm, his forces had left the city and at 7:00pm, civil authorities formally surrendered. Little Rock became the fourth Southern capital to come under Federal control.

The battle was the culmination of a campaign launched by Maj. Gen. Fred Steele, on August 1, 1863 to capture Little Rock. The campaign includes engagements at Westport, on 14 August, Harrison’s Landing, on 16 August, Brownsville on 25 August, the Reed’s Bridge, on 27 August, and Ashley’s Mills on 7 September 1863. After the Union army affected a river crossing east of Little Rock, effectively flanking the Confederate defenses north of the river, the Confederates staged a brief delaying action at Bayou Fourche to allow for evacuation of Little Rock.

As local historian Dr. Bobby Roberts has noted, “It was really more of a ‘skirmish’ than an actual ‘battle.’”

City of Little Rock leaders must have been anticipating the result of the battle.  In August 1861, they took the City’s treasury to an undisclosed location and started scaling back on City government.

The Battle of Little Rock is also known as the Battle of Bayou Fourche.

Birth of William E. Ashley in 1823 – first LR Mayor to have been born in LR

On August 6, 1823, future Little Rock Mayor William Eliot Ashley was born in Little Rock.  He would go on to become the first Little Rock Mayor to be born in Little Rock.  Ashley was the son of Mary and Chester Ashley; his father would later serve as a U. S. Senator from Arkansas.  He was the second of the couple’s seven children.

Though he was raised in Little Rock, he did receive some schooling out of state. The State History Commission has correspondence between eleven year old William, studying in New York, and his father. Part of the letter is a request for money.

On October 26, 1846, he married Frances Eliza Grafton at Christ Episcopal Church.  They were the first Little Rock residents to be married in that church.  The couple had five children, including triplets.  Only one of the children, Frances (who was one of the triplets) survived to adulthood.

Ashley was first elected Mayor of Little Rock in 1857. After completing a two year term, he was succeeded by Gordon N. Peay (another scion of a prominent Little Rock family).  In 1861, Ashley returned to the office of Mayor.  He was reelected to a third term in 1863.  In September 1863, following the defeat of Confederate troops by the Union forces at the Battle of Little Rock, the City of Little Rock ceased operations.  On September 21, 1863, Little Rock municipal government closed its doors, stopped collection of taxes and disbanded.  Thus Ashley’s third term ended.

In addition to his interest in local government, Ashley was a member of St. John’s College Board and a director of the newly-formed Little Rock Gas Company.

William Eliot Ashley died on August 16, 1868, at the age of 45.  He was buried in Mount Holly Cemetery (which sat partially on land that had once belonged to his family). His parents, wife and children are all buried in Mt. Holly as well.

Interestingly, for someone who grew up in a prominent family, there does not appear to be a surviving likeness of Mayor Ashley – either in painting or photograph.  Several exist of his parents, but none of him.