Since I started this hobby more than thirty years ago, while still in high school, one of my frustrations has been that I haven't been able to learn more about the early history of the Dunns. I've been stuck for most of that time with my great-great-great-grandfather, John Dunn. I'm writing this because I may have some new information which gives us a bit more to go on. (I am also supplying some separate notes on our Dunn's collateral links with the Cherokee Nation.)
Of course, there's nothing wrong with not being able to get past my great-great-great-grandfather. Lots of people can't go that far back. And on most other lines, I can go farther, and John Dunn represents only 1/32 of my ancestral line. All of us except those whose ancestors married cousins (as some Dunn lines did, though not mine) have 32 great-great-great-grandparents, and each of those 32 gave us the same number of genes, but somehow it's only natural to want to know more about the line which carried the name we carry. And that means that I'm naturally interested in knowing more about the Dunns than some of the other lines I know more about. Some of these lines (like the Pages) whom I knew nothing about 30 years ago I can now trace back farther than the Dunns. My grandmother was a Collins, and I have now got the Collins line back into the late 1600s; and the earlier lines which married into the Dunns, the Pages, Wikles and Kells, can all go back farther than the Dunns. For 30 years I've been poking around for the father of John Dunn. I've had some "candidates" through the years, Dunns who lived in the same counties and such, but nobody who could be proven to be his father. And that, therefore, has been pretty frustrating.
Through the years I have slowly pieced together the evidence for John Dunn's life, hoping that at some point I'd run across who his parents were. As most of you know, I was trained as a historian and taught history at the college level, so I think I've pursued all the right leads and chased down all the right documents. Still, John Dunn's origins eluded me.
There were several problems. Unlike his children and grandchildren, John Dunn apparently couldn't read or write. That was not uncommon in the time and place, and certainly nothing we should be bothered by. Besides, he left a number of legal documents (deeds, mostly) which he signed with a mark. He also lived for part of his life on the very edge of state territory, and may, like two of his brothers-in-law and his father-in-law, have spent some time in the Cherokee Nation. (His wife's brother Alexander Kell had a Cherokee wife and descendants who later were Cherokee Senators in Oklahoma. But John Dunn apparently had no Indian blood relationships.) All this meant he was living in an area without a lot of written records and couldn't write himself, and also he moved a lot. Bit by bit I've tried to piece his life together, looking for clues, especially those that might give us his ancestry.
While I still have no conclusive proof of his father's name, over the past several years I've been finding more and more links with one particular Dunn family, and as each new piece of information has come in, the odds of all this being coincidence have gone down. In the last year or so I've tried very hard to find that one piece of evidence that puts it all together and proves it all, as I've sometimes been able to find on other lines, but it still escapes me on the Dunns. I haven't written more to you before for the simple reason I kept thinking I might find that one piece that would tie it all together. I haven't. But there is so much evidence pointing to one group of Dunns as our ancestors that I thought I'd share the general outline now. A more detailed version, with footnotes and all, will be prepared in time; I still hope I'll turn up that magic bullet document that will prove everything. But if you like a good detective story, I hope this will do for now.
As I said, none of this is proven, and I am a strong believer — having learned the hard way in years of doing genealogy — that anything you are almost sure is true may well turn out not to be. But the evidence here is persuasive, though not yet conclusive.
Our John Dunn moved several times in his life, usually with his in-laws in tow. During two of these moves he (and also his brother-in-law, Robert Smith) lived near a man who had close links with a set of Dunns who came from the same states John Dunn came from and who lived near John Dunn at times when John was one of only a few dozen white men living on the fringe of the Cherokee Nation. The odds that this is all a coincidence are pretty slim.
Before I explain this in detail, some of you may not know much about
John Dunn. I'm slowly writing a family history which will give all the
recoverable details, but let me give you a short biography of him here,
so that you'll be able to understand the "coincidences" which probably
aren't coincidences. I think what follows will make more sense if you read
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The earliest John Dunn I know of so far was my great-great-great-grandfather. He was the grandfather of Rev. John Henry Dunn, the Methodist minister; he was the great-grandfather of Jesse Louis Dunn (father of John L. and Howard C. Dunn), James G., Samuel N, and William A. Dunn and Maggie Dunn McKinney. Most of you should be able to figure out his relationship to you from that information.
