CUNNINGHAM, ROBERT, aged 73, and a
resident of Tuscaloosa County; private and sergeant, N.C. Continental
Line and Militia; enrolled on June 5, 1833, under act of Congress of
June 7, 1832, payment to date from March 4, 1871; annual allowance,
$91.67; sums received to date of publication of list,
$275.01.—Revolutionary Pension Roll, in Vol. xiv, Sen. Doc. 514, 23rd
Cong., 1st sess., 1833-34.
Mrs. P. H. Mell in Transactions of the Alabama Historical
Society, Vol. iv, pp. 537-541 has a full account of the life and
services of this patriot.
"Rev. Robert Cunningham lies buried near the central part of the
old cemetery in Tuscaloosa. A stately marble shaft marks his grave; the
epitaph which covers the four sides of the shaft is in Latin, showing
among other things that he had been a soldier of the Revolution, and
pastor of Presbyterian churches in Georgia and in Lexington, Kentucky.
"These inscriptions are as follows:
On the west face:
Hic Sepultus JacetVir ille
ROBERTUS M. CUNNINGHAM, D. D.Belli Revolutionis
Americanae miles fidelis.etiamque
Crucis Domini Jesu Christi:
On the east face:
Ecclesiae Presb.in Republica Georgiae
PastorMultos annos.Et in urbe
On the south face:
QuiDe Religione, de Patria
Optime meritus:Maximo suorumet bonorum
Die Jul. Xl: Anno Domini:MDCCCXXXIX:
On the north face:
Uxor dilectissimaHoc monumentum
ponendumCuravit."The facts concerning
the life of this distinguished man are mostly taken from Sanders'
Early Settlers of Alabama, p. 197. The author says that the
importance of historical societies is shown from the fact that very
little information could be obtained for this biography from any source
until he wrote to the Presbyterian Historical Society of Philadelphia,
when he promptly received a circumstantial account of the events of his
"Robert M. Cunningham, a son of Roger and Mary Cunningham, was born
in York County, Pennsylvania, September 10, 1760. In 1775 his parents
removed to North Carolina. Query 293 of the Historical and Genealogical
Department of the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser states that 'Roger
Cunningham and wife, Sturgeon, removed from near Gettysburg,
Pennsylvania, to Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, just previous to
the Revolutionary War. They had six children, Robert, William, James,
Nelly, Mary and Margaret.' There is little room to doubt that this is
the same family as that of the subject of this sketch, and that his
mother's name was Mary Sturgeon.
"Robert served as a youthful soldier in the North Carolina
contingent during the Revolutionary War, but it is not known to what
regiment he was attached. At the close of the war he went to school to
the Rev. Robert Finley, Mr. Robert McCulloch and the Rev. Joseph
Alexander. In 1787, being 26 years of age, he entered the junior class
in Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa., and graduated in 1789.
"On leaving college he returned to his parents and taught school
while he studied theology. He was licensed to preach by the First
Presbytery of South Carolina in 1792. Here he married his first wife,
Elizabeth, daughter of Charles and Mary Moore, of Spartanburg District.
A sketch of the life of Charles Moore is given in J. B. Landrum's
History of Spartanburg, p. 189. He was a brave and faithful old
patriot. Elizabeth died November 3, 1794, leaving a daughter who died
"In the autumn of 1792 he went to Georgia and organized a church
called Ebenezer, in Hancock County; he also preached at Bethany Church.
October 15, 1795, he married Betsy Ann, daughter of Joseph Parks, of
Prince Edward County, Virginia, and by this marriage he had five sons,
one of whom was the Rev. Joseph Cunningham, a minister of ability.
October 14 1805, he married as a third wife, Emily, daughter of Col.
William Bird, of Warren County, Georgia, originally from Pennsylvania,
who survived him. Hers was a family of distinction.—See Dubose's Life
of Yancey. Three of her aunts on her father's side married signers
of the Declaration of Independence, James Wilson and George Ross, of
Pennsylvania, and George Read, of Delaware. Her sister, Caroline Bird,
married Benjamin Cudworth Yancey, and was the mother of the great
Southern orator, William Lowndes Yancey. Another sister, Louisa Bird,
married Captain Robert Cunningham of 'Rosemont,' South Carolina, a
gentleman of great wealth, liberality and high culture, and an officer
in the war of 1812. Their daughter, Miss Ann Pamela Cunningham, was the
founder of the Mt. Vernon Ladies' Memorial Association and was its first
regent. Another sister married Jesse Beene, of Cahaba, a distinguished
lawyer and politician. A brother, Will E. Bird, was County judge of
Dallas County, Alabama, 1836. It is a singular coincidence that Emily
Bird married Rev. Robert Cunningham, of Georgia, and another sister,
Louisa Bird, married Capt. Robert Cunningham, of South Carolina. Rev.
Robert Cunningham at the time of his marriage must have won much
distinction in a ministerial and social respect. By this last marriage
he had a son, Robert, a physician who died in Sumter County, Alabama,
and three daughters, Mrs. Maltby, Mrs. Wilson and Louisa.
"In 1807 he removed to Lexington, Kentucky, and was installed
pastor of the First Presbyterian church. This town was even then
celebrated for its wealth and intellectual culture and this pulpit
required a minister of learning and eloquence. He remained in Lexington
until 1822, when he removed to Moulton, in North Alabama. He had been
laboring as a minister for thirty years, and, requiring some relaxation,
he bought a plantation but preached in Moulton and surrounding villages.
In 1826 he bought a farm eleven miles from Tuscaloosa and removed there.
He built up churches in Tuscaloosa and at Carthage; he also preached
occasionally at Greensboro, where his son, Joseph, was pastor. For eight
years he preached a free gospel at Tuscaloosa. He preached his last
sermon in 1838. He received the degree of doctor of divinity from
Franklin College, Georgia (now the University), in 1827. In 1836 he
removed to Tuscaloosa, and he died there on the 1lth of July, 1839, 80
years of age. Dr. Cunningham was a man of impressive appearance; his
height was more than six feet and his form was well developed; his
features were good with expressive eyes; he was a man of learning,
eloquence and power in preaching; a man of charity, beloved by
Christians of all denominations, and his tenderness in preaching opened
many hearts. The old saint was called in Alabama 'Father Cunningham';
and he is thus described in Nall's Dead of the Synod of Alabama :
'Very few men ever exhibited more of clear and sound intellect—of
tender, melting pathos—and of bold and manly eloquence—than did this
patriarch of the church.' "