Copyright notice

This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

Is anything in this article factually incorrect? Please submit a comment.

Printer-friendly page
Average: 3.3 (20 votes)

Dunn, John Ross

by Carole Watterson Troxler, 1986

d. 1783

John Ross Dunn, Salisbury lawyer and founder, was born in Ireland. According to Archibald D. Murphey, he studied to be a Roman Catholic priest but "left Ireland suddenly in consequence of some fracas" and boarded a privateer for America when he was about twenty years old. He married Mary Reid and settled on Reid's Creek, a tributary of the Yadkin River, where he worked for a time as shoemaker and schoolteacher. They had two daughters and at least one son. Susan Dunn married Lewis Beard, a son of John Lewis Beard, and the other daughter married a Mr. Fisher. Later Dunn married Betsy Howard and Frances Petty.

Apparently Dunn began his legal career as deputy clerk of the Anson County court. When Rowan was formed from Anson in 1753, he became clerk of the Rowan County court. He was licensed to practice law in 1755 and eventually served as Crown attorney. In 1754 he was one of the two commissioners who marked the lots and streets for the new town of Salisbury. Dunn's land purchases reflect the growth of the town and of his law practice. First he attended to building a plantation base between 1758 and 1762, buying over twelve hundred acres on the middle fork of Crane Creek, a few miles from Salisbury. At this time he owned only two lots in Salisbury, but between 1770 and 1772 he bought six and one-half additional town lots. His militia record paralleled his economic and professional advancement. Dunn was adjutant in the Rowan County militia during the mid-1750s. He was a commissioner to deal with the Cherokees in 1757, and as a militia major he supplied wagons for the expedition against them in 1759–60. During the Regulator upheavals Dunn was the commanding colonel of Rowan County militia, which assisted in the defense of the Hillsborough court; he also served on the committee of officials who met with the Regulators.

Dunn represented Rowan County in the colonial Assembly in 1762 and Salisbury during 1769–71. In the latter Assembly he was a member of the committee on public claims, serving for a time as chairman. He introduced a bill for the collection of back taxes in the wake of the Regulator crisis and another for building a jail in Salisbury. Both became law. With other men from the area he was entrusted with several responsibilities under the Assembly's surveillance: to contract for building courthouses for the new counties of Guilford and Surry and for surveying their lines, for building a new Rowan courthouse, and for building a road from the frontier to Campbellton. The commissioners did not accomplish the two latter tasks.

In the years before the American Revolution Dunn figured in a controversy over the established church. An Anglican, he is said to have been responsible for bringing the Reverend Theodorus Swaine Drage to organize the established church in Rowan County. The minister started a chapel in the Jersey settlement, but in 1769 dissenters captured the vestry election and their new vestry withheld the Anglican's salary. Their action forced Drage to leave the county in 1773. During this time, Dunn was a conspicuous Anglican. Drage held services in Dunn's commodious Salisbury house, which was noted for its Christmas greenery.

In 1774 and 1775 Dunn and a wealthy English lawyer in Salisbury, Benjamin Booth Boote, came under attack by the Rowan Committee of Safety. It has been suggested that the attack was part of an attempt by a new lawyer, William Kennon, recently arrived from Wilmington, to force out the established ones. Their first brush with the Committee of Safety came as a result of a declaration bearing their names. About two years later Dunn explained the origin of the declaration. He said it had originated in late August or early September 1774 when a magistrate showed Dunn and Boote a newspaper account of a New York resolution condemning Bostonian action against the authority of Parliament. The magistrate persuaded Boote to draft a declaration of allegiance to king and Parliament. Four men signed it, and they agreed not to offer it to anyone else. The declaration got out, however, and Waightstill Avery read it to a Presbyterian congregation in Mecklenburg County. Thus it was general knowledge by the time Dunn attended the September court in Mecklenburg County.

On 23 September the Rowan Committee of Safety, with Kennon as chairman, condemned the declaration and had it displayed on the gallows and whipping post. The safety committee referred to the document as a "Protest," for its statement of allegiance to king and Parliament challenged the committee's resolution made at its first recorded meeting on 8 August; in it the committee had vowed its allegiance to the king alone and had accused Parliament of usurping the rights of the colonial assemblies. In his later description of the declaration, Dunn clearly implied that he and Boote had been unaware of the committee's resolution. It is conceivable that Dunn was telling the truth, for the committee did not meet again until 23 September, when they condemned the "Protest."