John Dunn was remembered by his Georgia neighbors as an avid Methodist, and while he seems never to have learned to read and write, it's not surprising that his grandson ended up as a prominent minister. John Dunn had been a Methodist for a long time, in fact: back in 1834, when he sold his land in Rabun County, Georgia (after already moving to Gilmer in 1833), he set aside one acre for the Methodist meeting house. Most of the later information we have about him comes from his later years in Gilmer County, Georgia, when his neighbors called him "Old Uncle John" Dunn and he seems to have made an impression on many of them. He also left behind at least three sons, two daughters, and probably a couple of more daughters whose names I don't know. Maybe another son as well. Our line descends from his son James, father of John Henry Dunn. James seems to have been the oldest son.
This is the trail I've been pursuing for some years, still trying to figure out where he came from and who his parents were. Before explaining why I think I may be getting close to the answer let me spell out what we do know:
There is a general Dunn family tradition of Irish origin, and of course the name is a common one in Ireland (it's Gaelic for "brown" — our English word "dun" for a horse is related — and about as common as Brown is in English as a last name). (Because it's a Gaelic name it also occurs in Scotland. And there is an English name "Dunn" which comes originally from the word for "hill", and is related to the modern word "dune". So Dunns can come from lots of places in the British Isles.) Most of the Dunns in the South are of "Scotch-Irish" origin — Northern Irish Protestants from Ulster, most of Scots origin, who migrated to the US in large numbers from about 1720 onward. Our Dunns probably fit that pattern.
John Dunn has been identified successfully in every US census from 1820 through 1860; his wife was living with their children in 1870 and was clearly stated to be a widow by 1880. She was probably a widow by 1870: "marital status" wasn't added to the census till 1880. Although one published work said John Dunn lived till 1883, I believe that date refers to his widow, not himself.
Now, until the 1850 census, only the head of household was listed by name and no information about place of birth was given, so we really have only limited information on Dunn. The 1850 and 1860 censuses agree that he and his wife were born in the same year in the same state, but 1850 says North Carolina and 1860 South Carolina; and their ages differ. From her later data we can say she was born about 1797 or 1798, and that is the best date for John Dunn's birth for other reasons I won't go into here, though it could have been in 1800 or 1801. She definitely was born in South Carolina, so it may be John was too, or it may have been North Carolina — but most of the evidence points to South Carolina. So: John Dunn was born about 1797 or 1798, or at most a couple of years later, in South Carolina or possibly North Carolina. Some Dunn relatives who lived near him were shown as being born in North Carolina, and the family probably originated in North Carolina, moved to South Carolina, and then to Georgia. In fact, as I'll show later, we're talking about very short moves in each case, since we're talking about the area where the three states come together.
The birth information is of course much later, from later census records. The first dated record of John Dunn is his marriage to Elizabeth Kell in Hall County, Georgia, on June 17, 1819. We also find them in the 1820 census for Hall County, and this is interesting. John and Elizabeth are listed as being 16-26 years of age (the early census lumped you into categories). But more interesting is that John Dunn appears immediately after Robert Smith, Junior, and also close by are several other Smiths including Robert Smith, Senior. Robert Smith, called "Junior" here, married Cynthia Kell, Elizabeth's sister, and thus their "next-door-neighbors" (who may have been some distance away but were the next house listed in the census) were John's in-laws. The Smiths also came out of South Carolina.
The area in which they were living is particularly interesting. It took some time to identify it precisely, and I'll ask you to take some of what follows on faith until I provide the footnoted version. When Dunn married Elizabeth Kell, they were on the very edge of white settlement in Georgia, just across the Chattahoochee from Cherokee territory, but only two years before their marriage the land they were living on subsequently had been Indian land. Robert Smith, at least, had been there before it was annexed by Georgia.
In 1817 an Indian agent had written the governor of Georgia with a list of whites living illegally among the Cherokees: he was complaining and hoping they'd be thrown out. Both Robert Smith Junior and Robert Smith, Senior were on that list. It can be shown by various evidence they were in the same area where they were living in 1820's census. Later in that same year of 1817, the area they were living was annexed to Georgia and became part of Hall County. It can be proven that the area where they were living in 1820 was this same area, which in 1817 had been Cherokee. John Dunn married Elizabeth Kell (whose brother had a Cherokee wife) in 1819. The area they lived in 1820 was south of Gainesville, Georgia in what was known as the eighth militia district (Captain Tanner's District in the 1820 census). It was near the present Flowery Branch, Georgia, and was at the point where the "Federal Road" from Georgia to the Cherokee Nation crossed the Chattahoochee River. The area is now in part under Lake Lanier, and in part just southeast of it.
