US Senator. He was a prominent figure in the early history of Arkansas. Raised in Hudson, New York, he graduated from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts (1813) and Connecticut's Litchfield Law School (1814) before beginning his law career in Hudson. Personal ambition led him to seek his fortune in the western frontier and in 1820 he settled in Little Rock, in what was then the Arkansas Territory. He immediately formed a partnership with another newcomer to the area, future Territorial Governor Robert Crittenden; this would evolve into the Rose Law Firm, today the oldest west of the Mississippi and the third oldest in the United States. Within a few years he would go into practice for himself and established himself as the foremost appeals attorney in Arkansas, arguing more cases before the Territorial Superior Court than any other lawyer. He also became very wealthy through real estate, buying up and then selling much of what is now downtown Little Rock, and was a major behind-the-scenes power broker, with his stately mansion hosting as many political functions as the State Capitol. Along with success came a good deal of controversy, because Ashley was as well known for his craftiness as for his prowess as a litigator. He represented James Bowie's brother John in their fraudulent land claims of the late 1820s, and was indicted for suborning a jury; he himself was frequently accused of illegal land speculation. After Arkansas entered statehood in 1836, he served as a director of the government-chartered Arkansas State Bank, which collapsed in 1843 due to corruption and mismanagement. Nevertheless, in 1844 the Democrat Ashley was elected to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy left by the death of William S. Fulton, and was re-elected to a full term in 1846. During his service he was Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He died in Washington DC after a brief illness and was interred at Little Rock's Mount Holly Cemetery, which was founded on land he had donated for a burial ground. There is also a cenotaph for him at Washington's Congressional Cemetery. He is the namesake of Ashley County in Arkansas and Chester and Ashley Streets in Little Rock.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards