Davis-Duncan House & Family

The 1815 Davis-Duncan House on the West End of Front Street
Circa 1910 photo courtesy Jack Dudley, Beaufort - An Album of Memories
This old gabled roof Caribbean-style home, with its unique position on the west end of Front Street facing Taylor’s Creek and Beaufort Inlet to the south and Gallant’s Channel and Piver’s Island to the west, has had a front-row seat to almost two centuries of Beaufort history.

In the early 1960s, the Davis-Duncan House was the first house to receive a historical plaque—it was dated 1790. Before Lou Register sold the house in 2003, she had a new plaque made, changing the date to 1728. More research has determined a more accurate name and building date—1815

The Property and the Building of the House

For almost a century, the original 1713 waterfront lots on the west end, between Moore Street and Gallants Channel, were sold, divided and resold. Owners of the various lots included Thomas and Susannah Duncan, William Borden, Edward Fuller Jr., Robert Read, William Dennis Jr., Nathan Adams and perhaps others before them. On the original town plat, these lots were numbered 33 and 34, later changed to lots 110 and 111.

While preparing for her move to Texas in 2003, Lou Register found a scrap of paper in her “Grandpapa” Julius Fletcher Duncan’s desk; the desk originally belonged to Thomas Duncan IV. The paper read, “Thomas Duncan was born in 1700. In 1728 he acquired lot 33 on the condition he build a habitable house within two years.” There is no evidence a structure was built; like the other few lots sold at the time, this one most likely reverted back to the town. 

In her 2007 book, Beaufort historian Mamr√© Marsh Wilson wrote, "According to the town record book 1774-1877, the clerk was ordered to make out two deeds to Edward Fuller for the “two front lots in Old Town, Nos. 110 and 111.” Early court minutes of 1768 state that Edward Fuller was deceased and his wife, Hannah Fuller, exhibited his last will and testament. She was executrix while William Robertson and Edward Fuller, perhaps the son, were executors.

"Deeds beginning in 1790 show the two lots, with their improvements, including the house on 110, were sold at public venue to Robert Read for thirty pounds total. These were the lots that Edward Fuller took up and improved in his lifetime. Within a few months Robert Read sold the two lots with their improvements to William Dennis Jr., the sheriff.

"In 1804 Nathan Adams acquired half of lot 111 Old Town with all the improvements through the will of William Dennis, the late sheriff, who sold the lot to his daughter, Elizabeth [Adams] Davis, who was married to James Davis,* the builder of houses in Beaufort. Six years later, in 1810, Nathan Adams sold James Davis the other half of lot 111 Old Town, which was the southeast part. The lot was of a rectangular form, according to the deed to Elizabeth, and she was to get the northwestern part of the lot.

Contemporary Photograph of Duncan House
Photo courtesy CCMLS
In 1820 James Davis sold all of lot 111 Old Town to Benjamin Tucker Howland, except for forty-two feet of the northern part, which he and Elizabeth had sold to Elijah Canaday in 1816.  Howland sold lot 111 Old Town to Thomas Duncan Jr., except for the forty-two feet on the north part, together with the dwelling house, storehouse, kitchen, outhouses and improvements. It was not until 1854 and 1855 that Thomas Duncan [finally] acquired [all of] lots 110 and 111 Old Town from David and Needham Canaday, which they had inherited from their grandfather Elijah.

"According to census figures, Thomas Duncan and his family are not shown in Beaufort until 1800 [Thomas Duncan II was in Beaufort and married Susannah Gibble in 1767], and the Howland family does not appear until 1820 in Beaufort [Howland’s son Samuel L. Howland was born in Beaufort September 13, 1817], while the Canaday family was here in 1810. In the tax listings Benjamin T. Howland and Elijah Canaday Sr. owned lot 110 through 1830, and in 1866 and 1871 it was in the hands of A.C. Davis, son of James and Elizabeth. Lot 111 was also in the Howland and Canaday names through 1830, with Thomas Duncan owning it in 1866 and 1871. By circa 1880, when Gray did his map of Beaufort, William B. Duncan is shown as the owner of this property. Lot 111 is the larger of the two lots, with 110 to the north."1

