Select Duncan Surname Genealogy

Here are some Duncan stories and accounts over the years:

Dunchad/Duncan Origins

Dunchad (later Duncan) was originally a forename and came with the Dalriadan Celtic Scotii (Scots) from Ireland who started to colonize the southwest corner of Scotland in the fourth century. 

One of the Kings of Dalriada in this part of Scotland was Dunchad mac Conaing who co-ruled with Conall II in the seventh century.  Dunchad was the 11th abbot of Iona in the early eighth century. 

“Dunchadh was born into the line of Conall Gulban.  He became a monk at Killochuir in SE Ulster and, from 710 until his death, ruled the abbey of Iona in Scotland.  His feast day is still celebrated in Ireland and he is their patron saint of sailors.” 

it was not until after the unification of the Celtic Scots of Dalriada and the aboriginal Picts of northern Britain by Kenneth MacAlpine in the ninth century that we started to see the name significantly being used in other parts of Scotland.  There was an early mention in the Scots Gaelic Book of Deer which was written in the 11th century by Christian monks of the Abbey of Deer in Aberdeenshire. 

The first mentions of Dunchad or Donnachadh (Duncan) as a clan occurred during the time of Robert the Bruce and the Scottish Wars of Independence.

Duncan and Robertson Clans

It is believed that Robertsons descend from the Duncans and from one particular ancestor - Robert Duncanson of Struan - around 1451.  At that time Duncan Grant of Dalvey was regarded as the chief of clan Donachie aka Donnachaidh (Duncan).

The 1934 edition of Clan Septs and Regiments of the Scottish Highlands made the following point:

"Instead of the Duncans, Donnachies. etc. appearing as septs of the Robertsons, the position should, properly speaking, be reversed.  As explained in notes on clan Robertson the progenitor of the clan Donnachie was Duncan, or Donnachadh Reamar; the appellation of Robertson having been derived from the name of the chief, Robert, who flourished during the reign of King James I."

However, the Duncans - unlike the Robertsons - have no Chief.  Laird John Duncan of Sketraw, of uncertain origins, has recently been seeking this title. 

Duncan Baptisms in Scotland

4,300 Duncan baptisms were registered in Scotland over the period 1730 to 1770.  The following places had more than fifty Duncan baptisms at that time.

Edinburgh, Midlothian
Dundee, Angus
Perth, Perth
St. Andrews, Fife
Fetteresso, Kincardine
Lauchars, Fife
Keith, Banff
Cortachy, Angus
Leith, Midlothian
Dunrossness, Shetlands
Turiff, Aberdeen

Henry Duncan's Portrait by Healy

When Healy came to Lexington, Kentucky to paint a portrait of Henry Clay, he also painted one of Henry Duncan.  The latter had by this time acquired three thousand acres in the vicinity of Hutchinson where he carried on the breeding and training of thoroughbreds. He owned and bred Bourbon Belle, dam of the Great Hanover, also Hanover's first three sons, Grand Parade, winner of the Epsom Derby, and Grey Eagle, celebrated in song and story. 

At Henry Duncan's death his portrait was inherited by his son Henry Duncan II.  He was a lawyer, captain, newspaper publisher, and mayor of Lexington.  From him it descended to the eldest of his ten children, George Brand Duncan, a graduate of West Point in 1886, who became one of the distinguished American commanding officers of the Army of France in World War I.  Then it was handed down to his son.

George Duncan and His Mill

George Duncan was educated to be a doctor in Edinburgh, but gave up his profession in 1816 to seek his fortune in America.  He first stayed in Pennsylvania but later headed west with his family to Illinois.  His son John recalled the journey. 

“We traveled by wagon until we reached Pittsburgh where my father bought a flat boat 80 feet long and 17 feet wide.  We loaded all our property on the flat boat and started down the Ohio River.  We landed at Shawneetown where we sold our boat and started into Illinois by wagon driving our cattle. We traveled to Fairfield in Wayne county and then, after resting up for the winter, moved onto Fulton county.  Our journey was a dreadful one.  The mud was so deep in places that we were obliged to draw one wagon away with the team, then unhitch and take them back to the other wagons. So it made life very unpleasant.” 

George found a spot on the Spoon river where there were rapids and this suggested to him the erection of a dam and flouring mills.  So came into being the family Duncan mill, completed in 1836.  This mill became famous for fifty miles around. 

It was the bad fate of this widely popular mill to be burned in a fire in 1870.  When rebuilt the great expense threw George’s son Thomas into bankruptcy and both mill and dam disappeared.  In the days of the mill’s prosperity, the spot had been Lewistown’s summer resort for fishing and bathing.

The Duncans in South Australia

John Duncan, a sea captain from Fife, had come out to South Australia with his wife Joan in 1841 and engaged in sheep farming there.  It took him some time to settle.  He went back to Scotland once and made several voyages to India.  But he returned in 1854 and, when copper was discovered at Wallaroo, helped to develop the mines there.  His farming and mining interests made Captain John very wealthy. 

It was his son John who became a politician, representing Wallaroo district.  He came to be widely respected for his sagacity and immense influence in farming matters, as well as in financial affairs.  He was knighted for his public services in 1913, but died in Adelaide later that year. 

Grandson Walter, also knighted, had a long political and business career in South Australia.  It was said that he won both popularity and respect in that regard.  “With severely parted grey hair and eyes that twinkled behind heavy horn-rimmed glasses, he wore a spotted bow-tie and smoked a large-bowled pipe."

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