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The Cunningham marker in the plot at Forest Hill Cemetery, Utica

     John came into adulthood in the backwater settlement of Richfield, NY. He may have inherited his parents' house, although he purchased land of his own in the town. He was a member of St. Luke's Episcopal Church located in the center of the hamlet. He bought a pew in the new church building on 2 May 1829 and appears on a membership list from 1836. A report on the Annual Convention of the (Episcopal) Diocese of New York for 1835 gives John as one of two lay representatives of St. Luke's parish. James Fennimore Cooper and NY Governor, Senator and US Secretary of State-to-be Hamilton Fish were also delegates. They met at Trinity Church, Utica, on 2 October.(1) The little wooden church of St. Luke's no longer stands, but John's first wife and several of his children are buried in the cemetery that was laid out next to it.
     John may have been active in the military before 1818, but on 25 May of that year he was appointed an ensign in the 135th infantry of the Otsego County militia.(3) He was promoted to captain on 29 April 1820.(4) He continued in this commission to at least 1823, when a paper reported a 4th of July celebration in Richfield.(5) "Capt. Cunningham" was marshall, and he led a procession, escorted by a troop of local militia, to St. Luke's for a special service and a reading of the Declaration of Independence. They continued to a nearby tavern for dinner. Toasts were made after the meal:

     John married Louisa White, who, with her family, had come from Vermont. Some of her siblings settled in Utica, but where Louisa was just before she married hasn't been found. John had no known connections in Utica, but it is most likely that Louisa was there, perhaps living with one of her maiden sisters. She died in 1840, following four of their children. John bought land in New Hartford, NY, (now the township of Paris) several days before Louisa's death and moved the remainder of his family there.
     John bought a farm and sawmill in New Hartford from Abel Mosher, who was the second generation to mill there. Abel apparently had retired from active work and continued to live next door. The deed mentions a house, sawmill, barn, outbuildings and an orchard, with the property bordered by Saquoit Creek, Paris Hill Rd. and Oneida St. in the Hamlet of Willowvale near Clayville. A house dating to about that time still stands at that corner and may have been the Cunningham's residence. In the next year John married his sister-in-law Susan White of Utica. Just before they married Susan placed her property in trusteeship. She was in no need of a husband economically, but John was in need of someone to look after his younger children. They had at least one formal property transaction between them as husband and wife and Susan isn't mentioned in his will. This all suggests that the decision to marry was based on practicality at least. They were not in New Hartford long. Deeds show that John and Susan were "of Whitestown," NY, by May of 1842. They had apparently moved to a farm there near the border of Utica, which Susan's trustee had purchased in August of that year. They lived in a small wooden house on Whitesboro St., with the property extending north to the Erie Canal containing about 8 acres. John bought the property from Susan in 1851 for about $3100.00. They had begun to divide the property into lots by 1845 and continued thereafter. They were on Jason St. (that and adjacent Parker St. were named for Jason Parker, a former owner) and Whitesboro St. The property has since been reduced by other lots on Whitesboro, Faass and Jason Sts. City Directories describe the location of the house and allow it to be placed on maps from 1850 (Taylor) and 1899 (Sanborn). The latter says it was 1 1/2 stories - a modest home, probably in the "Cape Cod" style - and shows a small greenhouse nearby. Another Sanborn map, dating to 1925 and updated to 1950, shows that these buildings were torn down and a gas station was built on the property. That was recently replaced by a convenience store. However, the view across the street to the psychiatric hospital and its grounds remains very much the same after about 160 years.

a portion of the 1850 Taylor map of Utica showing the Cunningham property, the Erie Canal and the psychiatric hospital. The Cunninghams owned land to the Canal, but a distinct and smaller lot is indicated with their home on it.

a portion of the 1899 Sanborn fire insurance map showing the same spot. The rectangular home lot had not changed, but the property was by then completely surrounded by newer houses on the subdivision lots.

