Milton Joseph Cunningham

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Milton Joseph "Joe" Cunningham​

Attorney General of Louisiana
In office
1884​ – 1888​
Governor Samuel Douglas McEnery​
Preceded by James C. Egan​
Succeeded by Walter Henry Rogers​
In office
1892​ – 1900​
Governor Murphy James Foster, Sr.​
Preceded by Walter Henry Rogers​
Succeeded by Walter Guion​

Louisiana State Senator for Natchitoches and DeSoto parishes​
In office
1880​ – 1884​
Succeeded by Two-member delegation:​

J. Fisher Smith
​ Edgar W. Sutherlin​

Louisiana State Representative​
In office
1878​ – 1880​
Preceded by Three-member delegation:​

L. G. Barron
​ John G. Lewis
​ Henry Raby​

Succeeded by Two-member delegation:​

James H. Cosgrove
​ R. E. Jackson​

Born March 10, 1842​
DeSoto Parish, Louisiana, USA
Died October 19, 1916 (aged 74)
New Orleans, Louisiana ​
Resting place American Cemetery in Natchitoches, Louisiana ​
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) (1) Thalia Allen Tharp (married 1866-1872, her death)​

(2) Anne Peyton (married 1874-1878, her death)
​ (3) Cecile Hertzog (married 1880-1886, her death)
​ (4) Emma Mai Blouin (married 1895-1916, his death)​

Relations W. Peyton Cunningham (grandson)

Mildred Methvin (great-great-granddaughter)​

Children Twelve children, including:​

William Tharp Cunningham Charles Milton Cunningham
John Hamilton and Ann Buie Cunningham​

Occupation Attorney

Milton Joseph Cunningham, usually known as Joe Cunningham (March 10, 1842 – October 19, 1916), was an attorney in Natchitoches and New Orleans, Louisiana, who served three nonconsecutive terms from 1884 to 1888 and again from 1892 to 1900 as the attorney general of Louisiana.​

From 1880 to 1884, Cunningham, a Democrat, was a state senator for both Natchitoches Parish and his native DeSoto Parish in northwestern Louisiana.[1] From 1878 to 1880, Cunningham was a state representative. A son from his first marriage, William Tharp Cunningham, and a grandson, William Peyton Cunningham, Sr. (1901-1971), both Natchitoches lawyers, also served in the state House of Representatives, from 1908 to 1912 and from 1932 to 1940, respectively.[2]


Born in DeSoto Parish, Cunningham was the son of John Hamilton Cunningham (1812-1886), a native of South Carolina, and the former Ann Buie (1814-1850), originally from Mississippi. He was the fourth of John Cunningham's twelve children by three wives. John Cunningham was a man of many occupations: a physician, merchant, planter, lawyer, and Christian minister, possibly Baptist. The family moved in the 1840s to Homer in Claiborne Parish, where John practiced medicine, and the children attended school. In his later years, John Cunningham was briefly a newspaperman, the editor of the Robeline Reporter, a weekly paper published in the 1880s in rural Robeline in western Natchitoches Parish.[3]

Ann Buie Cunningham died of asthma when Joe was seven years of age. John then married the former Martha Elvia Shields, who became Joe's stepmother. When he was sixteen, Joe Cunningham left home to teach school from 1858 to 1860 in Cloutierville in south Natchitoches Parish. His family moved to Natchitoches, as he prepared to enter the Confederte Army in the American Civil War. He served in the Second Louisiana Infantry from 1861 to 1865.[4]

Political career

Cunningham privately studied law and in 1868 was admitted to the bar. During Reconstruction, he was the chairman of the Natchitoches Parish Democratic Executive Committee. He served for ten months in 1868 as the district attorney of the 17th Judicial District. Thereafter, he was elected chief of police in Natchitoches, in which capacity he worked successfully to restore white rule in the community. He was one of fifty-two former Confederates or Confederate sympathizers who were arrested and tried by federal officials during Reconstruction.[4]

Cunningham's political career soared in 1878, when he briefly became a state representative, a delegate to the 1879 state constitutional convention, and then for a single four-year term a state senator. He was elected attorney general in 1884 in the administration of Governor Samuel Douglas McEnery (1837-1910). After a four-year hiatus, he returned as attorney general under Governor Murphy James Foster, Sr. (1849-1921), the grandfather of the last 20th century and the first 21st century governor, Democrat-turned-Republican Murphy James "Mike" Foster, Jr. In 1896, Cunningham prepared the legal brief of Plessy v. Ferguson. In the specific case, Homer Adolph Plessy (1862-1925) of New Orleans, seven-eights white and one-eighth black, was criminally fined for riding in the white-only car on a train from New Orleans to Covington in St. Tammany Parish. The United States Supreme Court upheld by a seven-to-one margin the principle of "separate but equal" in public accommodations,[4] a decision which stood for fifty-eight years until 1954, when Brown v. Board of Education school struck down as unconstitutional segregated public schools.

As attorney general, Cunningham rarely employed outside counsel and handled even complicated cases himself. In the process he saved taxpayers a considerable amount of money. In the 1890s, as attorney general, he worked successfully against the lottery companies. When the state was sued regarding a contract for work on the Red River, Cunningham defended the state against nine leading lawyers from New Orleans. He proved that the contract was illegal and had not been implemented. He hence secured a legal victory which saved the state $250,000.[5]

From 1900 to 1904, Governor William Wright Heard (1853-1926) named Cunningham the public administrator for Orleans Parish, and he continued to practice law in New Orleans and held valuable farm lands in Natchitoches Parish. He was living on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans in 1904; on Coliseum Street, in the 1910 census.[4]

Family and death

Cunningham's first two wives, Thalia Tharp (1843-1872) and Annie Peyton (1852-1878), died after short marriages. He was left to rear five young children, one of whom, a son, John Hamilton Cunningham, II, drowned at the age of nine. In 1880, at the age of thirty-eight, Cunningham married Cecile Hertzong (1860-1886), who was twenty. She had been reared at what is now Melrose Plantation in south Natchitoches Parish. From the third marriage were born four more children in addition to his previous four living children. When the fourth daughter was only a few months old, Cecile died at the age of twenty-six. At some point, an African-American former slave, Mary "Mammy" Pitcher (1847-1913), moved into the household to care for the children. Cunningham did not marry again until 1895, when he wed for his fourth and last time Emma Mai Blouin (1876-1945), a member of a prominent New Orleans family and his surviving widow.[4]

In the fall of 1916, Cunningham died in New Orleans at the age of seventy-four. His services were held at his home, after which the body was placed on a train and sent to Natchitoches for burial beside his first and third wives at American Cemetery. "Mammy" is also buried in the Cunningham plot. Her grave inscription reads: "'Our Mammy', who was the most faithful human being that ever lived.'"[4]


  1. Membership in the Louisiana Senate, 1880-2024. Louisiana State Senate. Retrieved on June 16, 2020.
  2. Membership in the Louisiana House of Representatives, 1812-2024: Natchitoches Parish. Louisiana House of Representatives. Retrieved on June 16, 2020.
  3. Alcée Fortier, ed., Louisiana: Comprising Sketches of Parishes, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form, (Volume 3), Century Historical Association, 1914, pp. 112-113.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Mildred Methvin, "Milton Joseph Cunningham,", May 29, 2003, accessed October 2, 2014; material no longer on-line}}
  5. "Soldier of Justice Loses Last Fight:: Valiant Warrior for Public Rights Dies in This City: Milton J. Cunningham Had Held Many Offices; Showed Mettle That Wins," New Orleans Times-Picayune, October 20, 1916.