Thomas B. Cuming [RG3654.AM]


RG3654.AM: Thomas B. Cuming, 1827-1858

Papers: 1822-1933
Keokuk, Iowa: First Secretary, Acting Governor of Nebraska Territory, 1854-1855 and 1857-1858
Size: 1.75 cu.ft; 4 boxes


Thomas B. Cuming was born in Genesee County, New York, on December 25, 1827, the son of a Protestant Episcopal minister of Grand Rapids, Michigan. After the death of his mother, he was raised and educated in the home of a Rev. Penny, his uncle, at Rochester, New York. Thomas Cuming graduated from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor at the age of sixteen, having distinguished himself in classical education. He worked as a geologist with an expedition in the mineral region of Lake Superior, after graduation, and in 1848 gave up work to serve as a Lieutenant of A Company, 1st Regiment, Michigan Volunteers in the Mexican War. Upon completion of his enlistment he seems to have wandered into Keokuk, Iowa, where he first worked as a telegraph operator, and later took over and operated the Democratic weekly, the Dispatch. He married Margaretta C. Murphy of Keokuk not long before he was appointed to serve as the first Secretary of the newly created Territory of Nebraska in August 1854.

He soon departed for Nebraska to take up his duties, arriving in Omaha on October 8. Within ten days the first Territorial Governor, Francis Burt, had died, and the duties of the office of Governor came upon Cuming. The first official act of Governor of Nebraska was Acting Governor Cuming’s proclamation of the death of Governor Burt. He was immediately faced with an issue which was already dividing the new territory into sectional camps. The crux of the matter was to determine whether the capital of the territory was to be located at Omaha or Bellevue. Bellevue had the support of the region south of the Platte, and was probably the site which Governor Burt would have selected had he lived. Omaha, however, was the chosen site of the Iowa politicians whose influence had been a major factor in winning territorial status for Nebraska, and who had won Cuming his commission. They wanted the capital to be located at Omaha to provide a boost for Council Bluffs and the Western border of Iowa generally.

Cuming immediately ordered a census to be taken and, on the basis of the results, designated counties and legislative districts, and apportioned legislators accordingly. This stirred the controversy, rather than easing matters, because he gave a greater number of legislators to the northern section, although it is likely that the southern section was far more heavily populated. Under this storm he ordered the first session of the legislature to meet at Omaha in January 1855. Tempers rose so high that there was an abortive move to withdraw the South Platte region from the territory and annex it instead to Kansas. Kansas, however, had sectional problems of its own, and the move was not met with great enthusiasm there. The capital controversy was not settled until 1867 when, with statehood, the capital was located in Lincoln. Cuming’s Iowa sentiment and his stern hand on the executive reins rendered him unpopular, but he survived a censure motion and his pro-Iowa sentiment continued as indicated by the fact that although Omaha was his legal residence, he actually lived in Council Bluffs.

He was relieved of the duties of office with the arrival in February 1855 of Mark W. Izard who had been appointed to succeed Governor Burt in December of the preceding year. Izard resigned from office October 1857 and Thomas Cuming again became Acting Governor. Cuming remained in office, although weakened by sickness, until his death on March 23, 1858.

Thomas B. Cuming was survived by his wife, Margaretta C. Cuming, the daughter of John C. and Maria (Tiernan) Murphy. During most of the remaining years of her life Mrs. Cuming lived in Omaha with the family of her brother, Frank Murphy, and her sister, Mary Frances (Fannie) Hamilton. Mrs. Cuming’s mother, Maria (Tiernan) Murphy, also resided with members of her family in Omaha until her death in 1885. Margaretta C. Cuming was preceded in death by her mother; her sister Fannie, who died in March 1906; and her brothers Andrew, who died June 30, 1901 and Frank, who died December 13, 1904. Andrew died at Lincoln and Frank died out of state and was buried in Omaha, Nebraska. Mrs. Cuming died at the home of her nephew, Frank P. Hamilton, in Omaha on 12 February 1915.


