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The Dunbar Family Saga

(Photo courtesy of Karen Zach)
Lewis Dunbar, the Dunbar Family Patriarch

Well, after much contemplation, decided to do another family Saga. Had more contemplation on what family. I know you’ve had so many folks from the county seat to read about, as well as from Waveland throwing in many in the Ladoga area, so decided I wanted to do a family I had played with many times but have not really written about. Thus, meet the Lewis M. Dunbar family from Sugar Creek Township and vicinity.

Lewis was born in Hummelstown, (Dauphin County), Pennsylvania. I’ve actually been there a couple of times (hub’s family from the area), but didn’t realize a MoCo connection until typing this. A farming community at that time, Lewis was born November 12th in 1803 to Robert and Magdalena (Bretz) Dunbar. Although the Dunbars married into several German families and Dauphin County is almost pure German, family trees on Ancestry and thereabouts have the Dunbars as Scottish and sounds/looks like English, but am wondering if it may have been Americanized and was originally Dunboar or Donbaur, then again, that isn’t my purpose here. It is to introduce you or if you’re familiar with this family, perhaps tell ya’ a few things you didn’t know, in regards to the Dunbars, momma and poppa being Lewis M. and Mary “Polly” Powers Dunbar.

These two were married in Chillicothe, Ohio (the Dunbars had gone there when Lewis was about nine) on March 21 in 1822 by Rev. Reuben Rowe. The next year in June, their first child of 16 (William) was born. Polly would pass away with her last (more to come for Lewis) with a harsh three days having a child or my thought – twins as there were a couple of sets in the next generation (June 12-15, 1850 dying on the 15th – mortality schedule) having been born 30 Dec 1804 in Grant County, Virginia, her parents Daniel and Elizabeth Bryant Powers. The child(ren) I assume passed with her (not in the mortality listing but logical and not in further census records) and two of their children’s obituaries mention being in a family of 16 and 15 are accounted for, so perhaps just one child – at any rate, one big family.

Back to the happy life, though. They lived in Chillicothe, then in 1830 brought their five children with them (William, Silas, Eliza, John Adam and Susan) to Sugar Creek Township in the fall of that year. At first they lived under a large hickory tree until Lewis got a hickory log cabin built, which I assume was before or about the time of his land purchase on 3 January 1831 (Section 12 in Sugar Creek Township). The family seemed plagued by fire as their first one was that fall when Lewis happened to be away. Luckily, he had brought a large barrel of water up and Polly, getting the children safe, then went to work on the fire. She saved it all. This was due to the Indians in the area firing up the prairie to flush out game. It did burn off the bark on the logs but the home and children were basically saved by her quick actions.

Not long after the fire, Polly gave birth to another son, this one, Robert named for her father. Other children would be Catherine, Elias, Lewis M, Simon, Marion B., Daniel, Elizabeth, Mary and Taylor. He remarried Sarah Sommers (Summers) and they would have Joseph, George, Jesse, Henry and Dora Estella and two who likely died at birth, tallying 23 children. One big family for Lewis M. Dunbar, for sure.

On the farm, they raised horses, hogs, cattle and sheep, along with some wheat (interview with his son 30 Nov 1915 Cville Review), “which was tromped out with horses on the barn floor. Also raised buckwheat, but the corn was never very good.” Lewis’ sons would take the buckwheat, wheat and corn on horseback to the mill, as “there were not many wagons and fewer roads.” Lewis Jr. was the one remembering that his mother cooked over the fire place and made all the clothes for the 16 in the family. The editor of the paper was quite impressed saying that Lewis M. Jr., “had no more than 300 days of schooling, yet he wrote a good hand, using proper grammar and could remember from 60 years ago!” The Dunbars were very big on religion and education, as well as keeping up on the news. Lewis even served as one of the agents for the Weekly Journal in the early 1870s. Love it!

In the 1840s, he purchased a brick-making apparatus and made the bricks to build a home. It was completed by 1847. In 1864, he, and 2nd wife, Sarah Ann Summers moved their family to a farm just west of Bowers’ Cemetery where they remained for the rest of their lives. Bad luck again occurred four years later when “pickpockets struck out in their community,” tallying $10 from John Peterson, $15 from Lewis and supper at Samuel Fisher’s while all these families slept. Then, fire struck again, creating a total loss in August of 1874 – “the residence, wood house, smoke house and milk rooms were all destroyed by a fire originated by a defective flue.” The total loss was $3,000 and he had just insured the home a few days before for $1,800.

Never one to give up on life, he and the boys and possibly neighbors rebuilt the residence at Bowers Station that was ready by Christmas 1874. He purchased quite a bit of farm land, totalling about 900 acres, and was active in the German Baptist Society (Dunkards) which he helped organize in 1856.

Note: much of the information on Lewis and his family (including this photo) will be from a wonderful work, Lewis Dunbar and His Descendants by Audrey Anita Allen of Preston, Washington, the Dunbar Facebook page monitored by Mary Jo Dunbar Barton and of course the ever present old newspapers, FindAGrave and Ancestry. Lewis was described as a large man (380 pounds, about 100 less at his death on April 16th in 1876, age 72). He was also noted as being quiet, unoffensive, quite respected and a good man. So, keep an eye out for more on Lewis’ fine children upcoming in the Around The County articles for the next several weeks! Enjoy!

– Karen Zach is the editor of Montgomery Memories, our monthly magazine all about Montgomery County. Her column, Around the County, appears each Thursday in The Paper of Montgomery County. You can reach her at [email protected]