Neither the Dunns nor the Smiths came from here, nor would they stay here, but for this period of 1817-1820 or so, this is where they were living: south of Gainesville, Georgia, near the Chattahoochee and the Federal Road. This location is important to the argument to be made later.
Those of you who live in Georgia or Alabama should know that the James Vann Tavern which now stands at New Echota State Park in NW Georgia was moved from near the point we're discussing when Lake Lanier was built; it is an 1806 structure which John Dunn might well have visited.
Sometime between 1820 and 1830 both John Dunn and Robert Smith moved to the newly created Rabun County in extreme Northeast Georgia. This is not surprising as their mutual father-in-law, James Kell the Revolutionary War veteran (1760-1848), lived there, as did their brother-in-law Alexander Kell. (John Dunn married Elizabeth Kell; Robert Smith married Cynthia Kell; all of these folks eventually ended up in Gilmer County, Georgia.) Dunn and Smith seem to have identified themselves with their father-in-law and his kin. There is one interesting point though: James Kell lived in eastern Rabun County in the Warwoman Creek area (east of modern Clayton, Georgia), in part no doubt because his son Alexander Kell had owned land there as a result of his wife being Cherokee; in the 18-teens they lived in the Cherokee village of Tuckaleechee, about where the modern Tuckaluge Creek enters Warwoman Creek (close to where Antioch Church now stands: it's a delightfully attractive spot).
One might have expected James Kell's two sons in law, John Dunn and Robert Smith, to move to the same area when they moved to Rabun. They didn't. They moved to a little settled area in the western part of the new county, John Dunn along a creek known as Timson's or Timpson's Creek. Robert Smith was separated from John Dunn by only eight names in the 1830 census so he was close by, though I do not know where Robert's land was exactly. John's land lay in an area now largely covered by the Timson's Cove arm of what is now Lake Burton.
The Dunns and Smiths remained there until 1833 when, with James and
Alexander Kell, they moved to the newly created Gilmer County, Georgia.
The Kells had already been in the Cherokee Nation by 1830 and seem to have
moved around a lot. John Dunn sold his last land in Rabun in 1834, after
already arriving in Gilmer by late 1833, and the rest of his life was spent
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The Clues and the Evidence
Now, what does all this tell us about his ancestry? At first not much. There were two John Dunns in Rabun in 1830 and one was once called John Dunn, Senior, and for a while I thought he might be the father of our John. While not impossible, he doesn't show up in Hall County earlier and wasn't in the same part of Rabun. Often in the 18th and 19th centuries, people were called "Senior" and "Junior" who weren't father and son: they might be uncle and nephew, or cousins, but one older than the other. Sometimes even men who weren't related to each other at all were called "Senior" and "Junior" or even "Old John Dunn" and "Young John Dunn" just to keep them apart. The John Dunn, Senior, did not live in the same part of Rabun County as our John Dunn. After years of reflection, I doubt if he is a close relative, if related at all.
Of much more interest may be a James Dunn who lived or owned land in Rabun just two miles from our John Dunn; a 1948 county history says he sold his land in 1825. He's a problem for different reasons. The historian who wrote the county history was a careful scholar and his information is detailed, but no such deed is in the first two Rabun County deed books: he may have got the information from an unrecorded deed in private hands. (This was common in early days on the frontier: there are no deeds in county deedbooks for lots of provable transactions.) Whether this James Dunn was related is not clear, but several points are very interesting: there were only a few dozen non-Indian families in western Rabun County by 1825, and this James Dunn sold land two miles from our John Dunn. Add to this the fact that our John Dunn named his eldest son James, and frontiersmen often named their first son after their own father, and it's time to raise an eyebrow. But this could be coincidence, and since I haven't found the deed, it could even be wrong.
