Polly Conway (1809–1878)
aka: Mary Jane Bradley Conway
Mary Jane “Polly” Bradley Conway, the wife of Arkansas’s first governor, was a stable mother, supportive spouse, and respected prominent citizen. She was also a pioneer in what was then a primitive corner of the state.
Polly Bradley was born on August 31, 1809, at or near Lebanon in Wilson County, Tennessee, to John Bradley and Jane Barton. Bradley’s father died the year she was born. After the War of 1812, her uncles Captain Hugh Bradley and Fleetwood Herndon moved to Arkansas. Bradley, her mother, her sisters, and her stepfather also migrated to Arkansas Territory, settling on the “Long Prairie” of the future Lafayette County.
On December 21, 1826, Bradley married James Sevier Conway, presumably on Long Prairie, where he had been working as a professional surveyor. Her husband built their first home on the prairie at “Port Conway” on the Red River. She and her husband had ten children, five of whom died in infancy or early childhood.
In 1836, at age twenty-seven, Polly Conway became the first Arkansas First Lady. Her husband served as governor for only one term, a term fraught with controversy and political disputes.
By 1842, after her husband’s service as governor, the Conways established their permanent home on higher and healthier ground some six miles east of Port Conway and called it Walnut Hill. Their home was a prominent landmark on the route from Washington (Hempstead County) to Natchitoches, Louisiana, and became a welcome stop for travelers. Such guests included Archibald Yell, John Selden Roane, and the soldiers they led to the Mexican War in 1846.
Polly Conway died February 15, 1878, while visiting her daughter at Spring Hill (Hempstead County). Her body was returned to the family cemetery at Walnut Hill, which later became Conway Cemetery State Park.
For additional information:
Hamiter, Aletha Barker. Roane Township Scrapbook. Claremont, CA: Spittin’ Image, 1975.
Knight, Wilda, ed. Lafayette County, Arkansas: Pieces of its Past and its People. N.p.: Lafayette County Historical Society, 2002.
McCalman, Glynn. “‘Polly’ Bradley: Little Girl on a Flatboat.” Lafayette Lookback 21 (Spring 2003): 13–16.
McMath, Anne. First Ladies of Arkansas: Women of Their Times. Little Rock: August House, 1989.
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