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David grew up on a farm in Richfield, a hamlet isolated in the rolling hills of central New York State. I don't know what he did as a young man, but probably moved with his father to Whitestown, New York. In 1843, when he was "of Whitestown," he was appointed a deputy sheriff. 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's in listed in 1845 as a bookkeeper at 194 Pearl Street. 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 in downtown Manhattan. The 1849 directory lists for the first time the partnership of Williams & Cunningham, straw goods, at 194 Pearl Street, corner of Maiden Lane.

In 1852 they were on Dey Street, where the World Trade Center was built over a hundred years later. Several years later they were at 184 Fulton Street 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 ended up with his own store at 52 Warren Street by 1860. 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 occasionally got his breakfast. 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 house at 548 Greenwich Street. This was his first father-in-law, David having married married Hannah B. Knapp in 1848. David and Hannah had a daughter and son. Both died in 1852, followed by Hannah in 1853. He bought a plot and buried them at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. I couldn't find what they died of, but it could have been any number of infectious diseases killing people in the cities at that time - typhoid, tuberculosis, cholera. Suddenly single again, David moved to Williamsburg, then a town on the East River but now a neighborhood in Brooklyn. There he met Horatia Ditmars, who came from Nova Scotia but spent part of her time in Williamsburg visiting her cousin Abraham Gesner and his family. Abraham invented kerosene and had just begun making it commercially in Brooklyn. David knew the Gesners from Christ Church in Williamsburg, and he and Horatia were married there in 1855.
     The family made an unexpected moved out of the city in 1866. They bought a farm in Greenburgh near the Hudson River. I don't know if this was intended to be a summer place or if David decided to become a gentleman farmer. The point was moot. David went up the river to Tarrytown with their belongings and suffered heat stroke while helping to unload them at the pier. He died at a local doctor'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.

Horatia and the children came up to Tarrytown probably by train, and the local minister met them to give them the bad news. They stayed on the farm for three years, but gave it up and moved to the suburbs of New Jersey. David had stock in the Gesner's kerosene business that Horatia likely sold, so between that and selling the farm (which, interestingly, was already in her name), she didn't have a financial need, and apparently not a desire, to remarry. 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 Beal Cunningham and Hannah B. Knapp:

Ellen, b. 4 January 1852, d. 20 June 1852
John Thomas, b. abt 31 December 1848, d. 19 Apr 1852

children of David Beale Cunningham and Horatia Jane Ditmars:

Arthur Sinclair b. 22 July 1856
Marion Hobart b. 18 June 1859, m. James Delamater Freeman
James Willett b. 7 March 1862, m. Ellen Avery Painter
Horatia Blanche b. 7 March 1865

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." His son James gave the name as "Beal" when he applied for a passport. 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.

all text and photographs © 1998-2019 by Doug Sinclair unless where otherwise noted