Marc Wheat Database

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  • ID: I04887
  • Name: James Sevier Conway
  • Sex: M
  • Title: Gov.
  • Birth: 9 DEC 1798 in Greene County, Tennessee
  • Death: 3 MAR 1855 in Walnut Hill , Lafayette County, Arkansas
  • Reference Number: RZGN-QR
  • Note:
    !Willis Miller Kemper, Genealogy of the Fishback Family in America, 1714-1914.
    p88. Library of Congress. First Governor of Arkansas 1836-1840. See portrait
    opposite p64.

    !SOURCE: Larry King, Rector Records, 1986. p15, 5-116. Library of Congress
    No. CS71.R3 1986.

    VOCATION: First State Governor of Arkansas, 1836-1840.

    James Conway:
    Ex-Surveyors Dominate the New State

    James Sevier Conway was born on December 4, 1796, in Greene County, Tennessee, the son of Thomas Conway and Anne Rector Conway. James Conway and his brothers and three sisters were raised on a prosperous frontier plantation and received their education from private tutors. In 1818 the family moved to St. Louis, probably to be near Anne Conway's uncle, the Surveyor General of the vast Missouri Territory. In the first two decades of the 19th century, the United States was rapidly settling east of the Mississippi River and fortunes were to be made speculating in frontier land. No one was better positioned to take advantage of this opportunity than the surveyors who first encountered these new territories and opened them up for settlement. In 1820 James Conway and his older brother Henry were appointed surveyors for the newly formed Arkansas Territory.

    Almost all of the early surveyors of Arkansas were, in fact, related in some fashion. Combined with their advance knowledge of the best lands, this gave them a tremendous advantage during the early settlement of Arkansas. As a result four interrelated families of former surveyors would dominate Arkansas politics for most of the antebellum period. The families were the Conways, the Rectors, the Seviers, and the Johnsons. Collectively they were referred to as the "Dynasty," or more often as "the Family."

    James Conway:
    "The Family"

    John Hallum, in his 1887 Biographical and Pictorial History of Arkansas, sorts out the intricacies of the kinships as follows:

    Ann Rector, the wife of Thomas Rector, was the paternal aunt of Governor Henry M. Rector, her six distinguished sons being first cousins to the latter.

    Susan Conway, the paternal aunt of the governors Conway, married John, son of Col. Valentine Sevier, nephew to Gov. John Sevier, one of the heroes of King Mountain, who was six times elected governor of Tennessee and died during his second term in Congress.

    Ambrose H. Sevier, the son of this marriage, married Miss Juliet, the daughter of Judge Benjamin Johnson, sister to the Honorable Robert Ward Johnson. Sevier and Territorial Governor Fulton were the warmest personal and political friends throughout life.

    Ambrose H. Sevier, Jr., son of the senator, married Miss Wright, granddaughter of Governor Fulton. Governor Churchill married Miss Annie, daughter of Senator Sevier, and is grand-nephew to Territorial Governor John Pope.

    Major Wharton Rector, paymaster in the United States Army, so often mentioned and so celebrated in our early history, was the uncle of Governor Rector and Elias Rector, who is known in our local literature as "The Fine Old Arkansas Gentleman," the two latter being cousins.

    William Walker, an eminent lawyer and judge, dating back to territorial times…married Mary A. Rector, daughter of Major Wharton Rector…

    James Conway:
    Success as a Surveyor but Not as a Politician

    The Conways settled in Lafayette County in a region along the Red River that they called Long Prairie. Henry Conway soon entered politics and served as territorial delegate to Congress from 1823 until his death in 182

    James divided his duties between those of a surveyor and a planter. He soon owned a 2000 acre plantation and more than 80 slaves. Meanwhile he surveyed Arkansas's southern border and laid out the controversial "Choctaw Line" from Fort Smith to the Texas border. This boundary separated white settlement areas from the newly created Choctaw Cession. Indian removal to the Choctaw Cession was extremely unpopular in Arkansas because it displaced hundreds of white families from what had been the fastest growing region in the Territory. Conway was supposed to run this line due south from Fort Smith, but he won many friends by slanting it westward, allowing white settlers to retain 130,000 acres at the Choctaw's expense.

    Political leadership of "the Family" should have passed to James when Henry Conway died in a duel with Territorial Secretary Robert Crittenden in 1827, but the role suited him poorly. He lost his bid to represent his district in the legislature in 1828 and barely won a special election for the same position in 1831. Conway apparently had little skill at either speaking or campaigning. So, the task of running the Family fell to his nephew, Ambrose Sevier, who was a Territorial delegate. Thanks to the Family's connections to Andrew Jackson, Conway was appointed Surveyor General of Arkansas Territory.

    James Conway:
    Governor James Conway

    Despite his lack of political experience, Conway was nonetheless the Family's nominee for governor of the new state in 1836. To accomplish this, the Family manipulated the residency requirements for the office in the new constitution so as to make the popular Archibald Yell ineligible. Citing his responsibilities as Surveyor General, Conway refused to canvass the state as was the custom of the times. He still garnered 60% of the vote, thanks largely to the efforts of his kinsmen and of the Family's political organ, the Arkansas Gazette under the editorship of William Woodruf

    Considering the Jacksonian origins of the Family's power, ironically the the principal accomplishment of Conway's administration was the creation of state's first banks. Despite Andrew Jackson's notorious hostility to such institutions, the banks were initially supported in Arkansas by Whig and Democrat alike, eager to cash in on an expected frenzy of land speculation in the newly created state. The pay off never came, due in part to the Financial Panic of 1837 and to the realization that a large amount of land existed in the trans-Mississippi west. Thanks largely to the bonds issued to finance the banks, by the time Conway left office in 1840, Arkansas's accumulated debt was nearly $3 million.

    However, Conway appeared oblivious to the state's financial woes. In 1837, when the federal government gave $50,000 to Arkansas as its share of the sale of federal lands, Conway called a special session of the legislature and cut the state's tax rate in half. During the next meeting of the General Assembly, he pushed through bills to build a prison and create a university. Neither took place, however, because no money was available.

    When Conway stepped down, the population of Arkansas was 97,574, nearly double what it had been when he took office.

    Father: Thomas Conway b: 25 JUN 1771 in Rectortown , Fauquier, Virginia
    Mother: Nancy "Ann" Rector b: 22 APR 1771 in Rectortown, Fauquier, Virginia

    Marriage 1 Mary Jane Bradley
    • Married: 21 DEC 1826 in Hempstead, Arkansas

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