1846: Robert B. Cunningham to John Wilson Cunningham

John W. Cunningham

John W. Cunningham

This letter was written by Robert B. Cunningham (1804-18xx) to his younger brother, John Wilson Cunningham (1821-1889). Robert and John were the sons of Alexander Cunningham (1776-1849) and Martha Patsy Wilson (1792-1868). [Martha may have been Alexander’s second wife?] From the content of the letter, it appears that R. B. Cunningham was a lawyer and was, at the time (1846) in Grand Gulf, Mississippi, attempting to clear title claims of his father’s in that region. He may have been married to woman named Isabelle (“Belle”) Glen Hunt.

The following biography was found on Rootsweb for John Wilson Cunningham.

John W. Cunningham was born in Petersburg, Virginia. His parents were Alexander Cunningham, a wholesale merchant of Petersburg, Virginia, and Mattie Wilson Cunningham. In 1796, Alexander Cunningham purchased a large tract of land in northwestern Person County and established a branch of his mercantile business at what by 1821 had become a post office known as “Cunningham’s Store.” John Wilson Cunningham attended the famous Bingham’s School, then the University of North Carolina, being graduated in 1840. At Chapel Hill he shared a room in East Building with Calvin H. Wiley, the future first state superintendent of North Carolina common schools (1853-1863). Although Cunningham was a lifelong Democrat and Wiley an antebellum Whig, Wiley became Cunningham’s fast friend and later served as his political adviser and the actual but secret author of many of Cunningham’s speeches, reports to his constituents, and letters to important political persons.

Alexander and Patty Cunningham

Alexander and Patty Cunningham

Following his graduation from the university, Cunningham settled on his father’s Person County plantation, where he was to reside the remainder of his life. He was much interested in the latest and best farming methods and eventually exerted a strong influence for agricultural progress in Person and adjoining counties. He tried each year to add some improvement to his own farm and acquired in time the reputation of owning one of the best-managed plantations and most attractive residences in his section of the state. H was a successful merchant and served for many years as the presiding justice of the Person County Court. In 1844, he was elected to the North Carolina House of Commons, and he represented Person County in the state Senate from 1852 to 1860. During his tenure in each house he was a member of the standing committee on education and an influential advocate of public schools.

Cunningham favored internal improvements but generally objected to the use of public funds to finance them, except in those instances where, in his opinion, the state was practically guaranteed a profit on its investment. He was strongly opposed to the accumulation of a large public debt and insisted that the state meet on schedule the interest on its bonds, by increased taxation whenever necessary. Such, he insisted was both good ethics and good business management. In the bitter political and economic conflicts between East and West that characterized the antebellum period of the state’s history, Cunningham usually sided with the East, opposing especially the demand for the creation of new counties in the West. Regarding banks as at best a necessary evil, he advocated a strong currency and raised his voice and vote in the legislature against the “bank craze” that seemingly demanded a legislatively chartered bank at “every village and crossroads,” with full authority to flood the state with “worthless rags.”

Although Cunningham considered Lincoln’s election in 1860 an affront to North Carolina, and argued that the state’s interest could be protected only by leaving the Union and joining a southern confederacy, his justification for such a course of action was the age-old right of revolution rather than the doctrine of secession. A strong supporter of Governor John W. Ellis, he was named to the council of state under Ellis and remained a member during the administration of Henry T. Clark, who became governor upon Ellis’s death in 1861. Cunningham represented Person County in the Secession Convention that met in Raleigh on 20 May 1861 and continued in existence, with four periods of adjournment, until 1 November 1862. For a brief time after 31 August 1861, he served as Confederate receiver for the property of “alien enemies” in the eastern district of North Carolina, but he was forced to resign by the pressure of other duties.

In 1864-1865 he again served in the lower house of the legislature. An ardent follower of Governor Zebulon B. Vance, he supported wholeheartedly Vance’s resistance to encroachment of Confederate civil and military authorities upon the state’s sovereignty. He served in the state senate in 1866-1868 and in the legislatures of 1872, 1877, and 1879. In 1875 he was a member of the convention that revised the North Carolina Constitution in 1868.

Cunningham was an Episcopalian. In 1860 he married Helen Somerville of Warrenton; they became the parents of John Somerville Cunningham (born 5 September 1861), prominent Person County planter and agricultural leader. John W. Cunningham died eighteen months after the death of his wife.

Source: Gass, W. Conrad. “John Wilson Cunningham.” Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, Volume 1 A-C. William S. Powell, Editor. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979. Pages 473-474. Print.

Stampless Letter

Stampless Letter

Addressed to John W. Cunningham, Esq., Cunningham’s Store, Person County, North Carolina

Grand Gulf, Mississippi
January 18, 1846

Dear Brother,

Image 25I received your very esteemed favor of the 2nd ultimo, at the same time receiving from Father a letter postmarked as received 10th ultimo & dated 8th November & today a letter from Belle of 19th ultimo also from I.W. ___ of 30th November.

I can assure you it always affords me the most heartfelt gratification to hear, in this distant land, from those near & dear to me & should have given you all prompt replies but for the circumstance of being so closely engaged both in mind & body that I have deferred it from day to day until this period.

Image 24I have just returned from Jackson, Mississippi, where I have been engaged in attending to the Chancery Suit to quiet the titles of my father. It is an intricate case involving a great many infamous squabbles & advantages, which the adverse party are attempting to take with my father. It has ___ him to a good deal of cost but I am in hopes eventually to succeed in thwarting their designs.. You may apprise my father that Cooper, in his answer, has filed a Cross Bill charging that the note, with which a part of the land was paid for, was executed in consideration for negroes sold contrary to the laws of the state, by my father & consequently null & void, & also that the execution of the deed of trust by Rose & Scott to William Barnes to satisfy above note, for same consideration, was null & void. He calls upon me in his cross bill to answer whether this note was not executed to my father for negroes sold in this state and merchandize, contrary to the laws of the state. I wish Pa to state to me as he can refer to his books for reference & give me a clear & explicit explanation of the whole transaction, so far as the creation of the note, to guarantee the payment of which, the deed of trust was executed to Mr. Barnes is concerned. I hope that by this, the compromise of which you spoke in your letter is concluded & the needful forked over, for if they do not promptly settle & compromise, I shall take very active & efficient steps against them on my return or so soon as I succeed with a judgment.

Image 22I wish you to attend promptly to any of my business that requires it as there is a larger portion of my father’s business, the security of which, enquires my prompt immediate attention. Consequently, there is some uncertainty as to whether I shall reach home before the 1st or middle of March & you know I may be detained in Georgia. I am going to Vicksburg tomorrow as some judgments in favor of my father versus the Gibson’s have been sold & I wish to redeem them.

You may tell Pa that he has obtained judgment vs. Chronley & Mc___ & I am in hopes of getting the money. Also a decree has been granted against La___ with which Thrasher says he will [paper torn] -ceed. I wish you to particularly to attend to my interests in Mr. Hunt’s estate & to pay about as much attention to the growling of Master Jimmy Hunt, as you would to Bugger Powell. I employed Spencer Moore @ One Hundred Dollars for this years service to furnish him with 300 w. pork & 4 ___ corn. You will be so good as to get him on the place with a few hands hired cheap with an economical outlay as soon as possible. I wish a first rate corn crop for force with a moderate tobacco crop planted.

Image 21My best love to Father, Mother & all the family. Kiss my little ones if you should see them after this reaches you.

Very truly your affectionate brother, — R. B. Cunningham

My best respects to Doct. Terreill & friends & tell the Doctor that William, Alex. & Thorn are all well. I will write yourself, Pa, & Belle in a few days.


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