Uncle Dave's book

Sunday, August 17, 2014

52 Ancestors # 33: James Duncan, Mason and Homestead Farmer

     James Duncan was born in Omagh, Tyrone, Northern Ireland, on 17 Mar 1816. (St. Patrick's Day!).  He was the son of Stuart Duncan and Margaret. Stuart was a "merchant (who) pursued his calling in different portions of Great Britain" according to "History of the Upper Mississippi Valley" by Newton  Horace Winchell, pub 1881. I think we would have called this a "traveling salesman". His father died when James was still an infant, leaving two small boys and a widow.  James' mother married again, Robert Watson, in 1826 and they had a son, Robert, born 1827. James' brother, Stuart, married Catherine Hamilton while James took her sister, Margaret as his wife.  In 1833, not yet married, James and Margaret emigrated to America. He left from Liverpool and arrived on the ship Washington at New York City on 15 Jun 1833. Margaret left from Belfast and arrived about 2 weeks later on 28 Jun 1833. They were married in New York City.

     According to the History earlier mentioned James was trained as a shoemaker in Ireland but when he came to the U.S. he learned the "trade of plasterer and stone and brick mason". He is called a mason in the New York City Directories of 1837, 1840 and 1841 and in all U.S. Censuses he is listed in. Meeting with reverses he went to Monticello and eventually Forrestburgh, Sullivan County, New York.  According to the History above, he arrived there with less than ten dollars in his pocket but he worked at his trade and by 1849 he was able to purchase a mill and some land. By that time he also had five daughters! I have often thought how happy he must have been in 1851 when George Washington Duncan, his son, was born! And he named him after the Father of his adopted country, suggesting he was grateful for the opportunities he had had here.

     The family remained in Forrestburgh until 1862 when the Homestead Act was enacted by Congress. This made it possible for any adult male to claim 160 acres of land from the government. So the family moved West, first stopping in Hastings, Minnesota but finally settling in Grove, Stearns, Minnesota in 1864. James fulfilled the requirements of the Act and was given his patent on18 Aug 1871. He lived here with his family until some time after his wife died in 1885 and he was recorded as living with his son-in-law and daughter, John and Catherine Dobbs in 1895. I have some photos of his house at a later date( 1930's) and on the back his granddaughter wrote "the house of the broken heart". I have not been able to find out exactly what this refers to but I believe that it references his grief at the loss of his wife and also his daughter, Mary, who died in 1898.

     James lived the last four or five years of his life with his daughter, Catherine, which was not without some strife.  In his will he says, "All of my household furniture in my room...I bequeath to Cathrine Dobbs...provided that no extra charge be made for my care or keeping over and above the amount that I pay per week  for my care and keeping...". James died on 8 Aug 1899. His obituary says he was survived by 56 grandchildren and 25 great grandchildren! In his will James left $500 to James Jerome Duncan, the son of his only surviving son, George W. Duncan. He left $25 to each of his grandsons who were named James after him ( James Graham, James Duncan Kells, James Dobbs and James Carlton.) and $10 to each of his granddaughters who were named Margaret for his wife( Margaret Graham, Margaret Kells and Margaret Corbett). To each of the other children of George W. he left $5.  TO each of the children of Lydia Corbett (his daughter) he left $3.33. To his four surviving daughters he left $10 each. All of his household he left to his daughter, Catherine and her daughter, Mary. He asked that a monument be erected to him and his wife over their graves. All else went to his son who he named his executor.

     The inventory of his estate lists his farm which he had sold to his son who is still paying the note, value $1200, his bedding and bed, heating stove, one bureau and three chairs, $25.00, one suit of clothes, $1.00, and one promissory note by his son for $125 plus interest, $155.64. Total of $1381.64.

     The monument was erected and is in the Oakland Cemetery in Sauk Centre today. His obituary ends with the following:
   "James Duncan was a man of marked personality--a Scotchman with that rugged integrity and devotion to truth and probity which is characteristic of that people.Honorable in all his dealings, sincere in every word and act, he detested shams, cant and hypocrisy.  He had a keen sense of justice, and all his dealings were based on the principle of measure for measure. He was of a kindly and cheerful nature, devoted to his family and respected and esteemed by all.

     "He maintained his rigor to a remarkable degree until very recently and it was not more than a fortnight since he was walking our streets--slowly it is true, yet, firmly, with a word for all his friends and acquaintances.  He rounded out an active and useful life conscious at the end that as he had dealt justly and lived uprightly, so, in faith, his future shall be with the God in whom he trusted."


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