More research in 2008 by this author found the following, with the help of Tom Howland, descendant of Benjamin Tucker Howland: The taxes on lot 111 were low prior to 1817; any improvements made to the lot prior to the Davis ownership were evidently not significant and were most likely built to comply with building requirements of the time. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume a substantial structure, the original east four-bay Caribbean-style home, was built by James Davis between 1817 and 1820. This is verified in a December 1853 court record—Commissioners of Beaufort vs. Thomas Duncan, in debating the status of the lot 111 property line at the west end of Front Street:

Contemporary Photograph of Duncan House
"…The defendant proved by James Davis, that, in the year 1817, he was the owner of lot 111, and that the water then encroached upon his lot, and that he then drove down piling along what he conceived to be his Western line, to keep it out, and filled it in…The defendant also proved, by one Joel H. Davis, who is the son of the foregoing witness, that he lived with his father on the lot No. 111; that his father built a house on it, and that the ordinary high water would come up to the edge of the piazza of the house on this lot; and that, West of the house, there was a dry sand shoal for fifty yards; that a storm had cut open the channel, and that the same gave away and cut away the shore, and that the water ebbed fifty feet West of his father's piling…

"…The defendant offered in evidence an ordinance of the Commissioners of the town of Beaufort, dated May 1816, that Jonathan Price should survey the town of Beaufort, and make a plat thereof. Also, he offered in evidence a private act of Assembly, entitled 'an act to confirm an accurate survey of the town of Beaufort, in the county of Carteret, and for other purposes,' which act recites that, 'whereas, disputes have arisen concerning the true lines of the streets and lots of the town of Beaufort, in consequence of which the inhabitants have employed Jonathan Price to survey and make an accurate plan of the said town.'

"…The defendant proved by James Davis, that he had been informed by old citizens of Beaufort, that the channel between Piver's island and the land in controversy, used to be dry at low tides, and that a log was put across the same, for persons to walk over, and that the dogs used to cross the same in going to hunt on the island, and that, in his day, a pilot-boat could not turn about in the channel; but that, at this time, the channel was between fifty and a hundred yards wide, with a sufficient depth of water to admit vessels and steamboats of the largest size to navigate."2

When James Davis sold the house in 1820 to Captain Benjamin Tucker Howland, the selling price was $1000. Twelve years later, Captain Howland, father of Elicia Howland Duncan, sold the house and his part of their business to his son-in-law Thomas Duncan IV—all for only $600.

Gray's 1882 Map of Beaufort
Note Duncan & Bros. Steam Saw Mill
Sometime after 1832, Thomas Duncan IV added the western half of the house. The lower level was built using several ships’ masts as supporting pillars. This level was used as a ship chandlery and store, patronized by visiting ships as well as local residents; it became known as “Duncan’s Store.” Access between the upper-level bedchambers was, and has remained, by way of the upper porch. “The two structures, shown as Duncan's property, are shown detached on Gray's 1882 map, but were likely already joined.” (Wrenn file)

In his 1878 will, Thomas Duncan IV left lot 111 “whereon I now reside” to his eldest son William Benjamin Duncan, an agent for the Clyde Steamer Line. William also inherited “1/3 part of all my steam mill lands.” Other Beaufort properties, including neighboring lots, were left to his children and grandchildren. “Duncan’s Store” was closed during William’s ownership and a few changes were made to the house. In the early 1900s, the first and only door was cut between the east and west sides. Windows were also installed on the lower portion of the west wall and a stairway was built from the old chandlery to the two upper bedchambers above it.

The House

1937 image by noted photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston 1864-1952
Photograph courtesy: Library of Congress, Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South
Note Duncan's "fishing shack" on Gallants Channel, just across from Piver's Island.
The 1940 photograph by Thomas T. Waterman
Historic American Buildings Survey - Library of Congress 
In 1940 Thomas T. Waterman recorded the following in an Historic American Buildings Survey: "Duncan House. Date built: probably c. 1800. Present condition: good. Description: Frame; two stories and attic set close to ground without basement walls; double-deck porch across front, which is covered by shed roofs attached to main gable with shed in rear corresponding. End inside chimneys; also center chimney. Porch is six bays with heavy turned Doric columns and simple balustered railings. The fenestration is irregular; the windows probably having been altered to present 6/6-light from originals like those in gable end, 9/6."