Although Dunn refused to participate in revolutionary elections and committees, there are indications that he used his influence to oppose Kennon's leadership and tried to curb his forwardness as the latter's star rose with the events of 1775. The Captain Jack episode publicly displayed the weakness of the conservative position and provided enough revolutionary momentum for Kennon to rid Salisbury of Dunn and Boote, its leading conservative spokesmen. While Captain James Jack was in Salisbury on his way from Charlotte to Philadelphia, Kennon had the Mecklenburg Resolves read from the courthouse. Dunn and Boote denounced the Resolves as treasonous and called for Jack's confinement, but the horseman rode away.

Soon afterwards a party of armed men from Mecklenburg County went into Rowan to seize Dunn and Boote. They acted in concert with Kennon and a few others who arranged with subterfuge to remove Dunn and Boote from Salisbury for the rendezvous with the men from Mecklenburg. The legality of the abduction was challenged by several prominent Salisbury revolutionaries. After a long debate, the Rowan Committee of Safety recorded the incident as an unofficial act not to be taken as precedent. The 1775 Provincial Congress, of which Kennon was a member, went on record as deploring the action (abduction without a hearing) as a general rule but approved it in the particular case.

The two lawyers were taken to Charles Town and were kept there for over a year. The South Carolina Provincial Congress had not requested their presence and did not know what to do with them. The congress paid part of their maintenance expenses on the promise of reimbursement from North Carolina and paroled the men within Charles Town. Enjoying his relative freedom, Dunn became intoxicated and spoke too loosely, for which he was reprimanded by the congress. Dunn and Boote returned to Salisbury early in September 1776. The North Carolina Council of Safety, meeting there, paroled Dunn to Salisbury and required £1000 bond from him but admitted Boote into citizenship on his taking the state oath.

Both lawyers accommodated themselves to the Revolution, but only Dunn's accommodation was permanent. In August 1777, two years after their removal, they were allowed to return to the bar, and Dunn became state's attorney for Rowan County as he previously had been Crown attorney. Boote continued his legal practice under the new regime until Cornwallis's presence in 1781 offered an alternative. He joined the British but was taken prisoner at Yorktown. Boote returned to England and died soon after the war.

Dunn, on the other hand, cast his lot with the county and town he had helped to build. There are no indications of further difficulties with neighbors with whose political views he had disagreed. An appropriate, if incidental, sign of their reacceptance of him was his appointment to contract for building a new courthouse in 1778 and for repairing the old one in 1781; he shared these responsibilities with one of the men who had arranged for his abduction. Dunn's career was not politics but the practice of law—the maintenance of the courthouse, one might say—and he successfully resumed it. Perhaps it is significant that Kennon was no longer in Salisbury. Beginning in 1775 Kennon obtained several jobs as a commissary for the state government and seems to have managed them from Wilmington; he died in late 1777 or early 1778.

Dunn practiced law in Salisbury until his death. Tradition relates that he became ill while pleading a case and was carried from the courtroom. He is believed to have been buried on his land at "Dunn's Mountain," which still casts its gaze toward courthouse square.

References:

James S. Brawley, The Rowan Story, 1753–1953 (1953). https://archive.org/details/rowanstory17531900braw (accessed August 25, 2014).

Claim of Benjamin Booth Boote (PRO, Audit Office Papers 13:117), New Hanover County Court Minutes, Rowan County Civil and Criminal Cases, Rowan County Committee of Safety Minutes (Secretary of State's Papers), Rowan County Court Minutes, Rowan County Deed Books (microfilm) (all in North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh).

Walter Clark, ed., State Records of North Carolina, vols. 11 (1895), 19 (1901), 22 (1907). https://docsouth.unc.edu/csr/index.html/volumes (accessed August 25, 2014).

William H. Foote, Sketches of North Carolina  . . . (1846). https://archive.org/details/sketchesofnorthc00foo (accessed August 25, 2014).

Whitehead Kluttz, "Rowan's Committee of Safety," North Carolina University Magazine 18 (1900). https://archive.org/details/northcarolinauni19001901 (accessed August 25, 2014).

Archibald D. Murphey, "Historical Memoranda," North Carolina University Magazine 1 (1852). http://hdl.handle.net/2027/wu.89072958770 (accessed August 25, 2014).

Walter Murphey, Memorial Address Commemorating the Memory of the Distinguished Members of the Rowan County Bar (1938).

William S. Powell, St. Luke's Episcopal Church (1953).

George Raynor and Aubrey Atkinson, Sketches of Old Rowan (1963).

Jethro Rumple, A History of Rowan County, North Carolina (1881). https://archive.org/details/historyofrowanco00rump (accessed August 25, 2014).

William L. Saunders, ed., Colonial Records of North Carolina, vols. 9, 10 (1890). https://docsouth.unc.edu/csr/index.html/volumes (accessed August 25, 2014).