     The Agricultural Schedule for the 1850 US census includes John Cunningham, but in New Hartford.(2) The border of New Hartford was very nearby, so this is undoubtedly a mistake. The Population Schedule for John in Whitestown gives a real estate value the same as that in the Agricultural Schedule. The value of his farm implements and machinery was $150. He had a horse and a milk cow worth $150, and the value of his "market gardens" was $1,000. When the bounds of Utica were extended and included the Cunningham property in the early 1850s, John appeared in the city's directories as a "nurseryman." One of the witnesses to his will was Rev. Chauncy E. Goodrich, an Episcopal minister. When the will was presented to probate court, Goodrich stated that he had known John for 11 years. What would have precipitated their meeting or where about 1843 isn't known. If he was off a few years, he could have officiated at the marriage of John and Susan. In the last years of his life, John was associated with Goodrich's revolution of potato-growing.
     Goodrich was a minister for various churches in Otsego and Oneida Counties before becoming the chaplain for the psychiatric hospital. Goodrich might also be described as the savior of potato cultivation in the Northern Hemisphere. When the Irish potato blight began about 1846, he started investigating the causes. In the early 1850s he imported tubers from South America and started cultivation experiments, resulting in many new varieties. Most were not of practical use, but several became the leading potatoes in American gardens through the 19th century, including "Calico," "Gleason," and "Early Goodrich." His crop of "Rough Purple Chilis," the original imported from Panama in 1851, yielded a new variety he named "Garnet Chili" in 1853. This would be Goodrich's most influential discovery. A Vermont farmer discovered the "Early Rose" variety in his Garnet Chile crop in the 1870s. The russet potato commonly produced in the 20th and 21st centuries is a child of "Early Rose." Garnet Chili is now available as an heirloom variety.
     Although not a scientist, Goodrich was careful and extensive in his experiments. A committee of men living in the Utica area observed Goodrich's gardens and techniques and tested his cultivars for themselves. John Cunningham was one of them. They submitted a report of their findings to the New York State Agricultural Society in 1851.(6)
     Newspaper advertisements after John's death imply that he operated the "West Utica Nursery."(7) His son-in-law Daniel Balis and son David B. Cunningham took over the business as John's executors by 1860 and advertised apple and pear trees for sale. Susan Cunningham was still living in the house there, and the nursery was overseen by Leonard Speelpenning, given that neither of the executors was living in Utica. Letters between David and Horatia Cunningham show that Speelpenning worked for the family at least as early as 1855. After Susan died the property was put up for sale, with a house described as brick and two stories. The 1855? NYS census called it wooden and an 1899 map says it was 1 1/2 stories, so it can only be speculated what the house looked like.

title to the map accompanying a record of compensation to John when the Erie Canal was widended

John died of dysentery, which he had probably contracted in April of 1854.(9) He wrote his will on 25 April and died about 2 weeks later:

I, John Cunningham, of the City of Utica in the County of Oneida and State of New York, mindful of the uncertainty of this mortal life, and being of sound and disposing mind and memory do make, publish and declare my last capital will and Testament in manner and form following viz:

First I will and direct that all my just debts and funeral charges be paid out of my personal property by my executors hereinafter named.

Second I give, bequeath and devise on to my four daughters, namely Louisa C. Balis (wife of Daniel C. Balis of Oriskany, Oneida County), Julia Ann Cunningham, Marion Cunningham and Susan Helen Mar Cunningham all and singular my property and estate real, personal or mixed, whatever, wherever or in whose hands soever the same may be now belonging to me, or that I shall own or be entitled to or interested in at the time of my decease (that shall remain after the payment of my just debts and funeral expenses) to be divided equally between my said four daughters, share and share alike, without any preference of one over or above the other.

Third and I hereby fully authorize and empower my executors hereinafter named to sell and dispose of and to grant and convey all or any of my real estate at such time or times upon such terms and in such way and manner as to them shall see most judicious and expedient for the purpose of dividing the avails and proceeds thereof equally between my said four daughters as above provided.

Fourth I hereby nominate, constitute and appoint my son David Beal Cunningham now of the City of New York, and my son-in-law Daniel C. Balis, now of Oriskany, Oneida County, Executors of this my last Will and Testament: but nothing herein contained is to be taken or have the effect to release or discharge the said David Beal Cunningham or the said Daniel C. Balis from any indebtedness or obligation which they or either of them are or may be under to me at the time of my decease.

Fifth And I hereby annul and revoke all former wills by me made.

In witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this 25th day of April A. D. 1854

John Cunningham

The foregoing instrument, on the day of the date thereof, was subscribed by John Cunningham, the testator therein named in the presence of the undersigned. The said John Cunningham at the time he so subscribed the said instrument, declared the same to be his last Will and Testament and requested us to sign our names as attesting witnesses thereto. We accordingly sign our names as such witnesses in his presence and the presence of each other.

