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. Built by James Davis in 1815, Davis sold the original east side 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. 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.”

BUILDING DATE CONFIRMED

 The historically accurate name and date of the eastern portion of the house:
 Davis-Duncan House 1815

Research by this author found the following, with the help of Carteret County tax records found by Ansley Wegner at the Department of Archives and History in Raleigh: In 1814, tax values on 6 half-acres lots owned by James Davis were a total of $270. In 1815, the tax value, including improvements, on  James Davis' lot 111 jumped to $800.

Davis is also documented as builder and resident 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. "…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..."

Timeline including Carteret County tax records

1804
1) ½ of Lot 111 to Nathan Adams - through Will of Wm. Dennis Jr. - Deed 28 Aug 1804
2) Elizabeth Davis, wife of James Davis, received a portion of lot 111 by a deed of gift "in consideration of natural love & affection" from her father Nathan Adams - 28 Aug 1804 - Deed Bk P page 241.

1808: JDavis Tax: 1 town lot worth $125
1812 – One of Davis’ early structures was Beaufort’s first “Market House,” built in 1812. (Muse, History of the Methodist in Beaufort.)
1810 Nathan Adams the other ½ of Lot 111 or southeast part to James Davis
1813: J.Davis Tax: 100 acres of land;  plus town property: 5 lots valued at $250 (total)
1814: J.Davis Tax: 170 acres of land;  plus town property: 6 ½ lots valued at $270

1815: J.Davis Tax on town lots as follows:
Lot #             acres           value including improvements
111                  ½                   $800
45                    ½                     30 (future site of J. Davis House ca. 1829)
46                    ½                     45
66                    ½                     45
76                    ½                     40 (future site of J. Davis House ca. 1817)
102                  ½                     10
103                  ½                     10

1816: J.Davis Tax information basically the same as 1815
NOTE: 12 Jan 1816, James and Elizabeth Davis sold the eastern part of lot 111 (42 ft.) to Elijah Canaday Sr. for $410. Book S, pg. 324.
1816 Price Survey
Jonathan Price 1816 Re-Survey of Beaufort - 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: Be it therefore enacted, and that the lines and plan of the town of Beaufort, as surveyed and established by Jonathan Price, shall hereafter be considered in all cases as the lines and plan of said town of Beaufort."    

1817:  J.Davis Tax: lot 111 listed as ¼ acre and valued at $600 (details are same as previous year). See 1816 Price Survey; i.e., perhaps the reason the size of the lot was reduced to ¼ acre.
1818: J.Davis Tax: Old Town Lot 111 (no acreage listed) is valued at $1000
1819: J.Davis Tax information is the same as 1818
1820 James Davis sold lot 111 (except for the 42 ft. carved out to Elijah Canaday Sr.) to Benjamin Tucker Howland, dwelling, store house, kitchen and outbuildings. $1000.
1832 Howland sold Lot 111 to son-in-law Thomas Duncan - Carteret Deed Bk W page 31 - 4 June 1832 - $600, part of lot 111, being the whole lot except 42 feet on the North part, together with dwelling house, store house, etc.

Report Reveals Duncan House in Good Condition

North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources
State Historic Preservation Office
May 18, 2012
(Below transcribed, for easier reading, from an original copy)

MEMORANDUM
From:   John P. Wood – North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office
To:       Victor Flow
 Richard Hall – Joyce & Assoc. Construction, Inc.
 Kyle Garner – Town Planner

SUBJECT: Duncan House, 105 Front Street, Beaufort, Carteret County

At the request of Mr. Flow and his representative, on May 3, 2012, Claudia Brown, Scott Power, Reid Thomas and I met for approximately three hours onsite with Richard Hall at the Duncan House in Beaufort. Town Planner Kyle Garner was also present. The purpose of the meeting was to examine the condition and integrity of the building. The Duncan House is a contributing property in the National Register-listed Beaufort Historic District. On-site inspection consisted of visual examination of the exterior of the building, the interior rooms and the attic. Where accessible, spaces behind the attic knee walls and the crawl space were also examined. Digital photographs of these spaces were taken and copies of these photographs have been provided to Mr. Hall and Mr. Garner in CD format.

*1913 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map
Visual inspection revealed that the building experienced numerous alterations throughout the historic period. The house originated with the eastern portion, a ca.1800 two-and-a-half story side-gable dwelling. During the second quarter of the nineteenth century a two-and-a-half story side-gable addition was added to the west elevation of the existing house. At the same time, a two-story porch was added to the south (front) elevation, while a two-story addition that may have either been an open porch or enclosed space was built across the north (rear) elevation of the enlarged structure. To accommodate the front and rear additions, the roof pitch of the original portion of the house was modified, creating the current roofline. The change in the roofline and the front and rear additions resulted in a cohesive building mass. Prior to 1900, a one-story gable-roof wing with inset porch was added to the north elevation of the rear addition. A masonry cistern with a barrel vault roof and stepped parapet ends is located immediately adjacent to the inset porch. By December of 1913* a second one-story gable roof wing with an integral porch had been added to the western end of the early nineteenth-century rear addition resulting in the existing building footprint. Complete Report...
NOTE: Images added by author of this site.

