Tuesday, November 3, 2015

So, who was this W. L. Duncan that built the Duncan House?

Earliest known drawing of Mr. Duncan's home
Well, thanks to much work by my friend, Richie Burnette [now from Oxford, formerly of Corinth-with his family going back seven generations on the same block as the Duncan House], here is the biography of its first owner, Mr. W. L. Duncan.



William Lane Duncan was born in South Carolina in 1800.  He headed west and landed in Hardeman County, Tennessee (founded 1823 - Bolivar and Middleton). Duncan married Rebecca Null in 1830, there in Hardeman County.  The couple had three children before they migrated to Tishomingo County (remember, the original Tishomingo County covered what is now Alcorn, Tishomingo, and Prentiss), arriving by 1840. By then the Duncans had two daughters and a son.

Duncan was elected sheriff for a two year term about 1846. He and his wife had two more sons, including Thomas D. Duncan, the famed scout/guide in the Civil War (who you will continue to hear about).

William was re-elected Sheriff in 1847 and added more children to the family. (whew!) In 1850 he is described as living in the “Southern Division, Tishomingo, Mississippi.” He was appointed Superintendent of the State Penitentiary, but resigned due to ill health shortly after receiving the appointment.

In 1851 he was elected a delegate from Tishomingo County to the State Convention, in Jackson.  He lost his wife in 1852.
 
In 1853 he opened a mercantile business in Jacinto, Mississippi, which he operated with a partner named Smith for several years.

Duncan moved to Corinth where, around 1858, he built his home which we now know as the Duncan House. At that time, it was located on the corner of Jackson and Bunch Streets. He was a merchant here in Corinth and had a partnership with J.C. Terry. He was also a cotton buyer here and, it is believed, had a business on Front Street (today known as Cruise Street) across the railroad from the depot.

When the war came, Duncan was appointed Captain and was Assistant Quartermaster for supplies here in Corinth. He was commended for using his own money to pay for supplies for the military until the State could make funds available.
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His son, James William Duncan, was killed in 1864 while fighting in his first battle. James William was standing beside his brother, Thomas, who, in his well-known Civil War memior, tells the sad story of his brother’s last moments and how he then transported his brother’s body for burial in Pontotoc, Mississippi.
 
Now the story gets confusing: In 1865, Duncan represented Tishomingo County at the State Convention and served a term in the State Senate. However, by 1866 he was “judged insane” and his son, Thomas D. Duncan was appointed guardian. But in another twist, in 1870 he is listed as an Elder in the Fillmore Presbyterian Church, the beautiful little church that still stands on the corner of Fillmore and Bunch. [This church building was built in 1870, replacing an earlier structure, which had been used as an armory by the Union Army.]
    
By 1870 W. L. Duncan was living with his son-in-law, Charles Elgin, who was the County Treasurer.

Duncan died in 1876 and was buried here in Corinth at City Cemetery, but his body was later moved to Henry Cemetery (I have not been able to locate his grave stone. The fear is his grave is one of many stones that have become unreadable.)  

In his classic book “Recollections of Mississippi and Mississippians,” published in 1889, Reuben Davis, a former U.S. Congressman from Mississippi, had this to say about William Duncan:

“I have already spoken of my friend William L. Duncan, whom I knew first as a resident of Pontotoc.  He afterwards removed to Corinth where he accumulated a large fortune. Being a man of fine intellect and untiring energy, he possessed a wonderful influence in his county, and was known to be warmly devoted to his personal friends. It was said of him that he would go through fire and water for a friend, and I found how true this description of him was, during an ardent personal friendship which existed for us until the day of his death”

And, from a scrapbook in the Alcorn County Courthouse (from Bobbie McDowell, August, 1982:

THE CORINTH HERALD – HON. W.L. DUNCAN

“Among the pioneer citizens of old Tishomingo County no one is entitled to more consideration and appreciative remembrance than the Hon. William Lane Duncan. For thirty six years he was a conspicuous figure in the development of the county and on many occasions took the lead in matters of more than general interest to the citizens of the great “State of Tishomingo.” As a man he was admired by all; while those who differed from him politically were forced to acknowledge him a foeman worthy of their steel. He was a fluent speaker, and few of his contemporaries cared to cross lances with him on the hustings. He was opposed to succession, but after Mississippi had severed the ties binding the great commonwealth to the Federal union, he fell valiantly into line and worked unceasingly for the success of the Stars and Bars, and when the banner of Southern rights was furled, he assisted in bringing order out of chaos and helped to make it possible for the people to nobly build upon the ashes of the past.”


And, currently that’s what we know about the man who built a house that, so far, has outlived him by 140 years.  

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