Birth of Little Rock’s 21st Mayor – Charles 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.

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.

Bertrand 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.

Tales of the Crypt tonight at Mount Holly Cemetery

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Tales of the Crypt – Spend an evening in Mount Holly Cemetery meeting its residents!

No, they aren’t ghosts. No, they don’t rattle chains or scare anyone. These residents are students from the Drama Department of Parkview Arts & Science Magnet High School in Little Rock.

Drama students research a person buried in Mount Holly. Then, on the second Tuesday evening of October, they dress in period costumes and deliver short monologues or dialogues to highlight the history and lives of their character.

Audiences are led through the cemetery by guides with candles, stopping at the graves where student actors are stationed. Many local teachers award extra credit to students who attend.

Over a thousand people attend Tales of the Crypt every year.

The fun starts at 6:00pm and runs until 8:00pm.

Admission is free to the public. We gladly accept donations!

Sept. 25, 1839 – Roswell Beebe receives title to all land in Little Rock

Map showing boundaries of original City of Little Rock

On September 25, 1839, businessman (and future mayor) Roswell Beebe received title to all of the land in Little Rock.

Starting in the 1810s, there had been much dissension as to who had title to land in what would become Little Rock.  As the settlement developed into a town and city, these disagreements became greater. Often land speculators would sell land to settlers without having the right to do so.

Coming to Little Rock in 1835, Beebe was a witness to the continued uncertainty over land ownership.  In early 1839, he acquired 240 acres which had the only incontestable title in town. This acreage comprised most of Little Rock. He went to Washington DC in 1839 and, on September 25, received the original patent for the town of Little Rock, signed by President Martin Van Buren. It is recorded in the Pulaski County recorder’s office Book L, page 312.

Upon his return, Beebe gave all the people who had bought lots from a certain real estate developer, whom he considered to be fair and honest, title to their land for a dollar. In December 1839, he drew up a plan for Little Rock, laying off blocks and streets. He deeded the streets and alleys to the city for a dollar.

He gave the state the title for the land on Markham Street, where the new capitol building (now the Old State House Museum) was located.  He also donated part of the land for Mount Holly Cemetery, the other portion came from his brother-in-law Chester Ashley.

Birth of Little Rock’s 22nd and 24th mayor – William Eliot Ashley

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.