But that isn't even the beginning of the interesting stuff. Both the Kells and the Smiths unquestionably moved into northeastern Georgia after spending time in the Pendleton District of South Carolina — today the three northwestern SC counties of Oconee, Pickens and Anderson — and then having links with Hall County, Georgia. John Dunn and Robert Smith, both of whom married James Kell's daughters, were in Hall County by 1820, and James Kell's cousin Robert Kell had a son who lived in Hall County and Robert himselve spent his last years there.
These are not the only links, however. For some time I'd been sniffing around a Dunn family that moved from North Carolina into the Pendleton District: two men, named William Dunn and Joseph Dunn in particular. They looked interesting as coming from the same area as the Kell and Smith families with whom John Dunn was linked, and also because they came originally from North Carolina and then lived in South Carolina and then Georgia, all places with John Dunn links. I'll tell you more about the origin of these Dunns later: for now, let me tell you about what makes them so interesting.
As I followed them further, I found that both William and Joseph Dunn bought land in Franklin County, Georgia, in the 1790s. They may have still owned land in South Carolina at the time. They bought their land from, and for years were living adjacent to, one John Stonecypher. One of the problems in dealing with the Dunns is that it is and was a common name in the South. Stonecypher is not, so far as I know, a common name anywhere, so keep an eye on the neighbors.
In the 1790s and early 1800s we find regular mentions of Joseph and William Dunn along Gumlog Creek in Franklin County. Throughout, John Stonecypher was their neighbor; the tax list always listed their lands as bounded together. Occasionally there are mentions of a James Dunn and a John Dunn, relationships unknown, but as early as the 1790s.
Joseph Dunn lived in the area till about 1809 or so, and then moved to Kentucky with a number of sons, but based on his marriage date, he probably left some sons behind. Years later there was a James Dunn not far away. He would have been born around 1800 and is not the James Dunn of the 1790s. William Dunn, who actually may have been Joseph Dunn's father, died about 1814 in Franklin County, not having gone to Kentucky with Joseph. John Stonecypher administered his estate.
Now, remember, I was already interested in these Dunns because of where
they'd lived previously. Now comes the interesting stuff.
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The James Stonecypher Connection
John Stonecypher's eldest son was named James Stonecypher. In 1821, this same James Stonecypher paid taxes in Franklin County (proving he's the same man) on land he owned in Hall County: and the Hall County land was in Militia District Eight. This is the same militia district in which John Dunn and Robert Smith were living, a militia district with only about 60 white homes in the 1820 census. Robert Smith had been in this area by 1817; John Dunn by 1819, and both were still there in 1820. And in 1821, James Stonecypher owned land there. He was a neighbor of both John Dunn and Robert Smith, and he had grown up next door to Joseph and William Dunn of Franklin County. So far, this could be coincidence.
Now the next step: In 1824 this same James Stonecypher bought land in Rabun County, on Wild Cat Creek, from his father, John Stonecypher of Franklin County (proving again that this James is the same man as the one in Hall County,who paid his taxes in Franklin County with his father). That land on Wild Cat Creek was just a mile or two from where John Dunn later lived, and Stonecypher is said by the county historian to have been one of the first three whites to settle the area. He had a lot to do with persuading others to settle there. This land was across Timson's Creek from John Dunn and Robert Smith; Stonecypher also owned land on their side of the Creek. I don't know exactly where Robert Smith's land was, but Stonecypher lived across Timson's Creek from John Dunn (only a mile or so away) and also had land near where James Dunn had lived southeast of John Dunn. This at a time when there were very few settlers in Rabun County, and fewer still in this remote part of it. Stonecypher is so linked with all this part of Rabun County that it seems obvious that he may have been linked to any and all the people who settled there.
So, let's sum up a bit here:
1. John Dunn and Robert Smith lived in the same close neighborhood as James Stonecypher in both 1820 Hall County and 1830 Rabun County, Georgia. These places are some distance apart; they are in very different terrain, Rabun being mountainous and Hall along the Chattahoochee; only a very few Hall Countians moved to Rabun. This suggests the moves were not unconnected. Though Smith and Dunn moved to Rabun, presumably, because their father-in-law James Kell lived there, they settled far from James Kell and close to James Stonecypher.
2. This same James Stonecypher had long,
close links with a family of Dunns in Franklin County, NC. He grew up next
door to them. His father was the executor when William Dunn died. There
was a James Dunn in the area. In 1821 James Stonecypher lived near John
Dunn and Robert Smith. In 1830 he lived near them again, but in a different
part of the state.
