Date of Death: 18 Jul
Subject: James W. Duncan
Source: Holt County Sentinel, 25 Jul 1890, p. 4
And is he dead? Nay, not so, he but sleepeth, For souls, like his, Can never die.
In the still quiet, morning hours of Friday, July 18th, 1890, there passed peacefully away from amongst us, after a stormy career, more than an ordinary man, and the gallant heart that never knew a few, faced the grim messenger of death as heroically as he had ever faced his fiercest foe on earth. This after months of wearing illness, with his last days rendered more pathetic by the sad and unexpected death of his noble wife, passed away the indomitable spirit of James W. Duncan. The end had come, it found the man ready, and the grand and rugged figure that never feared the hand of man, bowed resignedly to the decree of God.
"Thus when some noble soul doth part, Quitting earth's joys without a moan, To face with brave and steadfast heart The shadows of the great unknown, Then though with grief our eyes may fill, Our hearts must beat, our bosoms thrill That of all honors life could lend, There's naught because him like the end."
James W. Duncan was born in Franklin county, Penn., September 6th, 1815, and while a lad moved with his parents to Wayne county, Ohio, in 1833. Here his youth and young manhood were spent, and here amid the rugged surroundings that marked that pioneer era, he early imbibed that hatred of human slavery, and love of freedom and human rights, which, in after years, so tinged and marked a notable career. He was married in 1836 to Miss Christina Forney who died in January, 1871. His second marriage to Miss Henrietta Vinsonhaler occurred in 1873, whose sudden and unexpected death a few weeks since, is still so fresh in the hearts of our community, as to prevent our dwelling upon its sad features here.
In 1846 he removed with his family to Andrew county, Mo., being one of the earliest settlers, and engaged in the milling business, in which he continued until 1878 when he retired on an ample competency, removing to Oregon, Mo., where he lived until his death. His family consisted of eleven children, Benjamin F., Mary J., John B., Peter A., Sarah A., Harriet E., Frances L., James M., Alfred C., Joseph P. and William T. Of these seven yet survive, all useful and honored citizens of the several localities in which they respectively reside.
The years from 1842 to 1860, the pioneer period in the Platte Purchase, developed in young Duncan those latent traits of leadership, which hardships and struggles against contending forces always develop in men, who, like him, are by nature cast in more than ordinary mould. During this time events of portentious importance were transpiring; the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, and the invasion of Kansas by the border ruffians were forming new issues of vital importance and far reaching power. Against this aggressive measures James W. Duncan took a bold and pronounced stand, always opposed to slavery, his ardent nature led him at once into active membership with that young and active force then rising on the field of national politics-- the Republican party. The position of men, who like Duncan, held these views, was then critical in the extreme. They were, as yet, only a handful in number, and were living in a slave state, surrounded by a fierce and domineering slave holding aristocracy. They were uniformily [sic] poor men or men of limited means, for the vast wealth and power of the state of Missouri was then, as now, in the hands of the slave holding Democracy. The very name Republican and Abolitionist, was everywhere an epithet of opprobrium and contempt. They were looked upon in the light of incendiaries, and their every act and speech distorted and maligned by the inflamed and maddened leaders of the all-powerful slave power. It is hard for us, in this, the peaceful year 1890, to realize the state of feeling then prevailing in this community. The Border Ruffians, fresh from the attempt to force slavery upon the unwilling territory of Kansas, were the leaders of public thought and opinion. The conscience of the masses seemed dead, men who feared they might be accused of favoring abolition sentiments actually bought slaves in order to show how heartily they were in accord with the prevailing public sentiment. A debauched and subsidized press hurled anathemas and denunciations at all who dared to express contrary opinions. Black lists were printed and circulated, and Republicans found themselves in more respects than one marked men in the community. Every avenue of public trust, preferment and employment was closed against them, the laws were being constantly made more and more stringent to crush out this heresy that only asked liberty for man. The circulation of "Helper's Crisis" and such papers as the New York Tribune were made indictable offences, and every power known to miscalled law and real oppression was ruthlessly used to crush out the rising tide of liberty. The polished gentleman who so eloquently dwelt on the beauties of liberty in a recent Fourth of July oration in this city, was one of the foremost and most zealous men from his position on the bend to publicly urge and charge the grand juries to properly punish the infamous crime of circulating and publishing abolition papers. The words of Madam Roland forcibly suggest themselves when on passing the statue of Justice as she was being led to her execution, she uttered that celebrated apostrophe, when turning her eyes to the statue, she said: "Oh, Justice, what crimes are committed in thy name!" Think of this, and you can form some idea of what it took to be a Republican in Northwest Missouri from 1856 to 1861. But active as the forces of repression were, they were met with an active and determined opposition. Judge Duncan in Andrew county, F. M. Tracy in Buchanan and George A. Lehmer and William Kaucher in Holt, and a few more equally determined and kindred spirits, stood like a rock against the aggressions of the slave power, and for free speech, free thought, free soil and free men. The contest may have been an unequal one in respect to numbers, but in natural ability, personal courage and devotion to principle these men had no superiors. Then came the election of Lincoln, an incident connected with this election shows Judge Duncan's usual spirit. On reaching the polls at Fillmore he asked how many votes had been cast for Lincoln, (the voting being then viva voca instead of by ballot as now). In reply he was informed by one of the election judges and clerks that no votes had been polled for Abraham Lincoln, and furthermore that none should either be polled or counted, to which Duncan replied: "By the Eternal! gentlemen, there will be votes cast here for Lincoln, and they will be counted, too." When the polls closed at sunset Abraham Lincoln had sixteen votes at Fillmore precinct, and the name of James W. Duncan headed the list.
