The Vagabond – Local veteran and pioneer John W. Duncan


By Danny Crownover

John W. Duncan was one of the early builders of Gadsden, and for many years was identified with special interest by this section of Alabama.

Duncan was born on August 22, 1843 at Kingston, Tenn. His great-grandfather on his father’s side came from Virginia and was killed by Indians in 1780 in Washington County, Tennessee.

Duncan’s grandfather, Robert Duncan, moved from Washington County to Roane County, where he died in 1814. Duncan’s father, Robert was born in Roane Count on February 15, 1808 and was married to Nancy K. Liggett at Kingsport on January 10, 1839.

Immediately after the Civil War, Robert Duncan, who was the father of 10 children, moved to Fort Payne. He engaged in farming in that area until 1878, when he moved to Attalla. Duncan was a merchant there until his death in 1885.

John W. Duncan joined a cavalry unit in the Confederate army at an early age, serving in Virginia, Maryland and Tennessee. He was paroled at the close of the war and came back to Attalla to become a farmer. But he soon tired of agriculture and secured a position in a railroad store. In a short time, Duncan and a fellow clerk bought a stock of merchandise and opened a store in a tent, following the line of construction of the Alabama Great Southern Railroad.

On June 1, 1870, Duncan married Mary F. Moragne, the daughter of John S. and Sarah J. Revel Moragne. In 1872 Duncan opened a store in Attalla and was the first successful merchant of that place.

In 1873, in connection with his father-in-law John S. Moragne, who was one of the founders of Gadsden, Duncan took a contract to mine and ship the first iron ore that was ever sent out from this part of Alabama, the ore being hauled by ox team. The ore was mined on land owned byMoragne.

Duncan moved from Attalla to Gadsden in 1882 and became a successful downtown merchant. He accumulated much valuable property, both business and residential.

Duncan was a lifelong member of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and was a chief supporter of that denomination in Gadsden. He eventually donated the site and the building for the old church at Sixth and Walnut Streets and conducted services in the absence of the pastor.

In 1887 Duncan closed out his business and became an evangelist who conducted many revivals in Alabama and adjoining states.

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