Horatia Jane Ditmars' page
David grew up on a farm in Richfield, a hamlet isolated in the rolling hills of central New York State. Judging by his letters, he may have been educated at a local academy, perhaps in Utica, or even attended college. He may have lived with his father and stepmother/aunt when they moved from Richfield to New Hartford
and then to Whitestown by 1843. In January of that year he was appointed a deputy sheriff and was called "of Whitestown," but he moved to New York City by 1845, when he first appears in city directories there. He likely followed the footsteps of many young men who came to Manhattan and clerked with firms to get their feet wet in the business world. He is in listed in 1845 as a bookkeeper at 194 Pearl St. A clerk at that address was Loring Williams. This may have been a straw goods business since others in the Williams family had such a company (Ransom G. Williams & Co.) elsewhere in downtown Manhattan. The 1849 directory lists for the first time the partnership of (Loring) Williams & Cunningham, straw goods, at 194 Pearl St., corner of Maiden Lane.
This corner (although not the buildings) was already hundreds of years old when Williams & Cunningham located here. Pearl St. and Maiden La. were part of the 17th century street plan.
This roughly World War I photo shows the area before it became, for the most part, skycrapers. The corner building may have been fairly new when David Cunningham was there. Next to it is one much older, and the next somewhere inbetween. An 1894 map says what is otherwise evident in the architecture. The corner building has been raised one story. The age of the next building, evident in the window caps and layout, infers it once had a pitched roof like the far right building, but the cornice is "Victorian," as is the one on the corner. The projecting storefront of the corner building is probably of the same time period, and once would have been flat like its neighbors. In the background, another old, pitch-roofed building can be seen. Next to it is what may be a turn-of-the-century theater or bank, and on the far left is a building similar in age to the Williams & Cunningham shop, also with an added top floor. Lastly, the elevated train tracks and fire escapes are also a later addition.
In 1852 they were at 37 Dey St., where the World Trade Center was built over a hundred years later. About 1853 the name Ransom Williams disappeared - he was likely Loring's father. In February of 1853 the local newspapers contained notices of various shifts within the partnership, perhaps precipitated by Ransom's death, which included David, Loring Williams, Charles B. Williams and David S. Williams (likely Loring's brothers) and Sidney H. Blanchard. Several years later David Cunningham provided a place in his family plot for Sidney to bury his infant son. The company took over the Ransom Williams store at 9 Pine St. but they soon moved to 184 Fulton St., selling "hats, caps, furs, straw goods, umbrellas and parasols."
This stamp was found on the back of an envelope for one of the letters David sent to Horatia
David and the Williamses are listed separately, but with the same occupation, at 107 Chambers St. in 1858. The 1860 directory indicates an actual split, with David the sole proprietor of a store at 52 Warren St. He ran his business there up to his death in 1866. One of his letters to "Ratia" mentions that he ate breakfast at the Astor House, located on Broadway near his store. The letters are full of these small glimpses into their lives.
The large building to the right is Astor House, Broadway, NYC, where David got his breakfast on occasion.
The church just beyond it, barely visible through the trees with its steeple peeking up from the Astor House roof, still stands after 200 years and the
devastation that occurred across the street (to the rear) at the World Trade Center. Left foreground is the tip of City Hall Park, which once contained the prison to which ancestor John
Ellingwood was taken during the Revolution. Behind it is Barnum's Museum with the big flag
(precursor to the traveling circus), where ancestor George R. K. Smith took his cousin Horace Gooch while visiting in NYC.
David moved his home often, probably from one boarding house to another, until 1850, when he settled for a while at his father-in-law's residence at 548 Greenwich St. He was Jonathan Knapp, a policeman. David had married married Hannah B. Knapp in 1848. David and Hannah had a daughter and apparently a son, but both died in 1852, followed by Hannah in 1853. He bought a plot and buried them at Green-Wood Cemetery. Their cause of death isn't yet known, but cholera is very likely. Suddenly single again, David moved to Williamsburgh, which later became part of the borough of Brooklyn. In the 1850s, it was a village unto itself. It was there that he met Horatia Ditmars, who came from Nova Scotia but spent part of her time in Williamsburgh visiting cousin Abraham Gesner and his family. Abraham had just begun developing the manufacture of kerosene, which he had recently invented. David, Horatia and the Gesners attended Christ Church at Bedford and Division Streets. David was living at what he called "Edgett House," a boarding house at 92 or 97 South 8th St. when he married at Christ Church by Rev. Partridge.(10) They were at 63 So. 10th St. by 1858 and at 63 Lee St. when they decided to lease a farm in Tarrytown in November of 1865.
David went to Tarrytown first with their belongings and suffered heat stroke while helping to unload them at the pier. He died at Dr. Scribner's house two days later.
CUNNINGHAM - at Tarrytown, on Friday morning, May 18th, David B. Cunningham, in the 47th year of his age.
The relatives and friends of the family, the members of Christ Church, Brooklyn, and the Sunday school class of the deceased, are particularly invited to attend the funeral at Christ Church, Brooklyn ED, on Monday at 12 o'clock.
Carriages will be in attendance. Halifax, Nova Scotia papers please copy.
The local minister met Horatia and the children at the landing to tell her what had happened. Horatia is said to have stayed on the farm for 3 years, but gave it up and moved first to Bloomfield then to Montclair, NJ, two years later. She lived for many years at 203 Claremont Ave. with her son Arthur. She was nearly 60 years a widow.
The letters between David and Horatia in the 1850s are recommended reading for learning more about their personalities and lives.
children of David Beale and Hannah (Knapp) Cunningham:
Ellen, b. 4 January 1852, d. 20 June 1852
John T.?, bur. 22 December 1852
children of David Beale and Horatia Jane (Ditmars) Cunningham:
Arthur Sinclair b. 22 July 1856, d. 23 February 1931
Marion Hobart b. 18 June 1859, d. 21 November 1943, m. James Delamater Freeman
James Willett b. 7 March 1862, d. 10 September 1926, m. Ellen Avery Painter
sources for vital records: David's birth, marriage and death are not in municipal records. His middle name was spelled "Beal" in his father's transcribed will, but "Beale" on his gravestone and in Virginia E. Carpenter's notes. His birth date has been passed down in family records and is on his gravestone. John Cunningham's will names "my son David Beal Cunningham, now of New York City." Evidence securely places his parents in Richfield, NY, when he was born. His marriages are found in family records, but also appear in newspaper notices. The first was in The New York Herald, 4 February 1848 and the second was reported at least in The New York Times (issue of 8 June 1855, p. 8) and The New York Herald. David's death was reported in The New York Herald (issue of 20 May 1866) and The New York Times(issue of 19 May 1866, p. 5). Another contemporary record is from the database "Bodies in Transit," (microfilm, New York Genealogical & Biographical Society) which containes reports of bodies being transported through New York City. The cause of death was apoplexy, confirming the oral tradition that he died of heat stroke. Otherwise, the date is also found on his gravestone.
10. The New York Times, issue of 8 June 1855, p. 8, "In Brooklyn, on Wednesday June 6, at Christ Church, by Rev. Mr. Partridge, DAVID B. CUNNINGHAM, of New York, to Miss HORATIA J. DITMARS, of Annapolis, Nova Scotia." See also The New York Herald."
all text and photographs © 1998-2005 by Doug Sinclair unless where otherwise noted