Conway Cemetery Historic State Park

The Bradley area’s primary claim to historical significance lies, of course, in the fact that Walnut Hill was the residence of the first Governor of Arkansas, James Sevier Conway.  Amidst much fanfare, for Bradley, anyway, the Conway family cemetery became a state park in 1986.  Among the speakers at the dedication of the park was then Governor and future President Bill Clinton.  Since 1986, the State’s maintenance of the park has often been, to put it diplomatically, less than ideal.  However, during a recent visit, the park appeared to have been maintained reasonably well.

Sign at entrance, 300 pixels

Governor Conway’s tombstone has deteriorated to the point that it is almost unreadable.

Governor James S. Conway tombstone, 300 pixels 

Near Governor Conway’s grave is a plaque which recites, in the briefest of terms, his biography.

Plaque at Conway Cemetery, 300 pixels

The plaque reads:

“James Sevier Conway

Dec. 9, 1796 — March 3, 1855

First Governor of the State of Arkansas

Born in Greene County, Tenn., he came to Arkansas in 1820 to make land surveys.  In 1823 he settled at Walnut Hill, Lafayette County and began to acquire a large cotton plantation.

President John Quincy Adams in 1825 appointed him to survey the western boundary of Arkansas from the Red River to the Arkansas River.

President Andrew Jackson in 1831 appointed him Commissioner for Arkansas in determining the southern boundary of the State.

In 1832 when the office of Arkansas Surveyor General was created, he was appointed to the post.

In 1836 he was elected Governor of Arkansas and after serving his one term of four years, he retired to Walnut Hill.”

Governor Conway’s grave also has another marker, placed there by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

DAR marker, 300 pixels

The tombstone of Arkansas’ first First Lady, Mary Jane Bradley Conway, underwent a crude repair many years ago but is, for the most part, readable.

DSC00054 A

“Gone To Rest

MARY JANE BRADLEY

Wife Of

J. S. Conway

Died Feb 15, 1878

Aged

68 ys. 5 ms. 15 ds.”

[The bottom line says something about “a faithful friend,” but the bottom two lines are mostly illegible.]

One of the most poignant aspects of the cemetery are the graves of five of the children of James and Mary Jane Conway who died in infancy or childhood.  They had five children who lived to adulthood, and apparently had ten children in all.  This would make for a infancy-childhood mortality rate in the Conway family of fully fifty per cent (50%), a figure we would consider shocking today, but which was probably not atypical at the time.

Here are photos of the grave markers of those five children.  Below each photo is a transcription of each marker, insofar as can be ascertained.

Infant Son, 300 pixels

“INFANT

Son of

J.S. & M.J.

CONWAY”

[no dates given]

Mary Elizabeth, child, 300 pixels

“MARY ELIZABETH

Dau. of

J. S. & M. J.

CONWAY

Born

Jan. 12, 1833

Died

Oct. 17, 1845

Aged

12 Ys 3 Ms 4 Ds”

James Sevier, child, 300 pixels

“JAMES SEVIER

Son of

J. S. & M. J.

CONWAY

Born

Mar. 23, 1838

Died

October 31, 1845

Aged

7 Years 7 Ms.”

Sarah Juliette, child, 300 pixels

“SARAH JULIETTE

Dau. of

J. S. & M. J.

CONWAY

Born

Mar 5, 1843

Died

Oct. 11, 1946

Aged”

[The marker has sunk into the ground, obscuring the last line.  However, it should read “3 Years, 7 Months,” or something similar.]

William Nelson, child, 300 pixels

“WILLIAM NELSON

Son of

J. S. & M. J.

CONWAY

Born July 24, 1851

Died

October 13, 1855”

[This marker has also sunk into the ground, obscuring what are probably the bottom two lines.  If they followed the pattern of the other markers, they would read “Aged 4 Years, 3 Months,” or something similar.]

Finally, the Conway cemetery can be, when properly maintained, not just a place of historical significance, but also a place of quiet beauty.  These photos were taken about an hour and a half before sunset earlier this month:

Wide shot of Conway Cemetery, 300 pixels

Sunset shot, 300 pixels

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