Sunday, April 03, 2016

Stewart Cunningham (1818-1903)

In keeping with my Indiana Bicentennial theme, here is the profile of another pioneer ancestor from my Scot-Irish roots on mom's side.

Stewart Cunningham was born in Edwards County, Illinois, and raised in southwest Indiana. The county maps of 1880-81 show that he owned a 75 acre farm in Decker Township, Knox County, Indiana, operating a ferry across White River between Gibson and Knox counties. His affairs were very much tied to Gibson County, where he was a commissioner as early as 1852, according to Gil R. Stormont (see p.91 "History of Gibson County...", Bowen, 1914), a post he proudly held, on and off, until 1866.

He was the son of either John C. or William "Buck" Cunningham, brothers who came with their immigrant father to the Wabash River valley from a Scot-Irish settlement in north Georgia. Stewart's grandfather (presumed), Andrew J. Cunningham (1776-1840), was born in East Lothian, Scotland, but married a Nancy Shields (1778-1840) in Ireland, 1797. They lived in County Donegal before joining other Scot-Irish immigrants and sailing to the Port of Savannah in Georgia. Also, Andrew's brothers, John, Joseph, and Stewart and sister, Jane (who married Edward Phillips in Gibson County, IN) were born in Scotland and came to American about 1800 at the Port of Savannah. They left Georgia and came north about 1803, according to Leland S. Cunningham (see his book "Early Hazleton"), but Dan Elliot has found a land record where Andrew deeds to Samuel his land in Clark Co, GA, in Sep 1805, so they may have moved before the winter of 1805 to Indiana.

Back to our subject, legend has it that he ran away from home in Illinois as a young boy, sometime after his mother's death in 1827, crossing the Wabash River at Mount Carmel, coatless and barefoot. He wound up finding shelter at a home in Gordon Hills, a bedrock rise near the mouth of the White River due west of Patoka, Indiana. He was but a teenager when he left there and took up residence with Smith Miller at Miller's Station, an old stop on the Evansville & Terre Haute railroad between Patoka and Hazleton. He was married to Susanna Robb, who undoubtedly introduced the young Stewart to her younger sister.

On the first day of February 1842, a 23-year-old Stewart was joined in marriage to Miss Georgianna M. Robb, whose father, James Robb, Jr., was also an early Irish immigrant to pioneer Gibson County, Indiana. They were married by Methodist minister, Rev. Samuel Stewart, who at one time also served as a judge in Gibson County. For their first home, the couple had but $400, so they borrowed money from John Brown to purchase Militia Donation 39, a one-hundred acre tract in White River Township, about a mile northeast of Miller's Station. They set up housekeeping in a small log cabin on the north end of the tract. I believe present day Steelman Chapel and Cunningham roads intersect near where his property was. The 1881 county map shows that he also owned part of Military Donation 26 giving him 150 acres of land in that township. From his land across the river in Knox County, it is said that he set up a saw mill and launched flatboats to carry farm products all the way to New Orleans. This is also where he ran the aforementioned ferry until automobiles and bridges made his service obsolete.

Every year, Stewart and "Georgie" celebrated their birthdays together on August 12th by providing a large meal for family and friends, of which they had many. That was Georgie's actual birthday. Stewart's was three days later. Known as very generous folks, they would take in orphans and the needy on a regular basis, per family sources. Their son "Doc" Cunningham (1844-1915) always brought several dozen watermelons for the occasion. And anybody who knows Indiana produce, knows that Decker melons are the sweetest and juiciest in the world!

The two-story home they built in the Steelman Chapel neighborhood from timbers Stewart razed from his military donation lands was burnt to the ground in December 1948. It had stood for more than a hundred years as an old pioneer landmark in Gibson County. The couple had been long since passed from this world, Stewart died in 1903 and his bride in 1915. They are buried in the cemetery that bears her father's name.

My connection to this pioneer couple is through my 3rd great-aunt, Gracie E. Morrison-Cunningham (1844-1921), who married "Doc" the farmer and melon-bearer mentioned two paragraphs above. She was born in the Surry/Yadkin County area of North Carolina, where my maternal great-great grandmother, her younger sister, was also born in 1854. Their family traveled by wagon through the Cumberland Gap in 1858 to escape policies they didn't agree with in the South, namely the institution of slavery. Arriving in southwest Indiana sometime before 1860, they took to farming the same area of Gibson County as the Cunninghams and Robbs. Gracie and Doc Cunningham raised a family of four children in that area and are buried in Patoka's Oak Hill Cemetery.

I've said it before, my roots run very deep in Gibson County, Indiana. This is yet another example of my pioneer roots in that county. I will continue to celebrate my rich Hoosier heritage throughout 2016, the Bicentennial mark of Indiana's statehood.

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