In The Early Architecture of North Carolina, Waterman stated: "At Beaufort, porches are seen in the form most reminiscent of Nassau, St. Kitts and Bridgetown, the Duncan House on Front Street being a good example.  Here a two-tiered porch covers the front of the house and is protected by a shed extension of the main roof.  The posts are in the form of crudely-turned Doric columns, not unlike those seen in some of the Spanish Islands...The fact that the North Carolina porch treatment came from the Southward and not from Virginia is attested by almost complete lack of porches of the sort above the border."3

The 1997, the Ruth Little Survey described the house as: "a remarkably intact, traditional Beaufort-style Federal two and one-half story, eight-bay, side-gable house with full-length two-story engaged porch. Plain siding, flush eaves with tapering raking cornice, two exterior end chimneys, one central chimney, 9/6, 6/6 and 4/4 sash. Porch has swelling Doric columns and traditional railing (mostly replacement). The original east section retains its original exterior staircase located on the back porch, now enclosed. One of the only surviving brick cisterns in Beaufort is at rear."4

1854 Sketch of Beaufort Harbor 
NC Map Collection
For almost 200 years, sailing ships entering Beaufort Inlet and Bulkhead Channel into Taylor's Creek, have viewed the Duncan House anchoring the west of the Beaufort waterfront. As noted by architectural historian Tony P. Wrenn in 1970, "The townscape of Beaufort is a straightforward expression of its history: since the early eighteenth century Beaufort has been a small, unpretentious, and rather isolated maritime village, depending upon the sea for its livelihood--from fishing, shipbuilding, shipping, resort trade, and marine research. The most striking element of the sea-oriented town is its waterfront with its impressive row of houses, its wharves and boats, and--as in 1815--its 'boundless view of the Ocean, continually enlivened with vessels sailing in all directions'"5

Thomas Duncans
Image found on ancestry.com
Thomas Duncan II (1743–1812), who had been placed under the guardianship of Dederick Gibble when his father died, owned land at Hatteras and became a pilot at Ocracoke. About 1767 Thomas Duncan II married Susannah Gibble, daughter of Dederick Gibble. Thomas and Susannah had several children including Thomas Duncan III (1767–1839).

Thomas Duncan III, who became known as Captain Thomas Duncan, first married Hannah Gibble Leffers, widow of George Leffers, before he married Esther Purvis, the mother of his known children: Hannah (1801–1819), Thomas (1806–1880), Elizabeth (1808–1887) and Hester (Hettie) (1809–1825).

Thomas Duncan IV
Family Photo
Elicia Howland Duncan
Family Photo
Thomas Duncan IV (1806–1880) married Elicia Howland (1814–1869) on September 6, 1830. The couple had thirteen children: Susan (1832–1840); Esther Purvis (1833–1913) married John C. Manson Jr.; William Benjamin (1836–1911) married Sara Jane Ramsey in 1856 and Emily Frances Jones in 1873; Elizabeth Joiner (1838–1872) married Alexander C. Davis; Emma Julia (1841–1892) married her sister Elizabeth’s widower; Thomas Lucas (1843–1880) married Anna Leecraft Perry; Evelyn (1845–1865); Marietta “Etta” (1847–1906) married Benjamin Leecraft Perry Jr. in 1868; Sarah A. (1848–1848); Sally E. (born in 1849) married David J. Ramsey in 1868 and James N. Whitney in 1871; Ella Virginia (1851–1864); Laura Gertrude (1853–1937) married James C. Davis and John Averett (1855–1920) married Delia Haywood Bryan.

From 1832 until 2003, this house was passed down through the generations, owned and occupied by the descendants of Thomas and Elicia Duncan. Many family members were buried in the large Duncan plot in Beaufort’s Old Burying Ground—marked by ornate stones and surrounded by a wrought-iron fence.

