Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Honoring Early Settlers in the Duncan Family and Sheriff Harlan Duncan, a Descendant

One Duncan family was present in the new Union County when the first census was taken of residents in 1834, two years after the county was formed. When Alexander Duncan and his family settled here is not certain. In 1834, his household had three males and three females listed as residents.

By 1840, four households of Duncans were registered in the U. S. census in Union County. These included Alexander Duncan, still residing in Union from 1834, whose household had a son between five and ten, one between ten and fifteen, Alexander himself, between 40 and 50 and three females under fifteen and his wife, between 40 and 50. The second Duncan household was headed by David, with two males under five, and David himself between twenty and 30, and his wife in his same age category. In another household was Charles Duncan, between fifty and sixty, two sons, one 15 to 20 and one 20-30, and evidently his wife, between 40 and fifty, and an elderly lady, aged between 70-80. The fourth and final Duncan household was headed by Elisha who was between 30 and 40, two sons between 10-15, and evidently three daughters, one under 5, one 5-10, and one 10-15 (no wife, or no female who would have been the approximate age of a wife and mother).

In the interim period between the 1840-1850 census tabulations, more Duncan households had been set up, so that by 1850, the first census with names of all residents in a family listed, we note eight with Duncan as the household head. These, listed as found in the census (even with spelling as given then) were:

Household # 9: Charles Duncan and his wife Mary, both age 75, both having been born in Virginia.

Household # 75: Joseph Duncan, age 29, and Mary, age 27, both born in North Carolina. Union marriage records show a Joseph Duncan married Mary Thomas on September 28, 1840.

Household # 111: David Duncan, age 44 and his wife Nancy, age 38, both born in North Carolina. Their children listed were Elisha, 14, William, 11, John 8, Moses 3. I found a listing of marked graves in the Duncan Family Cemetery with David Duncan’s birth date as March 14, 1806 and his death date February 11, 1877. Nancy Duncan, according to her tombstone, was born July 17, 1811 and died November 4, 1890.

Household # 129: James Duncan, 39 and his wife Elizabeth, 36, both born in North Carolina, and their children William, 15, Frances 13, Elizabeth 11, Henry 9 and James, 5. Living in their household was Mary Lunsford, age 72, also born in North Carolina. She perhaps was Elizabeth’s mother.

Household # 169: William Duncan, age 32 and Sarah Ann, 27, both born in North Carolina, and their children Mary 3, and Aryadey (sp.) 1. In the Union County marriage records, I noted that a William Duncan married Ann S. Neal on September 14, 1856, with the Rev. Thomas M. Hughes performing their ceremony. And much later, Areadna (so spelled), their daughter, married Elam A. Scruggs on August 15, 1883 with Rev. C. A. Sullivan performing the ceremony.

Household # 415: Mary Duncan, age 52, was head of household, born in North Carolina, and in her household were John, 21, Mary, 18, Jesse, 15, and Caroline, 11.

Household # 679: Havey (sp) Duncan (should this have been Harvey?), 26, and Nancy, 23, both born in North Carolina, and Louesa, age 1.

Household # 682: Jonathan Duncan, age 63, born in Virginia, Sarah, age 55, born in North Carolina, and their two children, both born in North Carolina, Elizabeth, age 10 and Andrew, age 15.

By 1850, those with the Duncan surname in Union County numbered 33. And by 1850, the first settler, Alexander, had passed away already and was buried in the Duncan family cemetery with his birth and death dates noted: February 28, 1797 – August 17, 1849. Probably several other in the unmarked Duncan graves there had passed before 1850 as well.

Duncan is a very old family name, having derived from Scots and Gaelic “Donnchadh,” the Donn meaning brown and the “chadh” meaning warrior. The first syllable was shortened to “Dun” by the Scots and meant a fortress, and the “chadh” became “chean” and later “can” which meant “the head or a chief.” We are all familiar with the story of King Duncan whom Macbeth killed in William Shakespeare’s play entitled “Macbeth.” Traces of the name go back in history to the Turpillian Stone carving of the 4th century AD in Crickwell, Wales. Dunchad was one of the earliest forenames in Scotland, originating with the Dalraidan Celtic Scots from Ireland that settled in the southwest of Scotland as early as the 4th century. On the Duncan family crest is the motto, “disce pate” which means “learn to suffer.”

One of the lofty and notable Duncan citizens of Union County was Harlan Thomas Duncan (September 14, 1818-May 5, 1985), son of Tom and Gertrude White Duncan. Harlan Duncan served as sheriff of the county for 21 years, from 1964 until his death. Add to those 21 years as respected and efficient sheriff, a time as a member of the City Police force of Blairsville, 18 years as a Georgia State Patrolman, and his term as deputy sheriff and then sheriff and he clocked over 40 years in law enforcement.

Handsome of demeanor, tall and rangy, and always impeccable in character and conduct, he was the “John Wayne” figure of Union County. It has been recounted that he was so intent on maintaining law and order that sometimes just a finger pointed by Sheriff Duncan and directed toward anyone infringing on the law, like speeding teenagers, was sufficient to slow them down and remind them what awaited if their behavior did not improve. Although a tough law man, he is remembered, too, for his congenial personality, his fairness, and his devotion to family and citizens of the county. He was married to Ruth Jackson, daughter of Marion and Emma Davis Jackson. Ruth was a teacher for many years in Union County Schools. They had two sons, Thomas Harlan Duncan, Jr. and Jack Sidney Duncan. His stately funeral procession, with Sheriff Duncan’s beloved horse with an empty saddle except for his sheriff’s hat on the saddle, saw over 500 law enforcement officers and others citizens paying tribute to this man who had stood tall for right in Union County. He served our country in the U. S. Army during World War II. Sheriff Duncan was laid to rest in Union Memory Gardens, Blairsville.

c2011 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Nov. 17, 2011 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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