This collection consists of four boxes of papers relating to Thomas B. Cuming’s business and personal affairs. Also included are materials relating to various associated family members. The materials in this collection include correspondence, speeches, legal and financial papers, clippings and miscellany. For materials relating to Thomas B. Cuming’s service as Governor and Secretary of Nebraska, see RG001, SG003.

Accession Numbers: 487-78-66, 80-27, 80-46; 86-41, 1993.286.


Box 1

  1. Business correspondence, 1849-1852
  2. Business correspondence, 1853
  3. Business correspondence, 1854
  4. Business correspondence, 1855
  5. Business correspondence, 1856-1858, n.d.
  6. Speeches, including: “The Moral of Progress,” 1852; Unidentified, but in hand of Cuming
  7. T.B. Cuming estate
  8. Land transactions, deeds, certificates and miscellany (see also oversize)
  9. Newspaper clippings regarding Cuming’s political career and death (see also oversize)
  10. Personal correspondence, 1846-1856
  11. Personal correspondence, Thomas B. Cuming to Mrs. Cuming, 1852-1855, n.d.

Box 2

  1. Personal correspondence, Mrs. T.B. Cuming, 1850-1879
  2. Personal correspondence, Mrs. T.B. Cuming, 1880-1913
  3. Personal correspondence, Mrs. T.B. Cuming, n.d.
  4. Correspondence, Maria (Tiernan) Murphy, 1818-1877, n.d.
  5. Correspondence, Andrew Murphy, 1830-1899
  6. Correspondence, Michael Murphy, 1858-1902
  7. Correspondence, Frank Murphy, 1850-1905, n.d.
  8. Correspondence, John C. Murphy, 1833-1850
  9. Correspondence, R. Johnson, 1852-1865
  10. Correspondence, unidentified, 1850-1891, n.d.
  11. Misc. family information; business notes; cards; certificates; etc. (see also oversize)
  12. Clippings regarding Cuming family history

Box 3

  1. Scrapbook of the Hamilton family
  2. Family Bible of Mrs. Mae Louise Hamilton – includes records of Murdock and Page families

Box 4

  1. Hamilton family correspondence, 1856-1933, n.d.
  2. Military papers of Charles W. Hamilton, Jr. (see also oversize)
  3. Miscellaneous printed materials

Subject headings (some correspondents have been moved to RG001, SG003):

Belknap, William Worth, 1829-1890
Benton, Thomas Hart, Jr., 1782-1858
Buchanan, James, 1791-1868
Burt, Francis, 1807-1854
Cass, Lewis, 1782-1866
Chapman, Bird Beers, 1821-1871
Cuming, Margaretta C. (Murphy), -1915 (Mrs. Thomas B.)
Cuming Family
Davis, Caleb F.
Dodge, Augustus Caesar, 1818-1883
Furnas, Robert Wilkinson, 1824-1905
Hamilton, Mary Frances “Fannie” (Murphy), 1837-1906 (Mrs. Charles W.)
Hamilton Family
Hempstead, Stephen
Henn, Bernhart, 1817-1865
Izard, Mark Whitaker, 1799-1866
Jones, George Washington, 1828-1903
Keokuk (Iowa) — History
Manypenny, George Washington, 1808-1893
Marcy, William Learned, 1786-1857
Murphy, Andrew D., 1830-1901
Murphy, Frank, 1843-1904
Murphy, Maria (Tiernan), 1800-1885
Murphy, Michael
Murphy Family
Nebraska (Territory). Legislative Assembly
Omaha (Nebraska) — History
O’Reilly Henry, 1806-1886
Rankin, B.P.
Ream, Robert L.
Reeder, Andrew Horatio, 1807-1864
Rice, Edmund, 1819-1889
Richardson, William Alexander, 1811-1875
Sarpy, Peter Abadie, 1805-1865
Thayer, John Milton, 1820-1906
Tiernan Family
U.S. Congress. House
Van Antwerp, V.A.

AIP/ksa 04-1995
Revised TMM 10-32-2021


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