The Duncan Plot - Old Burying Ground, Beaufort, NC  
Image courtesy Coastal Guide

More History
Thomas Duncan, Trustee for Beaufort Male and Female Academy:
1857 Beaufort Female Institute
505 Front Street
Home to Thomas Isaac Duncan
and Laura Nelson Duncan Family
Image found on ancestry.com 

▪ PRIVATE ACTS OF THE STATE OF NORTH-CAROLINA, PASSED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY, At their Session which commenced on Monday the twenty-first of November, one thousand eight hundred and forty two, and ended on Saturday the twenty-eight of January, one thousand eight hundred and forty-three.
An Act to incorporate the Beaufort Male and Female Academy in the town of Beaufort hereby enacted by the authority of the same, That Asa Canaday, Malachi B. Roberson, John F. Jones, Marcus C. Thomas, Benjamin L. Perry, Isaac Ramsey, Benjamin Lecraft, William J. Potter, Thomas Duncan, James Ward and James Manney, of the county of Carteret, and their successors, be, and they are hereby constituted a body politic and corporate, to be known and distinguished by the name and style of the Trustees of the Beaufort Male and Female Academy...6

▪ In The Story of the Methodist in the Port of Beaufort, Amy Muse wrote: "In 1856, L. L. Hendren, D.D. was sent to Beaufort…During his ministry “Miss Kitty” Buckman gave a lot for a parsonage, materials were purchased, and the new house was ready for the preacher who came the following year. It was on Ann Street, 160 feet from Moore running westwardly with Ann, and was the place where “Miss Mary” Noe now lives. It is said that “Miss Kitty” hoped a house there would keep folks from cutting through her chicken yard to get to Duncan's Store in the west end of town and stop the traffic through her place between the Store and Duncan's saw mill on the north side of Ann…The Beaufort Journal of June, 1859… T. Duncan and Sons advertised stores “one in the extreme west end of town, the other on the corner of Front and Craven Streets." 7

An 1861 letter from Thomas Duncan found on the Herald:
BEAUFORT, July 11, 1861. MESSRS. FRASER, TRENHOLM & CO., Liverpool:
      GENTLEMEN: We take the liberty of addressing you these lines, as our country has become divided into North and South, and we, as full-blooded Southerners, shall carry this matter out.
      Formerly our business has been done principally by New York merchants. We have dealt with them and owned vessels together, and have no fault to find with them directly, only they are North and we are South. Circumstances have changed, and we, as well as a great many of our Southern friends, intend to change our business.
      We are carrying on the distillery business, and buying spirits, and hope soon to have the chance of making you a good shipment from this place. T. Thomas and ourselves have on board the Herald ninety casks of spirits shipped to you.
      There is a great chance here for any English vessel that comes and can get in to this place clear of the Federal men-of-war. When they fall in with an English vessel bound to a Southern port they only order them off, and not let them enter. There is no blockade at this place that can be considered as such up to this time. There has been but one steamer, off this place, near enough to see the hull, and no time near enough to tell what she was by her colors. There has been a smoke seen off in the offing at one time, and it was thought to be one of the blockading squadron; can't say whether it was one or not. I see no difficulty for your vessels; if they should be ordered off, they could go elsewhere, and if they get in they can get a splendid freight.
      Very respectfully, yours, &c., THOMAS DUNCAN & CO.8

▪ During the Civil War, the Duncan family had a birds-eye view, from the upper porch, of the shelling at Ft. Macon on April 25, 1862.
Scene in Beaufort during the bombardment of Fort Macon
April 25, 1862 Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
MAY 1865:
After the inauguration of President Andrew Johnson, Chief Justice Salmon Portland Chase (1808-1873), appointed by President Lincoln, was determined to visit the southern cities, to learn as much as possible, from actual observation, the true condition of the country. Aboard revenue cutter Wayanda, Chief Justice Chase, with orders issued by President Johnson, twenty-eight-year-old Whitelaw Reid, after an invitation and pass from the president, accompanied the party. Beaufort was the first stop on this southern journey. Reid wrote, "we rounded to at a crazy old wharf, climbed up a pair of rickety steps that gave the Doctor premonitions of more immersion than even he had bargained for, and stood in the town of Beaufort, North Carolina. In front of us was the Custom House—a square, one-story frame building, perched upon six or eight posts—occupied now by a Deputy Treasury Agent." The Duncan's house was just to the left of the Custom House (eastern corner of Front Street and Sunset Lane), anchoring the west end of the waterfront thoroughfare. "A narrow strip of sand, plowed up by a few cart wheels, and flanked by shabby-looking old frame houses, extended along the water front."9

