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On This Day: Chester Ashley Returns

Department of Arkansas Heritage - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

On this day in 1848, a steamboat named Cotton Plant brings the body of Chester Ashley back to Little Rock for burial. Ashley (1791–1848) was prominent in territorial and antebellum Arkansas. He was involved in the dispute over ownership of the site of Little Rock, the Bowie land claims, and the ill-fated State and Real Estate Banks, as well as being the pre-eminent appellate attorney of the period. He was a member of the powerful Conway-Sevier-Johnson political faction, which controlled state politics until the Civil War. In addition, he was the third Arkansan elected to the U.S. Senate and was probably the wealthiest Arkansan for much of his life because of his land holdings.

Here’s the account given in “Arkansas Gazette, the Early Years, 1819-1866," pp 250-251: 

[Solon] Borland arrived at Washington on April 23, and the next morning Senator Ashley presented his credentials to the Senate, and he was seated. Soon afterwards, Ashley left the Senate chamber and went to his lodgings at Blackwell’s Hotel to go to bed, saying he felt chilly and slightly ill. He was soon delirious with a raging fever, but his wife was not alarmed because this had always been his reaction even to the most minor indisposition. Three days later, Mrs. Ashley summoned a doctor, who called in another for consultation and Borland joined them in constant attendance until the afternoon of April 29, when the patient died. His disease was diagnosed as quinsy, and a liver ailment was also mentioned. There was a state funeral in Washington on May 2, after which his family started for Little Rock, with Ashley’s remains following in the care of the Senate’s assistant doorkeeper. The news of Ashley’s death reached Little Rock by the night mail on May 10… The Steamboat Cotton Plant docked at Little Rock on the morning of May 27, with Chester Ashley’s coffin aboard. It was greeted by an artillery salute provided by a detachment from the United States arsenal, intended not as a tribute to the dead senator but to Capt. Christopher Columbus Danley, who hobbled ashore on crutches. The town turned out to pay its last respects to Ashley and to welcome Danley home as a war hero. 

Chester Ashley is buried in Mount Holly Cemetery in Little Rock, on land he donated to the city for the cemetery. Ashley County is named for him, as are Chester and Ashley streets in Little Rock. Learn more at the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. (Curious about Capt. Danley?