Tuesday, March 11, 2014

On The Rock My Fathers Planted - Part I - The Colonial Era

This is the first part in a series about the history of the Duncan family in early America, summarized from the relatively little research I have done (mostly corroborating the research others have done). I have only a few solid facts, but quite a bit of circumstantial evidence. So, most of this is simply based on the probability of what happened based on these facts and circumstances, placed against the backdrop of historically significant events. Most dates are approximate as this is not intended to be a strict genealogical record.

The men and women described in these stories may have made mistakes and had their faults, but I believe they lived out their lives the best they could according to their knowledge and ability. 

While none of these ancestors of mine can claim fame as "prime movers" who shaped history, contemporary events still affected their lives - and the lives of  their posterity for decades and even hundreds of years after they lived. They were nothing less than supporting actors in the great play of history. Political and economic events such as the Glorious Revolution, the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Depression, and WWII affected my ancestors in determining where they lived, how they lived, and ultimately who my family is today. I am a product of their faith, courage, and sacrifice.

The Glorious Revolution

The story begins nearly 400 years ago amid England's religious turmoil between Catholics and Protestants. In 1660, Charles II - a closet Catholic - was crowned King of England, after his return from exile in France. As a result of this Restoration, Puritanism declined as a movement in England, and non-Catholics were persecuted. When Charles II died in 1685, he was succeeded by his brother, James II - an open Catholic. Persecution of non-Catholics continued. In Scotland, King James' supporters in the Parliament increased attempts to force the Covenanters (Presbyterians) to renounce their faith and accept the Catholic rule of the new monarch.

One of these Covenant Presbyterians was Reverend William Robert Duncan. Born in 1628 in Perth, Scotland, William received his degree in theology from the King's College at Aberdeen in 1648. He was married in 1657 to Susan Sarah Haldane who was born in 1635 in Perthshire, Scotland and was the daughter of Richard Haldane and of Mary Kennet. William and Susan's son, William II, was born in 1659 in Gleneagles Scotland.

In 1688, the heir-less King James II finally fathered a son - James III. Afraid of permanently losing the monarchy to a Catholic dynasty, protestants William and Mary of Orange overthrew King James II later that year in what was called the Glorious Revolution - a (mostly) bloodless revolution. This revolution turned the tables against Catholics, and Protestants generally enjoyed religious freedom thereafter. James III - called the Old Pretender - never sat on the throne of England, despite making several unsuccessful attempts to reclaim it - the last of which occurred in 1746 at the epic Battle of Culloden.

During the religious troubles that afflicted Scottish Protestants following Charles II's restoration to the throne in 1660, Reverend Duncan continued to refuse to take the Jacobite oath (an oath of loyalty to the Catholic Stuart dynasty). The Reverend and his family still endured religious persecution in Scotland. Despite the recent Glorious Revolution of William and Mary, the Reverend was beheaded by Jacobites in 1689 in accordance with King James' previous orders. He died in Glasgow and was buried as a martyr in Perthshire, Scotland.

As a result of the continued persecution and the eventual martyrdom of their father, William I's children fled to the colony of Virginia - a very Protestant part of British America.

Between 1690 and 1694, the Reverend's sons - Charles, Henry, Thomas, and William II - arrived in the Northern Neck region of Virginia. It was in this area of Virginia that Captain John Smith was the first European to encounter the Powhatans 85 years earlier. William II was about thirty years old when he arrived as a refugee in the colony of Virginia with his wife, Margaret McMurde and newborn son, William III. According to the life expectancy of the time, and considering the dangers of a still untamed wilderness, the odds of success - even survival - were greatly against them.

Settling Virginia

Not much is known about William II. But, he must have been rather successful as we learn from the station attained by his children and grandchildren in Virginian society. His son, William III who was born just before the family left Scotland, moved the family to the Culpeper area in the upper part of the Northern Neck of Virginia, where William II died in 1720. Being supporters of the new Protestant dynasty in England, the Duncans were loyal British subjects. Yet, despite their "Tory" origins, the Duncans were no strangers to oppression and were sensitive to acts of injustice and tyranny. They fought to defend their homes and property from attacks by natives and from the increasingly oppressive royal government. By the 1770's the Duncan family had grown sympathetic to the cause of the American Patriots. They rubbed shoulders with many of the great revolutionaries, patriots, and frontiersmen of early America. 

William III married Ruth Raleigh (or Rawley), who was born in Virginia around 1702 to English immigrants. Their son, John Pekin Duncan, born in 1730 in Culpeper, was the first in my Duncan line born in the Americas. The unique name of "Pekin" is of yet unknown origin. As was mentioned earlier, William III and Ruth Raleigh settled in the Culpeper area of Virginia - a county that was created from Orange County and surveyed in 1749 by a young man named George Washington who was appointed as the official surveyor of the new county. Only two years younger than John Pekin, Washington likely had some interaction with or knowledge of the Scottish family, but by no means were they in the same social class. The Duncans were immigrants Scots; Washington was an established land-owner and officer in the Virginia militia. In 1759, John Pekin married Rachel Warren, that same year George Washington married Martha Custis, and then relocated to his plantation at Mt. Vernon. Also of similar age in 1754, Patrick Henry married Sarah Shelton in Hanover County, a short distance south of Culpeper. Patrick Henry's father John Henry emigrated from Aberdeenshire, Scotland around 1720, where he attended King's College - the same college the Reverend William I attended about sixty year earlier. Patrick grew to become a skilled orator in the Virginia legislature, eventually becoming governor of Virginia in 1776.

Among those who also lived in Culpeper County or its neighboring county, Fauquier County, around this time were John Marshall, 4th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and Daniel Boone, early settler and explorer of the Ohio country. Also of note, on April 27, 1775, the Culpeper Minutemen - a local militia - took up arms in defiance of Virginia Governor Lord John Dunmore's seizure of the public powder magazine at Williamsburg. They adopted the symbol of a coiled snake with the caption "Don't Tread on Me" that earned fame as a rallying cry of the Revolution.

William III and his family lived in Culpeper through the 1750's and 1760's. William and Ruth died a few months apart from each other in 1781 in Culpeper County. Neither of them lived quite long enough to see the end of the Revolutionary War. But, in the 1770's, some of William and Ruth's children had left the Culpeper area to migrate southwest to the Appalachian Mountains, where they encountered greater dangers and trials. 

1 comment:

  1. This is a great history of a great family heritage! Can't wait to read the next installments.