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 Mt. 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.