John H. Wheeler, Reminiscences and Memoirs of North Carolina  . . . (1884). https://archive.org/details/reminiscencesmem00whee (accessed August 25, 2014).

Additional Resources:

"CSR Documents by Dunn, John Ross, d. 1783." Colonial and State Records of North Carolina. Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. https://docsouth.unc.edu/csr/index.html/creators/csr10317 (accessed November 25, 2013).

Rodenbough, Charles D. Governor Alexander Martin: Biography of a North Carolina Revolutionary War Statesman. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Inc. 2010. 23, 40. http://books.google.com/books?id=MHaGx2kX524C&pg=PA40#v=onepage&q&f=false (accessed November 25, 2013).

McKaughan, Joshua Lee.  2007.  “People of Desperate Fortune: Power and Populations in the
North Carolina Backcountry” [1740s-1770s].  Journal of Backcountry Studies (online) 2, no. 1: 38 pp.  http://libjournal.uncg.edu/ojs/index.php/jbc/issue/view/13.

Ramsey, Robert Wayne. 1964. Carolina cradle: settlement of the northwest Carolina frontier, 1747-1762. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

 

Origin - location: 

Comments

A professional hit job was done on John Ross Dunn's FamilySearch profile. Ann Holladay completely discredited all of my research findings, and replaced it with false and misleading generalizations. There were no unknown Dunn families anywhere around, yet she claims that John Dunn was a common name, and that there were multiple.
I have JRD's complete Life Sketch, and if you'd like a copy, contact me

Hello, I am a descendant of John Dunn 1714-1791 whom married Lucy Bolling. I am researching the Dunn family and I have reached a spot of contradiction. First I read that John Dunn was the son of a Thomas Dunn 1679-1770, but now I am starting to read that John Dunn, was the son of a John Ross Dunn. I am curious if John Ross Dunn had a son by the name of John Dunn and what evidence is there to support that they are related? Thanks

I managed to trace our very own Dunn family back to John "Jack" Dunn, https://ancestors.familysearch.org/en/2H29-W4Q/john-%22jack%22-dunn-1737..., who was captured by the indians, along with Daniel Boone, and I managed to connect the Dunn families of Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland, and trace them all, back to Devon, England, but there remains a missing link.

There is sufficient historical, physical, circumstantial, and DNA evidence, to propose a theory, but FamilySearch won't let me publish my theory on the Mormon website. Here is the only place you'll be able to examine the evidence for yourselves.

John Ross Dunn, Esq. was a land surveyor, Crown Attorney, court clerk, Justice of the Peace, sailor, and "deeply religious" man. https://ancestors.familysearch.org/en/LRSB-X4J/john-dunn-esq.-1696-1783
Until 2016, he was known, simply, as Irish John Dunn the immigrant, and his wife was known, simply, as Frances. https://ancestors.familysearch.org/en/GD5L-PH8/frances-
There were no sources attached, and genealogists were perfectly content to leave it that way. But, in the new, Information Age, when it became easier to search, and find, relevant data to attach to these profiles, things began to take on a different appearance.
This is my personal theory, of which I am absolutely convinced, and to date, none of my claims have been disproven.

John Ross Dunn was born in 1697, in Charles Parish, York, Virginia, the son of Thomas Dunn and Elizabeth Gray.

In his youth, he met a young French girl, named Frances Peronneau,
from Quebec, Canada. I believe she is descended from this family. https://ancestors.familysearch.org/en/LV7V-4SD/francois-perron-1615-1665, and here is possible proof. https://ancestors.familysearch.org/en/2WNV-NM3/fran%C3%A3%C2%A7oise-perr.... You can see that that family migrated from Quebec, Canada, to Charleston, South Carolina. https://ancestors.familysearch.org/en/LZK6-6K9
In 1714, they married, and remained married, for 30 years. They parented, at least, ten children, and resided in Currituck County, Albemarle Sound, Bath County, and the Cape Fear River Valley, in North Carolina.

Here is the part of my theory which is heavily contested. In 1726, I believe they had a daughter, Priscilla, born in South Carolina, where Francis' ancestors lived. While in Charleston, I believe Francis went by the name Catherine Peronneau, https://ancestors.familysearch.org/en/K84F-SBR/catherine-peronneau-1770 , and after most of their children in North Carolina were grown, from 1736, to 1739, and perhaps under the guise of surveyor, for William Rumsey, John and Frances went on, what I would refer to, as an assignment, to Charleston. I believe their intentions were to sow seeds of dissention, in South Carolina.