J. G. Coye of the City of Utica, Oneida County, New York
Chauncey E. Goodrich of the City of Utica, Oneida County, New York

State of New York Oneida County

I, Othniel S. Williams, Surrogate of said County to hereby certify the foregoing to be the record of the last will and testament of John Cunningham, deceased, and of the proofs and examinations taken thereon.

Othniel S. Williams


At the Surrogates Court held at the Surrogates Office in Utica, in the County of Oneida, on the 27th day of June A. D. 1854, before Othniel S. Williams, Esq., Surrogate of the said County, for the purpose of proving and recording the last will and testament of John Cunningham, late of the town of Whitestown in the County of Oneida, deceased...on the application of Daniel C. Balis and David B. Cunningham in the said will named executors.

Jason G. Coye being duly sworn and examined in open court, testified that he was well acquainted with John Cunningham, deceased, and had been for the last about two years immediately preceding his death; that he died in the month of May last past, at Utica, in the County of Oneida, which was his last place of residence of the time of his death; that he saw the said testator sign the paper here offered to be proved, recorded and admitted to probate as the last will and testament of the said deceased...

J. G. Coye

Chauncey E. Goodrich being duly sworn and examined in open court, testified that he was well acquainted with John Cunningham, deceased, and had been for the last 11 years immediately preceding his death; that he died in the month of May last past, at Utica in the County of Oneida, which was his last place of residence of the time of his death; that he saw the said testator sign the paper here offered to be proved, recorded and admitted to probate as the last will and testament of the said deceased...

Chauncey E. Goodrich

The Cunningham marker in Forest Hill Cemetery, Utica

children of John and Louisa (White) Cunningham:

i. John W(illiam?). b. March 1813, d. 2 November 1838, m. Almira (he was probably the William who witnessed one of his father's deeds in 1834)
ii. Louisa b. 30 December? 1814, m. Daniel Cogswell Balis
iii. Julia Ann b. 1816-1817, d. 5 March 1906
iv. David Beal/Beale b. 4 July 1819
v. Susan Helen, b. 11 August 1821, d. 15 August 1832
vi. Jonathan T(homas?), b. abt 1823
vii. Olive Cornelia b. 1825-1826, d. 18 July 1848, m. Thomas H. Edson
viii. Sarah b. October 1827, d. 4 January 1839
ix. Marion b. 1829-1830, m. Edward Field Hobart
x. Helen Susan Mar b. January 1833, d. 3 June 1838
xi. Susan Helen Mar b. 1833? m. Joseph Farmer Rood

sources for vital records: His birth is recorded in the published Cummington, MA, vital records. He is connected certainly to John Cunningham of Richfield/Utica in a Forest Hill Cemetery record that says he was born in February of 1786 in "Cumington," MA. Circumstantial evidence otherwise places him in the family of David Cunningham of Spencer/Cummington/Richfield. His marriages dates and places are not known. Oral history gave White as the surname of his wives. Oral history and circumstantial evidence indicate that "White" was the last name of both of John's wives, and that they were sisters. Their surname and relationship is documented. The death record of John and Louisa's daughter Louisa (Brooklyn, NY, death certificate, 1901: #6410) name her parents as John and Louisa (White) Cunningham. Susan's will and death notice call her Susan White Cunningham. Her will names neice Susan Helen Mar Cunningham, daughter of "said" John (formerly named as her deceased husband). The Utica Daily Gazette, issue of 6 May 1854 (also reported that day in The Utica Morning Herald), has a death notice for John and his gravestone gives the date. Forest Hill Cemetery records also give his death date as well as the cause.

1. Journal of the Proceedings of the Fiftieth Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the State of New York etc., (New York:1835), p. 9.
2. 1850 US census, Agricultural Schedule, Oneida Co., New Hartford, p. 223.
3. Otsego Journal and Watch-Tower (both in Cooperstown, NY), both 1 June 1818, p. 3.
4. Otsego Journal, 1 May 1820, p. 3.
5. Watch-Tower, 21 July 1823, p. 2.
6. Transactions of the N. Y. State Agricultural Society, etc. (Albany:1852), pp. 370-371.
7. The Utica Daily Observer, Feb-Mar 1867, also May 1867-Mar 1868.
9. Records at Forest Hill Cemetery give dysentery as the cause of death.

all text and photographs © 1998-2007 by Doug Sinclair unless where otherwise noted

1833: Bishop Onderdonk consecrated St. Luke's in 1832? and confirmed 19. Nash was a missionary in that area for 40 years. Orasmus Smith blurb on p. 58-59 1835: John W. Woodward was a missionary at Richfield