▪ In 1892, Samuel A’Court Ashe wrote, "One of the leading connections of Beaufort, N.C., is the Duncan family. Mr. Edward C. Duncan [1862-1920], the present collector of customs at the port of Beaufort, was born in that city, March 28, 1862, and is a son of William B. Duncan, who first saw the light in Beaufort on the 13th of June, 1836. The latter was a grandson of Thomas Duncan, who was born of Scotch parentage, and was one of the early settlers of Beaufort. Thomas Duncan, Jr., son of Thomas, and father of William B. Duncan, was born in Beaufort. He was a sea captain for several years, and later entered mercantile life in his native city, and also engaged as a vessel builder. He was a very influential man in the community and was a prominent member of the Whig party. He married Miss Elicia Howland, and they had a large family of children. William B. Duncan married Miss Sarah A. Ramsey, by whom he had six children, the three now living being: William E., Thomas and Edward C., all residents of Beaufort. His first wife dying, he married, sometime later, Miss Emily F. Jones, and their five living children are: David J., Emily E., Julius F., James E. and Lillian.
Charter and By-laws
Atlantic & NC Railroad 1890
"The father was a leading merchant of Beaufort for many years, and for a long time was a director of the A.& N.C.R.R., and was at one time station agent for that [rail]road at Morehead City, and also agent for the Clyde line of steamers. He was treasurer of Carteret County for a term, and was elected the first mayor of Beaufort after the close of the Civil War. He is now retired from active business life, and resides in Beaufort. He has been prominent in church work since early manhood, and is now secretary of the board of stewards of the Methodist Episcopal Church, south, and also president of the missionary society, and treasurer of the Sabbath-school of the Beaufort church.
1880 Census
Image found on ancestry.com 
"Edward C. Duncan was educated in the public schools. He entered upon his business career as a member of the firm Thomas & E.C. Duncan, merchants, and has been quite extensively engaged in agriculture and cotton speculation. In 1880 he established the first steam cotton-gin ever in Carteret County, and operated the same until 1888. For a time he served as captain of the steamer “Margerie,” which plys between Beaufort and points on the New River. March 28, 1890, President Harrison appointed him collector of customs for the port of Beaufort, and he now holds that office. Mr. Duncan has been most active and efficient in the republican party, and is recognized as a leader in that political body in his section of the state. He resigned the office of commissioner of navigation to accept the one he holds now, and his discharge of the duties of this most important office has been satisfactory as well as his incumbency of the former position."10

Image found on ancestry.com
Charles Lucas Duncan (1872-1939) was the son of Thomas Lucas Duncan (1843-1880) and Anna Leecraft Perry (1844-1877). Thomas Lucas was son of Thomas Samuel Duncan (1806-1880). In R.D.W. Conner's History of North Carolina, he wrote, "Charles Lucas Duncan, M.D. Though one of Beaufort's most successful physicians, and a specialist in children's diseases, Doctor Duncan is almost equally well known as a factor in business affairs. He is an official member of several of the leading corporations and business concerns of that city, and is one of the busiest and hardest working men of the community.
...His father was a well known merchant of the city. Doctor Duncan was liberally educated, his father having been a prosperous man. He attended private school, took his literary training in Trinity College, and in 1900 graduated M.D. from the University of North Carolina...he is a member in high standing of both the county and state medical societies.
Among the business interests which claim a part of his attention Doctor Duncan is vice president of the Beaufort Bank and Trust Company; is president of the Beaufort Drug Company and the Beaufort Ice Company; is secretary and treasurer of the Diamond Back Terrapin Compnay; and secretary of the Cape Lookout Land Company.
Doctor Duncan and family are members of the Ann Street Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and he is a member of its board of stewards and a trustee. He was married September 2, 1900, to Miss Virginia Clyde Mason, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Their three children are Ann Virginia, Grace Wilson and Clyde Mason."11

 Miss Clyde Duncan, became the first salaried librarian of the Beaufort library. Through the efforts of Miss Duncan, the Beaufort library became a North Carolina Work Projects Administration (WPA) Library Project.

 ▪ November 13, 1864. James Rumley wrote, "The pestilence has probably taken its final leave in Beaufort. The cold hard winds, we  hope, have swept away. A daughter of Capt. Duncan (Ella) died yesterday. But it is believed this case closes the list of victims of the most dreadful fever that raged in this place." Ella Virginia Duncan was the daughter of Thomas and Elicia; she was born April 2, 1851 and died November 12, 1864. Others who died from the fever included, among many others, Union officers, Mr. and Mrs. George Morse and Josiah S. Pender, owner of the Atlantic Hotel.12  (Three years earlier, Pender could not take the chance Fort Macon might be taken by Federal troops before the state could seize it. Without notifying the Governor, Pender formed and led the Beaufort Harbor Guards to take over the fort on April 14, 1861. He was later relieved of duty.)