In 1736, Catherine gave birth, in Charleston, to John, Jr., and soon after, in 1737, John took him up the Great Pee Dee River, to Virginia, while surveying, and surveilling, along the way and back, and then, reported him deceased, in 1738, in Charleston.

Then, in 1738, John wrote a Will, in Charleston. He needed someone to believe that he would be incapacitated, or otherwise, absent, so they would not expect to see him, nor come calling on him, when he was not there, and in 1739, I believe he faked his own death, and the death of his newborn son, William, and under that same ruse, all three, escaped to Maryland.

Whether John was working for William Rumsey, or for British Parliament, or for a third party, is up for speculation, but Rumsey was Captain of the Navy, and that might very well be how they all got out of Charleston. During that time, in South Carolina, the Patriots were trying to wrestle power away from the Lords Proprietors. Also at that time, natives were attacking, Regulators were rampaging, and the slaves were getting ready to revolt. Before the British over ran Charleston, John was terrified of the Tories, and didn't want them to know he was ever there, so he erased all the evidence. Someone knew about that chapter in his past, as those years account for the brief time, referred to, in the source material.

In 1739, son, William was brought to Maryland. William Rumsey had to finalize the division of Goochland, and John Ross Dunn was with him, at that time, and the next year, in 1740, John abruptly joined the Cecil County, MD, Colonial Militia. Quite smart, if you don't want to be found in the Carolinas, nor in your home state of Virginia. John advanced quickly, through the ranks, and had a brilliant military career.

Catherine stayed with newborn, William, at Bohemia Manor, in Maryland, until Rumsey died, in 1743. John took four year old William, to North Carolina, and married Betsy Howard, while Catherine returned to Charleston, claiming to be a widow, and in 1746, remarried, to a man named Moody.

In 1746, John's family set up the Dunn's Creek Friends [Quaker] Meeting. In 1747, John bought land, around the area he had surveyed, which would become Salisbury, Rowan, North Carolina, and around 1751, married Mary Reid, and settled on Reid's Creek, a tributary of the Yadkin River, where he fathered five more children.
Anson was formed, in 1750, from Bladen. Orange County was formed, in 1752 from parts of Bladen. Rowan was formed, in 1753, from the northern part of Anson.

John, Jr. (Jack) grew up in Virginia, where he worked as a planter. In 1758, he got married to Sarah Cross, in Rowan, NC, at the invitation of his father, and then fathered a son, John "Jack" Dunn, Jr., in 1758, in Albemarle, Virginia. John, Jr., later, accompanied Daniel Boone, to Kentucky, where he was one of the salt makers who were captured, along with Daniel Boone, on February 8, 1778 at the Blue Licks salt lick springs.

From about 1760, to 1768, John Ross Dunn, Esq was married to Mary Reid, and that chapter is already in the books, but his son, William, married Olive Reid, which is another very important piece of this puzzle.

Mecklenburg was formed, in 1762, from the western part of Anson. Guilford and Alamance sprung out of Rowan.

When Moody died, in 1770, Catherine apparently faked her own death, in Charleston. In Charleston, she was known as Catherine, but I believe she went by her given name, Frances, while in North Carolina. I also believe she changed her last name to Petty, a shortened form of Peronneau and Moody, when she returned to John, in Salisbury, Rowan, North Carolina, and in 1775, just before he was ordered back to Charleston, John Ross Dunn, Esq., at the age of 78, (re-)married his first wife.

The rest of this story is factually proven.

When John died, in 1783, his mountain, and land were inherited by John and Charles, as John was the eldest son of Frances, and Charles was the eldest son of Mary.

The earliest known Dunn's to immigrate to America, were the Donne family who were investors in the Virginia Company of 1620. They were the family of Sir Daniel Donne and his brother, William, both, sons of Robert Donne, citizen and draper of London.

Thomas Donne, 14 y/o immigrant to Jamestown, came in 1620, and when that colony failed, and the Virginia Company lost the Charter in 1625, Thomas returned to England, married Anne, and fathered Thomas, Jr., b.1626, Robert, b.1627, and several other children.
Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army began killing all Catholics in England, and in 1650, when Charles I was beheaded, Thomas, Jr., and Robert escaped to America.

Thomas settled in Northumberland, Virginia, and his descendants would become the Dunn family of Essex, Virginia, and Robert's descendants would become the Dunn family of Kent, Maryland.
George Calvert obtained the new Charter to Virginia, and his son, Cecil Calvert became Lord Proprietor for the Carolinas. Cecil Calvert granted the Dunn family, land in North Carolina, which passed down from one brother to the next, until John Dunn, Esq. secured it, and established his town, of Salisbury, Rowan, North Carolina.

