Little Rock Look Back: Mayoral Election of 1832

Little Rock’s 73rd Mayor will take office on Tuesday, January 1, 2019.  In the next few weeks, past races for mayor will be featured on Tuesdays.

Up first is the the first race for mayor.  It was between Dr. Matthew Cunningham and Rev. W. W. Stevenson.

  • Dr. Cunningham had been a founding father of Little Rock.  He was the first physician, husband of the first woman to be a permanent settler of Little Rock, and father of the first baby born to a Little Rock resident.
  • Rev. Stevenson was a member of the Presbyterian clergy as well as a geologist.  He had first come to Batesville before settling in Little Rock.

In November 1831, the Town of Little Rock was officially chartered by the Territory of Arkansas.  The first election was set for New Year’s Day, 1832.

On the appointed day, the white men who were eligible to vote gathered at the prescribed location and cast their votes. By a vote of 23 to 15, Dr. Cunningham won the race. There are no media accounts of issues that may have arisen during the campaign, or if there was even much of a campaign.

Dr. Cunningham served as Little Rock’s first mayor during the calendar year of 1832 but did not seek a second term.  His successor was Rev. Stevenson. Records suggest that Rev. Stevenson may have been unopposed in his quest. He, too, served only one year.  Later in the 1830s, some friends tried to recruit him to run for mayor again, but he declined.

Advertisements

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.

Birthday of Little Rock’s first Mayor: Dr. Matthew Cunningham

Future Little Rock Mayor Dr. Matthew Cunningham was born on July 5, 1782, in Pennsylvania. After receiving his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania, he ended up in New York City.  He also served in the Army during the War of 1812.

It was in New York, he met and married a young widow, Eliza Wilson Bertrand. After a brief stint in St. Louis, Dr. Cunningham was one of the first settlers of Little Rock in February 1820. With his arrival, he became the first physician in Little Rock.

In September 1820, Mrs. Cunningham and her children joined him. She became the first female in the Little Rock settlement. Dr. and Mrs. Cunningham had a son, Chester, who was the first white baby born in Little Rock. (Though not supported by any public records, there is some unsubstantiated thought that one of the African-American slaves they had gave birth to a child before Chester was born.) The Cunninghams had several other children.  One daughter, Matilda, would marry Little Rock businessman Peter Hanger.  (The Hanger Hill neighborhood is named after Peter Hanger.)

In 1831, Dr. Cunningham was elected the first Mayor of Little Rock. He won the race with 23 vote to 15 votes over Rev. W. W. Stevenson. The first City Council meeting took place at the Cunningham house on the block which is the southwest corner of what is now 3rd and Main Streets. Records are incomplete as to where on the block the Cunningham house was located, but a plaque is on 3rd Street near Main on the side of the Fulk Building which CJRW now calls home.

Dr. Cunningham served one year as Mayor. He lived until June 15, 1851, and is buried at Mount Holly Cemetery. His wife, son Chester, and the Hanger family are buried next to him.  Because he lived for two decades after serving as mayor, he was able to see Little Rock continue to grow.

His stepson – Charles P. Bertrand – also served as Mayor of Little Rock.  While there have not been any Little Rock father-son combinations serve as mayor, Dr. Cunningham and Mr. Bertrand certainly shared a kinship.

Descendants of Dr. Cunningham still reside in Little Rock.

Mother’s Day in Little Rock: Founding Mother Eliza Cunningham

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, 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: In 1832, the first Little Rock Council meeting

TowncouncilplaqueOn January 16, 1832, Mayor Matthew Cunningham MD presided over Little Rock’s first council meeting. Since Little Rock did not yet have a government hall, the Mayor and his wife hosted the meeting at their house. The Cunninghams owned the entire block which was bordered by what is now Main Street, 3rd Street, Louisiana Street and 4th Street.