John N. Duncan Sr.
Image found on ancestry.com 
Lena Nelson Duncan
 Image found on ancestry.com
Lena Nelson Duncan (1898-1990) was the daughter of Thomas Isaac Duncan Sr. (1860-1938) and Laura Closs Nelson (1861-1941); Lena was granddaughter of William Benjamin Duncan (1836-1911) and great granddaughter of Thomas Duncan (1806-1880).

In February 1943, the Beaufort library was incorporated by the NC Secretary of State as the Carteret County Public Library. Named as incorporators were Lena Duncan, Mrs. H. C. Jones, and Mrs. W. L. Woodard. This document is framed and today hangs in the librarian’s office.
Lena's sister Laura Mae Duncan Sellers (1886-1990) lived to be 104! 
Lena's brother John Nelson Duncan Sr. (1896-1986) was the grandfather of Beaufort resident and realtor John N. Duncan III.
Thomas Isaac Duncan Sr. Family Tree
 Image found on ancestry.com

Memories and More Family History

Lillian Frances “Lou” Waters Register grew up in the Duncan House and was the last Duncan descendant to occupy the home. After her marriage in 1943, she lived in and out Beaufort until 1989. At that time, Sara Duncan, widow of Julius Fletcher Duncan Jr., signed the house over to Lou. For the next fourteen years the Duncan House was her home. When upkeep of the property and high taxes became a burden, Lou decided to sell the house and move to Texas to be near her children.

During our many conversations, Lou passed on the following memories and family history.

Garbacon Plantation
Photo uploaded to ancientfaces.com by Gail Swain.
When Union troops took over Fort Macon and the town of Beaufort in 1862, the Thomas Duncan family, refusing to take an oath of allegiance, was provided transportation "beyond the lines." According to family legend, the Duncans stashed some valuables, perhaps in the cistern, and went to Garbacon Creek Plantation in South River. (The name “Garbacon” was derived from the fact that gar, a small variety of the bony fish, when hung out to dry, looked like strips of bacon.)

Lou’s father, Ernest Waters (1907-1944), came to Beaufort in the early 1920s to curb and gutter Beaufort’s first streets. It was then that he met his bride, Emily Frances Duncan (1901-1972), daughter of David Jones Duncan and Frances Estelle Dudley. The 1930 census recorded the Waters family in the 1817 Duncan House.

Conner, History of NC VI pg 251
 Image found on ancestry.com
Lou vividly recalled sitting on the front-porch swing, as a little girl, listening to “Grandpapa” Julius Fletcher Duncan. Lou warmly related times when she swam, usually twice a day, across the creek to Piver’s Island. If it were late in the afternoon she had to get “Grandpapa’s” acknowledgement of porpoise in the creek—there would be no sharks and it would be safe to swim with the porpoise. Lou and her friends often picnicked on the barrier islands; someone would row over food and watermelon, while everyone else swam the creek.

At one time there was a small fishing shack at the west end of Front Street. It was used by Captain Jack (John Winfield) Willis (1875-1962) who ferried people over to Piver’s Island. His mantra was, “Cap’n Jack—take you over and bring you back.” He was known for his ability to forecast the weather. The shack was demolished by Hurricane Hazel in 1954.

In Captain Jack's son's book, Beaufort by the Sea - Memories of a Lifetime, Neal Willis (1917-2004) wrote about the Duncan House, "In my lifetime, it was occupied by Will Blades and family (the owner of a fish factory on Gallants). He employed many local workers and had several large fishing boats. Several locals bear the name Blades in their families. William Blades Parkins, William Blades Sewell and William Blades Lewis. One of his fishing boats was also named Wm Blades. He had a son named Billy, who was a friend of mine. Mr. Blades was also know for the white Lincoln convertible he drove. He had a large yacht named Decoy, captained by Clem Willis. Babe Ruth often came from New York to duck hunt with Mr. Blades...He later sold the factory and moved back to New Bern, his home. Later, part of the house was occupied by Dr. Hendrix, a dentist. In the early thirties, Mr. Serpell and his wife lived there for a while, then another family whose name I don't remember. Later, Ernest and Emily Waters, the parents of Lou Register, lived there. Mrs. Emily was the daughter of attorney Jule Duncan, who owned the house. Julius Duncan Jr. and his wife Sara lived there also."