3. The name James Dunn appears in both Franklin and Rabun, close to John Dunn in the latter case. And John Dunn named his eldest son James. The James Dunn of Rabun is not otherwise accounted for, but the appearance of the name in both places is very suggestive.
4. The Dunns of Franklin County, who lived next to the Stonecyphers, had lived in NW South Carolina and extreme western North Carolina. John Dunn was probably born in South Carolina, but there are clues that he had links to North Carolina. The Franklin County Dunns had also lived in a part of Pendleton District, South Carolina, not terribly far (10 miles or so) from where James Kell lived. James Kell's daughter Elizabeth married our John Dunn; his duaghter Cynthia married Robert Smith (of Hall and Rabun Counties) and his cousin Robert Kell later lived in Hall County, Georgia. This could all be coincidence, and so could everything else, but the odds do begin to mount.
5. Joseph Dunn of Franklin County, though I haven't mentioned it yet, was born in 1755, about 42-43 or a bit more years before John Dunn. He is the right age (given the fact that people married on the frontier at 18-20 or earlier) to be John Dunn's grandfather, and one certainly wonders if the James Dunn in Franklin in the 1790s is the same James Dunn who sold land in Rabun in 1825 and is the reason John Dunn named his first son James — in which case Joseph would be John's grandfather. But John could also be the son of the John Dunn who turns up from time to time or someone else, could be a grand-nephew of Joseph through any of several people known or unknown, or a grandson of William Dunn of Franklin County. We don't know the line for sure. But the links sure look likely.
There are other clues. The name John Dunn does occur among the Franklin
County Dunns, but "John" is so common a first name this proves nothing
in itself. It is the Stonecypher links to all three places — Franklin County's
Gumlog District, Hall County Militia District Eight, and Rabun County in
the Timson Creek area — that makes this look like something far more than
a coincidence. I am willing to bet a reasonable amount that John Dunn is
related to the Franklin County Dunns, not just distantly but that he probably
came from them, and knew the Stonecyphers from that connection. How he
is related is the harder question, and not by any means clear yet. But
I think we've got lots of evidence suggesting he came from this group of
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The Origins of the Franklin County Dunns
If the reader has stayed with me so far and believes that I am right that John Dunn must have had some link with the Franklin County Dunns, through the Stonecypher connection, the fuzzy evidence of a James Dunn in these places, etc., then it is worth giving a generalized picture of the origin of the Franklin County Dunns. I believe that the family I am about to describe is in some way among our ancestors, though I don't know which ones are John Dunn's progenitors.
These Dunns were unquestionably of Scotch-Irish origin and may have come first to Pennsylvania; there is a Simon Dunn in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, who seems linked with the Simon Dunn of Guilford County, North Carolina, and the Scotch-Irish often moved own the Cumberland Valley of Pennsylvania through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia into the North Carolina Piedmont along a road which ran directly from Cumberland County PA through the later Guilford Co. NC. This part is still very vague, though, and shouldn't be taken as gospel.
By 1763 a man named William Dunn owned land along Troublesome Creek in Guilford County, NC. Troublesome Creek is north of Greensboro, and in what is today southern Rockingham County. Joseph Dunn, the same man who later lived in Franklin County, GA, states in his Revolutionary War Pension Application that he was born in Guilford County, NC in 1755. Later, when Joseph married in Tryon County, NC, the bondsman was William Dunn, and there is other evidence that his father was named William. Probably, then, Joseph was born to William who lived along Troublesome Creek. A Simon Dunn in the area and the use of the name Simon in later generations suggests a connection to the Simon Dunn of Pennsylvania, but that is unproven.
In 1772 a William Dunn was granted 300 acres on the upper reaches of Hunting Creek in Tryon County, NC, in an area now in Rutherford County. This William shows links with a Joseph Dunn, and the same Revolutionary pension application which says Joseph was born in Guilford Co. says he enlisted in the Revolutionary militia in Rutherford County. Joseph says he served with his brothers Andrew, who was a Lieutenant, and "Saml", or Samuel. Another pension application, by Alexander Dunn, shows he was also a brother of Andrew. (Unless Alexander was Samuel, four brothers must have served together.) Andrew was killed by the British in a raid connected with the Kings' Mountain campaign, and is mentioned in many histories of North Carolina in the war. Joseph says he was born 1755; Alexander says he was born 1762. We do not have a date for Andrew.