Another incident happening some years previous to the event just narrated may not be inappropriate. Rev. Isaac Chivington, a Methodist preacher, afterwards the famous cavalry Colonel, and Indian fighter, had at different times passed through the Duncan neighborhood, stopping generally on these occasions at the Judge's residence; but owing to the prejudice existing at that time against "Northern" Methodist preachers, he had never been able to secure either an audience or a place of worship. Imagine the surprise of the community, when one Sunday evening, at the close of the services, held at the nearest church in the vicinity, Judge Duncan slowly arose in the back of the house and announced that Rev. Isaac Chivington would preach in the Duncan school house on the following Sunday at 10:30 in the morning. Now, at that time, no such place as the Duncan school house existed, and conjecture was rife as to how preaching could take place at a spot having no existence, but all doubts were set at rest when next day Judge Duncan took all the hands at work on the mill he was then building, and set the whole force at work on the new school house. By Saturday night the house was built, shingled, seated and ready for use, and promptly at 10:30 Sunday morning, as announced, Rev. Isaac Chivington took the pulpit and preached an old-fashioned Methodist sermon, to the great edification of the over-flowing congregation gathered therein.
The inauguration of Lincoln, followed by the attack upon Fort Sumpter, set the whole border in a blaze. The time for dalliance had past, the time for action had come. Judge Duncan was no halfway man in anything, he stood uncompromisingly for the Union, and probably there is no man now living in the State of Missouri whose services to the Union cause exceeded that of James W. Duncan. Bold, fearless, active and vigilant he at once became the recognized leader of the loyal cause of Northwest Missouri. Nor was their leadership misplaced, he was a born leader of men, he never knew a fear, his courage was supurb [sic], his patience infinite, hardships that daunted ordinary men only roused him to greater exertions, his generosity to the wives and children dependent on the Union soldiers was boundless, but above all, like the 'bow of promise spanning the clouds, was his undying faith in the justice of the Union cause; thus was James W. Duncan in the time that tried men's souls, and thus he remained until the end. He struck traitors and treason with a mailed hand, and like all such positive characters, the hate of baffled malice followed him to the grave. The uncompromising character of the man is well shown in his reply to the rebel State Senator, who, with a party of Southern sympathizers, came to the mill one day, and told him that a detachment of Price's army had been sent to take possession of the mill, and that they would expect him to grind grain and corn for the rebel army. "Sir," said the old loyalist, "this mill contains all the property I have in this world, but before it shall grind one pound of grain for the rebel army, I will myself but a torch under each of its four corners, burn it to the ground and dance in the smouldering ashes." It took a Spartan to say this, but then Judge Duncan was a Spartan. His life during these days teemed with peril and adventure, and if truly written would be of thrilling interest. He bore a charmed life, however, and his great personal courage undoubtedly at different times saved his life, such was notably the case when the noted bushwhacker, Hart, made his raid through Andrew county for the avowed purpose of killing Judge Duncan. At the close of the war Judge Duncan resumed the ordinary avocations of life retaining, however, his keen interest in public affairs until his death. He never sought or desired public office, but served one term as County Judge of Andrew county with credit to himself and honor to the county. There was probably no position of honor at that time but what could have been his for the mere asking. His private character was irreproachable. He was strictly honest in his every dealing, and his word was never given in vain to any man. His reminescenses [sic] of the war period, tinged with anecdote and pathos as they were-- for Judge Duncan was a conversationalist of rare and marked ability-- always gathered around him a group of admiring listeners, and his broad sympathies and genial and courteous manners made him a general favorite in all circles, and especially attached to him the young men of his acquaintances, whose lives, whose ambitions and whose aspirations he always sympathized with, appreciated and aided in every way in his power. And in a marked degree was this the case with the young and aspiring men of the great political party with which he had been for so many years so promanently [sic] and so ably identified. Judge Duncan, like men of his strong nature always are, was a partisan, but he was also a true patriot. He thought like a trip hammer and struck like a giant, but one his enemies subdued, his heart was gentle as a babe's. An unarmed foe had nothing to fear from this noble, generous gentleman. Like all men of his pronounced type, James W. Duncan was warm in his friendships and bitter in his enmities, but God rarely put a nobler soul in a stauncher frame. He was a true patriot in every sense of the word, and left a name that should ever live in the grateful hearts of all true lovers of their country, as long indeed as legend lives in romance, or valor breathes in song.
Oh, heart of the Lion, true to God and the State,
Make room, Philip Sydney, for thy comrade is late.
E. A. W.
He was converted when twenty-eight years of age, and was made very happy in a counsciousness [sic] of pardoned sin. He stood identified with the Protestant Methodist church for a number of years.
His remains were taken to Fillmore, Andrew county, Saturday last, where he wished his body to be deposited.