Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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.


Little Rock Look Back: President James Monroe

On April 28, 1758, future U.S. President James Monroe was born in Virginia.  It was during his Presidency that Arkansas was surveyed and platted. Little Rock was also officially settled during the Monroe Presidency.  The Quapaw Line was drawn during his presidency. This document was the first official document to use the name “Little Rock” to describe this settlement.

Monroe was the last president who was a Founding Father.  A soldier in the Revolutionary War, he studied law under Thomas Jefferson and served as a delegate in the Continental Congress.  Although he felt the new Constitution gave too much power to a central government, Monroe served in the first US Senate before serving as Governor of Virginia.  As a diplomat, he helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase.

He was easily elected president in 1816.  During his first term in office, the US acquired Florida from the Spanish and jointly occupied Oregon with the British. He was the first president to preside over land from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  Because of successes abroad (including the Monroe Doctrine) and domestically, the Monroe Presidency was known as the “Era of Good Feeling.”

Following his retirement in 1825, Monroe was plagued by financial difficulties. He died in New York City on July 4, 1831.

Monroe Street in Little Rock is named after him.


Little Rock Look Back: Mayor Matthew Cunningham MD, a man of many firsts

M_Cunningham_fFuture 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 is now renovating for their future office space.

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.

His stepson – Charles P. Bertrand – also served as Mayor of Little Rock.  Descendants of Dr. Cunningham still reside in Little Rock.


Little Rock Look Back: President William Henry Harrison

A campaign ribbon from an 1840 Harrison and Tyler rally in Little Rock.

A campaign ribbon from an 1840 Harrison and Tyler rally in Little Rock.

On February 9, 1773, future US President William Henry Harrison was born in Virginia. Though he would later be viewed as a frontiersman (which he was), his early years were spent on a family estate as part of one of the FFV’s (First Families of Virginia).

At the age of 18, he was commissioned in the US Army and began an illustrious military career which spanned the Northwest Indian War and the War of 1812. This career took him into the wilderness areas of the US, which at the time were Indiana and Ohio.

Harrison launched his political career in 1798 when he was appointed treasurer of the Northwest Territory. The next year, he was elected to represent the territory in Congress. In 1801, he was named Governor of the Indiana Territory.  In 1811, while still Governor of Indiana, he led troops to defend against a Shawnee attack in the Battle of Tippecanoe.  The following year, with the outbreak of the War of 1812, he continued to command armies in the northwest areas of the US.  In 1813, he scored a major victory at the Battle of the Thames in Canada.  This solidified him as a war hero with the public.

In 1814, he was appointed by President Monroe to oversee negotiations with Indians. In 1816, he was elected to Congress from Ohio and served until 1819. In 1824, he was elected as a US Senator from Ohio and served until 1828. He was sent as minister to Columbia in 1828 and served until the Presidency of Andrew Jackson in 1829.

220px-William_Henry_Harrison_daguerreotype_editReturning to private life, he ran for President as a Whig in 1836. At the time, the Whigs ran several candidates hoping to split the vote and send the election to Congress. Harrison narrowly lost Pennsylvania and its 30 electoral votes. (Though since the Democrats retained Congress in the election, it was expected that Van Buren still would have won.)  Four years later the Whigs coalesced behind Harrison.

Though his opponents tried to paint him as old, out of touch, and backwoods, he and running mate John Tyler (also a landed gentry from Virginia) embraced the depiction. They felt it helped them relate to the average voters and, in turn, painted Van Buren as out of touch and elitist.  Though Arkansas’ electoral votes went to Van Buren, Harrison ran fairly strong in the state. He narrowly captured Pulaski County and ran strong in the southeast portion of the state.

Harrison served in office only one month.  While at the time it was believed to be related to the weather at his inaugural (and his record-long inaugural address), subsequent analysis has shown it to be due to entric fever, the result of a bacterial infection.

Harrison Street in Little Rock is named for him. His grandson, Benjamin, the only grandson of a President to serve also serve as President, is skipped in the row of Presidential streets.


Bicentennial of Battle of New Orleans

1280px-Battle_of_New_OrleansToday marks the 200th anniversary of the conclusion of the Battle of New Orleans.  It relates to Little Rock in a couple of ways.

First, it made General Andrew Jackson a national hero which helped propel him to the presidency.  It was while he was president that Arkansas was admitted to the Union.

Secondly, one of his soldiers in the battle was a young Roswell Beebe.  Jackson and Beebe became friends and maintained that friendship throughout their lives. Beebe later moved from Louisiana to Arkansas and became a leading citizen of Little Rock.  Using his friendships with Jackson and his successor Martin Van Buren, Beebe was able to navigate the already burgeoning bureaucracy of Washington DC.  Working with the federal government, he was able to straighten out the murky questions of who owned what land in Little Rock.

Beebe received the patent to most of Little Rock’s land. He then laid out streets, set aside land for a state capitol (now the Old State House Museum), set aside land for Mount Holly Cemetery (where he now resides), and sold land at reasonable prices to others.  These actions helped Little Rock continue its momentum as a growing trade town.  Without them, it could have devolved into a frontier town of lawlessness.