There are several men who can be considered founding fathers of Little Rock: William Lewis, the first settler, who stayed for a few months in 1814; Roswell Beebe, who acquired most of the land and laid out streets as well as providing land for public buildings and a cemetery; Amos Wheeler, who was the first postmaster and later a land agent; Jesse Brown, who founded the first school and later served as mayor; and William Woodruff, the founder of the Arkansas Gazette.
There are three other men who were not only founding fathers, but also actual fathers to other leaders. They are: Dr. Matthew Cunningham, Major Nicholas Peay and Chester Ashley.
Dr. Cunningham was one of the first residents of Little Rock. He arrived in 1821 and was shortly joined by his family. Dr. Cunningham would be Little Rock’s first physician. His son Chester was the first child born in Little Rock. Dr. Cunningham later served as Little Rock’s first mayor from January 1832 to January 1833. His stepson, Charles P. Bertrand, later served as Mayor of Little Rock from January 1855 to January 1857. This is the closest Little Rock has ever had to a father and son both serving as Mayor.
Major Nicholas Peay arrived in Little Rock in 1825. He quickly became engaged in civic affairs and served as a trustee of Little Rock (a precursor to a city council). In the 1830s, Major Peay served on the Little Rock City Council. In that capacity, he also served as Acting Mayor of Little Rock. His son, Gordon Neill Peay, would serve as Mayor of Little Rock from 1859 to 1861. A grandson son, Ashley Peay, was a Little Rock alderman in the 1920s. A great-great-grandson, Joseph B. Hurst, served on the Little Rock City Board from 1967 to 1970.
Chester Ashley never served on the Little Rock council or as mayor. He was, however, an early leader of Little Rock. He actually arrived in 1820 and brought his new wife here in late 1821 (a few months after Mrs. Cunningham arrived). One of Little Rock’s first attorneys, he was instrumental in the settlement of a competing land ownership disputes. In 1844, he was appointed to be one of Arkansas’ U.S. senators. He served in the Senate until his 1848 death. His son William E. Ashley, served as Little Rock’s mayor from January 1857 to January 1859 and again from January 1861 until September 1863.
With Bertrand, Ashley, Peay and Ashley in the office of Mayor, from January 1855 until September 1863, Little Rock was governed by second generation leaders.
Descendants of the Cunningham and Peay families still reside in Little Rock today.