Anna Eleanor Cunningham
Sex: Female
Birth: December 25, 1838
in County Wicklow, Ireland
Death: November 20, 1912
in Brierfield, Bibb County, Alabama
Burial: Brierfield Cemetery
Brierfield, Bibb County, Alabama
Father: James Cunningham
Mother: Sarah Johnson
Spouse/Partner: Joseph Riley Curtis
Marriage: February 8, 1858
in Montgomery County, Alabama
2nd Spouse: N. B. Stanford
2nd Marriage: January 8, 1865
in Dallas County, Alabama
3rd Spouse: Jesse Wilkerson Mahan
3rd Marriage: July 8, 1870
in Montgomery County, Alabama

         Anna Eleanor "Annie" Cunningham was the eldest child born to James Cunningham and his wife Sarah. She was born on Christmas Day in the Vale of Avoca and soon thereafter baptized at the shrine of St. Kevin in Co. Wicklow. Her life in Ireland is essentially unknown until the Great Potato Famine.

         This famine eventually caused her parents to emigrate to America. Leaving one child behind, her parents set out with Annie and two of her brothers in 1849 or 1850. According to oral tradition, the stressful trip took seven weeks, including three weeks stuck in the Sargasso Sea, but the family eventually found itself in New Orleans. The family appears to have attempted to make its living off of Lake Ponchartrain, probably by fishing. But in 1855, the family would move to Mobile because Lake Ponchartrain was "too shallow". Unfortunately, this move had tragic repercussions.

         Not long after this move, Annie's mother Sarah returned to visit friends in New Orleans and caught yellow fever. She soon succumbed to the disease. Just two days later, James Cunningham was lost overboard in Mobile Bay during a storm. Annie and her brothers were suddenly orphans. Fortunately, a Mr. Giovanni, who had been friends with their parents, took them in. He put the pretty, sixteen year old Annie to work selling hats in his millinery shop. She would continue doing this for the next two or three years, possibly also assisting doctors during a yellow fever outbreak.

         During a trip to Montgomery (traditionally New Orleans, but this makes more sense) in 1857 or 1858, recent widower Joseph R. Curtis of Selma encountered Annie, who had apparently moved inland. The Methodist marshal was smitten by the young woman twelve years his junior. Annie may have been similarly attracted to Joseph, but it certainly did not hurt he made $500 a year as the Marshal of Selma. They were married in the Catholic church in February of 1858 and had their first child, Kathrine Giovanni (named for kindly Mr. Giovanni) in November. Unfortunately, Joseph lost the election for marshal that June, though he was elected constable. Sadly, this would be a sign of things to come.

         The year 1860 would be difficult for the Curtis family. A shadowy incident called the Goldsby affair had tensions at a fever pitch in Selma in the early part of the year. Joseph felt that tension and it led him to confront Mr. Goldsby in a local business establishment. He pulled out a gun and pointed it at Goldsby, probably in some attempt to arrest him or at least threaten him. One Dr. Dickinson, apparently somewhere behind Goldsby, decided to intervene to ease the tension. Goldsby raised his hands too quickly and an edgy Joseph fired a shot. It passed through Goldsby's hand and hit Dr. Dickinson in the head. The good doctor died the next day. The census a few months later finds the Curtis family, now with a second daughter, downriver in the town of Cahaba, not Selma. Though speculative, it is easy to reach the conclusion that Joseph and his family had to leave Selma after Dr. Richardson's death. Unless they had already made the move, there seems little other reason for a fairly prominent citizen to suddenly move downriver with his pregnant wife and young child.

         The tension of the Goldsby affair was surely heightened by the prospect of civil war. These tensions continued throughout 1860 and into 1861. In Cahaba, this atmosphere was strong. Effigies of Northern leaders were burned and the fear of abolitionists was growing. Joseph and another man were sent to arrest a recent traveling salesman who had passed through town. They found him in Marion and brought him back, but no evidence existed that he was trying to stir up trouble with abolitionist views or materials. Then, as war finally broke, the prominent town citizens organized a company of infantry, the Cahaba Rifles, which would be attached to the 5th Alabama Regiment. For some unknown reason, Joseph did not sign up at the first opportunity. He remained behind as the soldiers marched off to defend the glory of the South. It was into this environment that my great-great-grandmother was born in 1861.

         The year 1862 would have severe consequences for Annie and Joseph and their family. A pregnant Annie saw her husband off to join the Cahaba Rifles as a private in March of that year. By June his name was on the list of the dead. On May 31, the Union and Confederates clashed at a town only significant by its proximity to Richmond. The Confederates named the ensuing battle for this town, Seven Pines, while the Union forces referred to the battle as Fair Oaks. This would be the last day of Joseph's life. Annie became a widow, though her husband's years as a marshal and constable probably left her in decent financial shape.

         She remained in Cahaba and later married N. B. Stanford. Oral tradition held that he disappeared only weeks into their marriage while traveling to visit family in Texas. A servant reported him murdered, though what became of him is not really known. In fact, almost nothing is known about him. An N. B. Stanford lived in Dallas Co., Texas, with a family in 1860 (apparently as the father) and the name does appear again in the Dallas area after 1865, but I have no evidence that they could be the same person or even related. At any rate, Annie had to have the marriage annulled. Shortly thereafter, the county voted to move the county seat from Cahaba to Selma and everyone, including Annie, swiftly abandoned the town. By 1866, it was a ghost town populated with only a few former slaves.

         Annie relocated to Montgomery, by now the state capital. Here, she met another widower, Jesse Wilkerson Mahan, a state senator for Shelby Co in 1868 and again in 1871-1872. They were married in 1870 and she moved to his home, called Montebrier, in Brierfield. They had five children before his death in the 1880s. She did not marry again and was known as Grandmother Mahan by her grandchildren. The last picture of her was taken in 1910, just two years before her death.


Name Birth Death
Children of Joseph Riley Curtis and Anna Eleanor Cunningham

Kathrine Giovanni Curtis November 25, 1858
Selma, Dallas County, Alabama
February 6, 1927

Alabama Curtis May ??, 1860
Selma or Cahaba, Dallas County, Alabama

Anna Louise Curtis March 5, 1861
Cahaba, Dallas County, Alabama
February 9, 1942
Birmingham, Jefferson County, Alabama

Joe Curtis c. 1862
Cahaba, Dallas County, Alabama
Children of N. B. Stanford and Anna Eleanor Cunningham
Children of Jesse Wilkerson Mahan and Anna Eleanor Cunningham

Jesse W. Mahan c. 1871

Adelaide Eleanor Mahan December 2, 1872
January 9, 1959

Christabel Mahan unknown

Kevin Cunningham Mahan June 27, 1876
July 23, 1928

James Napoleon Mahan ?? ??, 1879