Captain Jack Willis in front of the Fishing 
Shack at the west end of Front Street
Family Photo
Delia Bell, a cook for the marine lab on Piver’s Island in the early 1930s, would often come by in the mornings to pick up little Lou Waters. Lou would play on the island and glide around the lab’s porch on her roller skates. Dr. Herbert F. Prytherch, director of the Federal Biological Laboratory at Beaufort at the time, would row over to pick them up and bring them back at the end of the day.

Henry Matheson worked for “Judge” Duncan. He mowed the huge yard with a push mower and kept the law books oiled. He cleaned the bath tubs with a homemade abrasive that he made by rubbing a brick against the sidewalk and using the resulting dust. Henry also planted and cared for the flowerbeds around the courthouse.

Lou’s grandmother, Frances “Fanny” Estelle Duncan, had one of the two first cars in town. Since residents were afraid the gas might explode or cause a fire, fuel for these cars was kept on Carrot Island—when needed, someone would row over to the island. Since she passed away in 1922, “Fanny” Duncan never had the experience of driving on paved streets.

“Grandpapa” related the history of a Duncan House mantle—one of the first five marble mantles brought to Beaufort in the 1840s by Thomas Duncan IV; mantles were often used as ballasts on his ships. The other four mantles were added to the Benjamin Perry and Morse Houses on Front Street and the William Jackson Potter and Leecraft Houses on Ann Street.

Misconceptions about the House

As mentioned, the lower level of the west side continued as a ship chandlery and store until the early twentieth century. Since that time the entire structure has always been a private home and never an inn or boarding house. However, many often approached Lou sitting in her rocker on the front porch and asked if they could “go wash up before dinner.” Some just walked up on the porch, spoke and then proceeded to go in the front door to register for the night.

Unlike what has been told on the tour boats and bus tours regarding the results of a bad storm or hurricane—“water in the front door and out the back”—there was water in the house only once. Lou was told that “Judge” Duncan continued sitting at his desk and merely reached down to roll up his pants.

Ghost Story

WWII Registration Card
 Image found on ancestry.com
While Duncan House spirits have been felt, only one has been seen. Lou’s new daughter-in-law, who was visiting the home for the first time, was resting on the living room sofa when she suddenly sat straight up—afraid to speak. Later that evening, she told her new husband what she had seen. The next morning Lou’s son convinced his wife to relate a detailed description of what she had seen.

A man had passed through the closed front door and walked down the hall toward the kitchen. He wore a plaid flannel shirt and a tan windbreaker. The gentleman looked very tired and walked with his head down. It was immediately evident to Lou that the man described was Julius Fletcher Duncan Jr. In 1958 Lou’s favorite uncle had helped extinguish a large Front Street fire. He was returning home when he died on the front porch. Lou had kept Uncle Julius’ flannel shirt and tan windbreaker—and showed them to her daughter-in-law.

Mary Warshaw's Artist Note

Warshaw Painting
Warshaw Painting
The long porches of the Duncan House inspired two paintings, both views from the upper porch. In the view looking southeast toward Taylor’s Creek, I painted the surface of Front Street as it might have looked before the road was paved—worn by foot traffic, horses and buggies. In the view looking west across Gallants Channel toward Piver’s Island, I imagined the time when the island had little but sand and trees—known then as “Still Island.”13

Old Photos Related to the Duncan House and Family

MANSON HOUSE Porch - August 11, 1910

Front Row: 5-year-old Mattie King Hancock Davis
(Laura Davis Piner's mother - Mattie King Davis Gallery named for her)
Row 2: Sallie Gertrude Davis Hancock (Mattie King Davis' mother),
Annie Duncan Gregory, Emma Manson, Della Bryan Duncan Smith
Row 3 : Etta Perry Davis Potter, Laura Gertrude Duncan Davis, John Averett
Duncan, Etta Manson, Ella Duncan Davis,
Minnie Rieger Davis Huntley and Lillian Duncan
Back Row: Nancy Fletcher Davis Thomas, William Benjamin Duncan
and Esther Purvis Duncan Manson 
Image and Photo ID Courtesy Lou Register and Tibbie Roberts
Thomas Duncan 1806- 1880 Old Burying Ground Beaufort, NC
Photo found on ancestry.com