I traced this Donne family back to Devon, England, and London, https://ancestors.familysearch.org/en/99MR-NGM/sir-angell-donne-1471-1506, and it is probable that they originated in Wales.

They were not Irish, nor Scottish.

Sometime around 1745, in South Carolina, while he was married to Katherine Peronneau, John Ross Dunn faked his own death. Katherine reported him deceased, listed herself as a widow, and remarried, in South Carolina, but then had the her second marriage annulled, in Maryland, and joined JRD in North Carolina. His motives were to conceal his true identity, and his time in South Carolina.
In 1775, when he knew he was about to be apprehended, if his true history had been discovered, and that his wife's name was actually Peronneau, the extent of his deceit would have been exposed, so he and Katherine remarried, but she, under a completely fake name (Frances Petty).
I can think of no other reason for his decision, other than to avoid religious persecution, due to his family's affiliation with the Church of England, or possible political aspirations, which would also have been hampered.

There is more compelling evidence that he faked his own death. In 1739, he wrote a Will, in Charles Town, SC, wherein he, not only, misspelled his wife's first name, but neglected to mention his children at all. He did not name his children on the Will(fake), because Priscilla showed up in Cecil, MD, at the same time that he was there, and John, Jr and William T showed up in the same town in NC as he, and that would have completely exposed him. He was a very clever and resourceful fellow.

My current research suggests that JRD's ancestors were from Norfolk, England. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:N59D-N9N
Based on that assumption, JRD could have attended Thoresby College,
aka Trinity College, in Norfolk, England, during his early life.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thoresby_College

I have traced JRD's ancestry to Robert Donne b1627, England. I have seen two birth certificates which concur with that same year. One of those Robert Donne was born in Norfolk, England, and the other was born in Worcester, borough of England.
The family in Norfolk, England were likely immigrants from Jutland, who settled East Riding, while the family from Worcester, England were likely earlier inhabitants who remained in Worcester.
Based upon reports that JRD was Scot-Irish, and upon the assumption that he belongs to the Robert Donne family, I am choosing to believe that they immigrated from Worcester, England. It must be completely recognized, that at that time, the Catholics were being threatened, so the Queen granted them departure, and commissioned Calvert to facilitate the process. Based upon the fact that Worcester was an ancient Catholic borough, and was practically attached to London, I choose to believe that my family was from there.
https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/worcs/vol4/pp376-390

The Donne family of Norwich, Norfolk, England, were not Irish, nor Scottish.
They were Angles, who migrated from southwestern Denmark, in 441 CE.
Scotland did not even exist at that time. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angles
In 1605, British leaders decided to relocate Scottish Lowland Presbyterians to the Northern Ireland province of Ulster. https://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/scotirish.htm

Robert Donne Sr, who immigrated to America in 1652, was born in 1627, in either Worcester, or Norwich, Norfolk, England, and
obviously, his family was not among the Lowland Scots who had been relocated to Ireland.

The Battle of Worcester had just been fought, and it was very likely, the reason for Robert Donne, Sr's immigration to America.
https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryMagazine/DestinationsUK/The-Battle-of...

The given dates, of Scot-Irish immigration to America, do not coincide with the dates of John Ross Dunn's appearance in America,
and both, history and DNA evidence indicate that this Donne family was Angli, not Scot-Irish.

Positive identification has been made, as to JRD's ancestors, and they all came from Worcestershire, England.
Robert Dunn, Sr, who immigrated to Kent, Maryland, was the son of John Dunn, who immigrated to Virginia in 1720. https://www.familysearch.org/tree/pedigree/landscape/K8K1-F2Y

Hello Lynda, I am grateful for this forum, and to all those who have contributed to it.
I would like to update you on some recent things which have come to light.
During JRD's early life, it is possible that he attended a college, before we first see him, in 1702, Pasquotank, NC; however, The Family Tree Book clearly states that he studied law, in Salisbury, NC.
It is also highly probable that his first wife, Katherine Peronneau, was "Frances," as she bore many of the children named in that same book, by Smith, William Alexander; Smith, W. Thomas.

Add a comment

PLEASE NOTE: NCpedia provides the comments feature as a way for viewers to engage with the resources. Comments are not published until reviewed by NCpedia editors at the State Library of NC, and the editors reserve the right to not publish any comment submitted that is considered inappropriate for this resource. NCpedia will not publish personal contact information in comments, questions, or responses. If you would like a reply by email, note that some email servers, such as public school accounts, are blocked from accepting messages from outside email servers or domains. If you prefer not to leave an email address, check back at your NCpedia comment for a reply. Please allow one business day for replies from NCpedia. Complete guidelines are available at https://ncpedia.org/about.