A plaque at 3rd and Main Street commemorates this meeting and was placed at the northeast corner of the block in the 1930s. The Cunningham’s house was likely closer to the southwest corner of the block.  The records of this meeting do not exist, though the Arkansas Gazette did carry brief coverage of it. (The earliest records at City Hall date to November 1835 when Little Rock became a city.)

The plaque is on the Fulk building which now houses CJRW. The block also includes the Mann on Main project, which is comprised of the buildings originally constructed for the Gus Blass Department store.  Bruno’s and Samantha’s are also on the block.

Little Rock was chartered as a town in November 1831 and elections were subsequently held. Dr. Cunningham outpolled Rev. W. W. Stevenson to become the first Mayor. (Rev. Stevenson would be elected the second mayor in January 1833; Mayor Cunningham did not seek re-election.)

Joining Mayor Cunningham at the first meeting were the original four Town Council members – Charles Caldwell, Benjamin Clemens, David Holt and John McLain.  Both Mayor Cunningham and Alderman McLain had served on the Little Rock Board of Trustees, Little Rock’s pre-incorporation governing body.

In 1931 a plaque, as part of Little Rock’s Centennial, a plaque was erected to note the first meeting. The plaque erroneously implies that the first meeting was in 1831. This mistake is understandable since the legislation incorporating Little Rock was approved in November 1831. The plaque also refers to the body as the City Council. It was, in fact, the Town Council. There would not be a City Council until 1835 when Little Rock was elevated to City status.

Little Rock Look Back: Elections on New Year’s Day

M_Cunningham_fIn the first few decades of Little Rock, municipal elections usually took place on January 1.  While occasionally they would take place on another day, it was usually when January 1 fell on a Sunday.

On January 1, 1832, Dr. Matthew Cunningham was elected as Little Rock’s first mayor.  He convened the first Town Council meeting at his house later in January.   (More on that meeting in another post later this month.)

By the 1850s and 1860s, elections were still in January but no longer took place on New Year’s Day.   Municipal elections moved to April with the adoption of the 1874 state constitution.  In the late 1940s, they moved to November to be in line with the federal and state general elections.

235 years of Dr. Matthew Cunningham, a founding father of Little Rock

Future Little Rock Mayor Dr. Matthew Cunningham was born on July 5, 1782, in Pennsylvania. After receiving his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania, he ended up in New York City.  He also served in the Army during the War of 1812.

It was there he met and married a young widow, Eliza Wilson Bertrand. After a brief stint in St. Louis, Dr. Cunningham was one of the first settlers of Little Rock in February 1820. With his arrival, he became the first physician in Little Rock.

In September 1820, Mrs. Cunningham and her children joined him. She became the first female in the Little Rock settlement. Dr. and Mrs. Cunningham had a son, Chester, who was the first white baby born in Little Rock. (Though not supported by any public records, there is some unsubstantiated thought that one of the African-American slaves they had gave birth to a child before Chester was born.) The Cunninghams had several other children.  One daughter, Matilda, would marry Little Rock businessman Peter Hanger.  (The Hanger Hill neighborhood is named after Peter Hanger.)

In 1831, Dr. Cunningham was elected the first Mayor of Little Rock. He won the race 23 to 15 over Rev. W. W. Stevenson. The first City Council meeting took place at the Cunningham house on the block which is the southwest corner of what is now 3rd and Main Streets. Records are incomplete as to where on the block the Cunningham house was located, but a plaque is on 3rd Street near Main on the side of the Fulk Building which CJRW now calls home.

Dr. Cunningham served one year as Mayor. He lived until June 15, 1851, and is buried at Mount Holly Cemetery. His wife, son, and the Hanger family are buried next to him.  Because he lived for two decades after serving as mayor, he was able to see Little Rock continue to grow.

His stepson – Charles P. Bertrand – also served as Mayor of Little Rock.  While there have not been any Little Rock father-son combinations serve as mayor, Dr. Cunningham and Mr. Bertrand certainly shared a kinship.

Through Matilda Hanger and also the Bertrands, descendants of Dr. Cunningham still reside in Little Rock.