In addition to his Revolutionary service, Joseph married Jane Long in Tryon County, NC in 1778. This adds to the proof that "Joseph and Jane Dunn" who owned land in Franklin County, GA were the same.
William and Joseph later appear, as noted, in northwestern South Carolina, and then in Franklin County, Georgia. (Assuming the William there is William the father of Joseph: he could also be a brother.) In addition, the Dunns of Rutherford and later Burke County NC continued to use the names Joseph, Andrew, Samuel and Simon, while Joseph's sons included an Andrew and a Simon long after in Kentucky. So these are clearly one family. (Complicating this fact is that of all these names, only Samuel seems to have continued in our own line, making us wonder why if we are in fact linked.)
Seemingly only William and Joseph went to Franklin County, Georgia. Joseph Dunn's pension application says he lived in Georgia for 14 years; deeds suggest something on the order of 1795-1809.
After Joseph moved on to Kentucky, where he lived into the 1830s and left considerable progeny, William Dunn remained in Georgia, dying about 1814. He may have been Joseph's father. Which of these, or who else, may have been the father of the James, John, and later Dunns who show up is unclear. Joseph's son Andrew, who may have been the eldest in Kentucky (this is not clear to me) was born about 1787. But note that this is nine years after Joseph Dunn married Jane Long. There may well have been other sons, some of whom were old enough by 1809 to decide to remain in Georgia. James or John Dunn may have been among these, or could have been other children of William Dunn.
These relationships are not clear. What is clear is that these people are of the right generations to provide grandparents and parents to our John Dunn, that they were in fact from the state or states where he was born, and that they were linked with a man — James Stonecypher — who was linked not once but twice with John Dunn, in both Hall and Rabun Counties.
None of this proves that we come from these Dunns. But I hope you'll
agree that there's strong ground for suspicion.
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The conclusion has to be that, while we can't prove anything conclusive yet, our Dunns seem to come from a line which came from the old world, probably Ulster, to central Pennsylvania, then showed up in the North Carolina Piedmont along Troublesome Creek in north central North Carolina, then moved a generation later to extreme southwestern North Carolina, lived for a while in South Carolina and then in Franklin County, Georgia. Joseph Dunn — who could be our John Dunn's grandfather but could just as easily be a great uncle of some sort, or even just an uncle — served in the Revolution and later moved to Kentucky, but had close links with a man, James Stonecypher, who keeps turning up unexpectedly in John Dunn's biography. Could Stonecypher have just coincidentally lived near a lot of folks named Dunn? The fact that John Dunn's brother-in-law, Robert Smith, also turns up in two of the three places where we find Stonecypher close to Dunns, makes this less likely.
It's not proven, I can't offer you a family tree showing it all, but I believe we are clearly, almost certainly, somehow linked to William and Joseph Dunn of Franklin County, Georgia, and that their ancestors are ours. And this is the strongest evidence we've ever had on this.
There's an odd sidelight to this, if I'm right. Way back in the 1960s I got distracted for a while by the Dunns of Fannin County, Georgia. Since Fannin County, just north of Gilmer, was part of Gilmer when our Dunns first moved there, their records and those of our Dunns were intermingled and I kept stumbling across them. Furthermore, when my great-grandfather John Henry Dunn founded a Methodist Seminary at the town now called Epworth, Georgia, and was also its first postmaster, he lived not far from a stream called Dunn's Creek. At first I assumed he might have named it, as he did the town. He didn't. It was named for the Fannin County Dunns. They used the names Joseph and Simon a lot, and came from Burke County North Carolina, once part of Rutherford. The irony of their later proximity to our Dunns is that they may well have been from the same original stock, though I don't think either side of these Dunn families knew it. (Whereas our Dunns were known for being devout Methodists, some descendants of the Fannin County Dunns say they were known as the best moonshiners in north Georgia. I cannot testify to this.)
As always, anyone with new information to contribute, corrections to point out, or anything at all to pass on, argue about or just talk, please let me hear from you:
E-Mail Michael Dunn
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