JAMES SEVIER CONWAY, Arkansas’s first governor, was born in Greene County, Tennessee, on December 9, 1798. He was educated by private tutors, and in the schools of Tennessee. In 1820 he migrated to Arkansas, where he worked surveying large spaces of land. Subsequently, he formed a surveying company with two of his brothers, which took over land that later became the city of Little Rock. He then settled in Walnut Hill, Lafayette County, where he purchased a large cotton plantation. In 1832 Conway became surveyor-general of the Arkansas Territory, where he served until 1836. On June 15, 1836, Arkansas was admitted to statehood, and on September 13, 1836, Conway became the state’s first governor. During his four-year tenure, he endorsed legislation that initiated a banking system, he urged a stronger state militia to protect the western border from Indians, and he was a proponent of better schools and roads. Conway also convinced the federal government to create an arsenal in Little Rock, and secured approval for a state penitentiary. However, he was unsuccessful in his efforts to establish a state library and state university. Due to a troubled economy and ill health, Conway did not run for a second term, and left office on November 4, 1840. Returning to his plantation, he stayed active in civic affairs. James S. Conway died on March 3, 1855, and is buried at the Conway Cemetery State Park, Walnut Hill, Arkansas. His brother, Elias Nelson Conway, served as governor of Arkansas from 1852 to 1860.
Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 1, Westport, Conn.; Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.
Donovan, Timothy P., and Willard B. Gatewood, Jr., The Governors of Arkansas, Essays in Political Biography, Fayetteville; The University of Arkansas Press, 1981
Herndon, Dallas T., Centennial History of Arkansas, Vol. 1, Chicago, Little Rock; The S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1922. 3 vols.
Old State House Museum