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Thomas James Churchill


Courtesy of the Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office
Thomas James Churchill was born near Louisville, Kentucky, on March 10, 1824. He received his early education in Kentucky's public schools, and graduated from St. Mary's College in Bardstown, Kentucky, in 1844. Churchill later studied law at Transylvania University in Lexington.

With the outbreak of the Mexican War in 1846, Churchill enlisted in as a lieutenant in the First Kentucky Mounted Riflemen (commanded by Colonel Humphrey Marshall). En route to Mexico, his command were entertained in Little Rock, Arkansas, at the home of Judge Benjamin Johnson. It was there that Churchill met his future wife, Ann Sevier, the daughter of Senator Ambrose H. Sevier, and the judge's granddaughter.

Lieutenant Churchill was captured by the Mexican Calvary in January 1847, near Encarnacion. When American armies under General Winfield Scott advanced on Mexico City, Churchill was moved to Toluca. Near the end of the war, Churchill was released during an exchange of prisoners.

In 1848, Churchill settled in Little Rock and married Ann Sevier. For eight years, he pursued farming on a plantation near Little Rock. From 1857 to 1861, he was postmaster of Little Rock, appointed by President James Buchanan.

Churchill formed a cavalry regiment, the First Arkansas Mounted Riflemen, which was called into Confederate service at the beginning of the Civil War. Because he served with distinction in both the battle of Wilson's Creek and the battle of Pea Ridge, he was promoted to brigadier general from his original rank of colonel. In December of 1862, Churchill was given command of the Arkansas-Texas troops defending Arkansas Post. The troops were engaged in early 1863 by Union forces. Though the Confederate troops held up a strong defense that lasted two days, some of the Texas troops surrendered on the third day, forcing the Confederates to surrender on January 11, 1863. General Churchill was again a prisoner of war - held for three months at Camp Chase, Ohio before he was exchanged. Once again assigned to the Trans-Mississippi Department, and promoted to Major General (March 1863), Churchill commanded a division of Arkansas infantrymen and participated in the battles of Pleasant Hill and Jenkin's Ferry before following E. Kirby Smith into Texas where he finally surrendered.

Churchill supported Baxter in the Brooks-Baxter War of 1874 by helping to enroll volunteers in Baxter's militia. When the Democrats again held control of Arkansas, Churchill was elected state treasurer. He was reelected in 1876 and 1878. In 1880, Churchill was nominated for governor, and defeated his Greenback opponent in a landslide with nearly four times as many votes.

During his term as governor, Churchill appropriating funds to establish a branch normal school of the Arkansas Industrial University in Pine Bluff. He, interestingly, also facilitated the development of state medical institutions, including establishing a facility for the insane, creating regulations governing the practice of medicine, authorizing a medical department of the Arkansas Industrial University of Little Rock, and creating a state board of health. Churchill is also credited with initiating freight and passenger rate regulations on railroads of fifty miles or less in the state, creating provisions for the collection of overdue taxes, and forming a joint resolution supporting farmer's congress in St. Louis. It was Churchill who set the standard for the pronunciation of "Arkansas."

Churchill's governorship was plagued by allegations of discrepancies in the treasurer's account for 1874 to 1880--when he served as state treasurer. The legislature appointed a special committee to audit the books from this time. The committee found a shortage in the state funds, and a lawsuit was brought against Churchill. He was ordered to repay the missing money. In addition, he also suffered a loss of popularity among Arkansans when he became entangled in factional differences in Perry County. Churchill retired a governor in 1883, leaving public life and returning to farming. He died on March 14, 1905 in Little Rock. He was buried at the Mount Holly Cemetery with military honors.

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