Elicia Howland Duncan 1814-1869 Old Burying Ground Beaufort, NC
 Photo found on ancestry.com
* James Davis (1780–1861) was born in the Core Sound area of Carteret County—on Davis Island. He was the eldest son of Joseph Wicker Davis (1755–1826) and Susanna Stanton (1761–1827). In 1803, James married Elizabeth Adams (1783–1868), daughter of Nathan Adams and Mary Canaday, who were farmers in Core Creek. James became a skilled builder and often referred to himself as an “ar-chi-tech.” He left his mark on lots all over town—many well-constructed homes that have weathered close to 200 years of coastal storms. Some of those homes include: Duncan House circa 1815, James Davis House circa 1817, James Davis House circa 1829 and the William Jackson Potter House circa 1832. James was also a brick mason at Fort Macon when it was built (1826-1834). 

1) Wilson, Mamr√© Marsh. Story of North Carolina’s Historic Beaufort. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2007.

Contemporary photo of location at west end of Front St.
Photo courtesy CCMLS
2) COURT RECORD: "Reports of cases at law argued and determined in the Supreme Court of North Carolina, from December term, 1853, to August term, 1854, both inclusive" by Hamilton C. Jones (spine title (No. Carolina Reports [Vol.] 46 - Jones' Law); Vol.46, pgs.234 to 239 (California State Law Library, Sacramento, 1/2004) DOE on the Demise of the COMMISSIONERS OF BEAUFORT vs. THOMAS DUNCAN; Supreme Court of North Carolina, Raleigh; 46 N.C. 234; 1 Jones Law 234; December, 1853, Decided. http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~dobson/nc/nccarte2.htm

Photo courtesy CCMLS
3) In The Early Architecture of North Carolina: a pictorial survey by Frances Benjamin Johnston, with an architectural history by Thomas Tileston Waterman; foreword by Leicester B. Holland, F.A.I.A., page 151

4) Little, M. Ruth. Beaufort National Register Historic District Comprehensive Survey, Raleigh, NC: Longleaf Historic Resources, November, 1997.

5) Wrenn, Tony P., Beaufort, North Carolina, North Carolina Department of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC, December 1970.   

6) Laws of the State of North Carolina, Passed by the General Assembly, at the Session of 1842-1843, Raleigh, Thomas J. Lemay, Printer, 1843, pp. 121-123.

7) Muse, Amy. Story of the Methodist in the Port of Beaufort. New Bern, NC: Owen G. Dunn Co., 1941.

8"Cases Argued and Decided in The Supreme Court of the United States; December terms 1865-66-67; Book XVIII; United States Supreme Court Reports Vols. 70, 71, 72, 73" by Stephen K. Williams; Vol.18 Lawyer's Edition pgs.135 to 137; Vol.70 U.S. pgs.768 to 774 (El Dorado Co. CA Law Library 12/2003)
"The Brig HERALD and cargo, WILLIAM FOLKER, Claimant, on behalf of DAVID HUNTLEY & Co. and WILLIAM WILLIAMS, Claimants of part of cargo, Appts.; Supreme Court of the United States; 70 U.S. 768; 18 L. Ed. 135; 3 Wall. 768; February 5, 1866, Decided; December 1865 Term. (MAD: see Carteret Co. NC) http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~dobson/nc/nccarte2.htm

9) Reid, Whitelaw, After the War: a Southern Tour: May 1, 1865 to May 1, 1866, Published 1866, Chapter III-IV, Pages 22-36. See: More Beaufort History

10) Ashe, Samuel A’Court. Cyclopedia of eminent and representative men of the Carolinas of the nineteenth century Vol 2, 1892.

11History of North Carolina, Volume VI, North Carolina Biography by Special Staff of Writers, Lewis Publishing Co., Chicago and NY 1919.

12Diary of James Rumley, March 13, 1862-August 1865, Beaufort, NC. Rumley was clerk of court for Carteret County. 

13)  Warshaw, Mary, Porchscapes, The Colors of Beaufort - Three Centuries of History Woven Through Art and Words, 2009.