Duncan House Statement of Significance - Tony P. Wrenn

DUNCAN HOUSE
Statement of Significance
Tony P. Wrenn
Faxed 29 Feb 2012
To Travis Masters, Kyle Garner, Beth Blake and Ramona Bartos

COVER SHEET:
“Attached is a statement of what I believe to be the architectural importance of the Duncan House at 105-107 Front Street which has both statewide and national importance. It anchors the Beaufort Historic District, and the value of its setting and history support its architectural importance.

I hope there are plans, whatever your finding should be in the current hearing, to insure the accomplishment of a historic structure report, including a full history, including examination of its architecture and setting, measured drawings of the structure as it now exists, architectural photographs and copies of maps, historic photographs, and other documents. These should be a part of the Historic American Buildings Survey, maintained by the Library of Congress.

Loss of the Duncan House would, I believe, be a statewide and national loss.
Should there be questions, I will do my best to provide additional data if desired.” Complete Statement...

Duncan House, Wm. Blades and Babe Ruth

These two postcards are from Carteret County Postcards by Linda Sadler and Kevin Jenkins 

Sometime between 1911 and 1920, the west side of the Duncan House was rented by William Blades Sr (1854-1920), owner and president of Beaufort Fish Scrap and Oil Company, which he purchased in 1911. Blades was a founding member of Camp Bryan hunting and fishing club in Craven County. Baseball legend Babe Ruth (1895-1948) often traveled from New York to go duck hunting with William "Will" Blades Jr. (1894-1939). "Will" Blades evidently lived in the Duncan House until the late 1920s, when he moved back to New Bern. Beaufort Fish Scrap and Oil was sold to Howard Smith in 1931. His son Harvey Smith started the Fish Meal Company. William B. Blades Sr. died in 1920; William B. Blades Jr. died in 1939 as a result of an automobile collision in Durham, NC.
 
L to R: William Blades, Fred I. Sutton, Carl Goerch, Babe Ruth and John Kieran sitting in front of deer and waterfowl carcasses during a hunting trip at Camp Bryan. (Digital Collections ECU - date approx. 1920-1939)

Since William Benjamin Blades Sr. died in 1920, the man identified as William Blades must be his son William B. Blades Jr. (1894-1939)


Babe Ruth, Fred I. Sutton Jr., and two unidentified men, on Decoy of New Bern, N.C. Photograph was likely taken during a hunting trip at Camp Bryan, Craven County, N.C. William Benjamin Blades, real estate developer and founding member of Camp Bryan, owned Decoy and used the boat for hunting trips. (Digital Collections ECU) MORE...

Duncan House & Sesquicentennial of the Battle of Fort Macon

With the current focus on saving the 1815 Duncan House and the Sesquicentennial of 1862 Fort Macon, it is important to remember that the Duncan family had a birds-eye view of the shelling at the fort on April 25, 1862. 
At that time, the Duncan House was only 47-years old, located just west of the Custom House. The Duncan House was, thus, one of the first sights viewed by ships entering Beaufort Harbor.

Fort historian Paul Branch wrote, "the deep rumble of cannon fire shook and rattled the houses in Beaufort and Morehead City as just across the harbor Union and Confederate soldiers fought for possession of the fort. The story of that long-ago time is one of the most dramatic episodes in Carteret County history and is one part of the most tragic period in America history."


Watching the Siege of Fort Macon from Beaufort waterfront - April 25, 1862 Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
1854 Sketch of Beaufort Harbor
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.

In those first days of May 1865, Whitelaw Reid wrote, "we rounded to at a crazy old wharf, climbed up a pair of rickety steps...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. 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, and constituted the main business street of a place that, however dilapidated and insignificant, must live in the history of the struggle just ended. Near the water's edge was a small turpentine distillery, the only manufacturing establishment of the place."


Gray's 1880 Map

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 1880 map, but were likely already joined.” (Wrenn file)

Tony P. Wrenn - Importance of Beaufort's Architectural Treasures

View from the Upper Porch of the 1815 Duncan House
Forty-two years ago, architectural historian Tony P. Wrenn wrote, "Certainly Beaufort has architecture, historical and educational value of a type equaled by only a handful of other southeastern coastal towns. Certainly its restoration potential is great, and its economic value, as visitation increases, immense. That value, in education, in pride, and in dollars, can be realized only if the existing lure—Beaufort—survives. Both its relative rareness and completeness argue for its survival.  Its potential educational and economic value argues for its survival. Indeed, its destruction would be an act of vandalism." 1

Two years ago, architectural historian Tony P. Wrenn wrote the introduction to Mary Warshaw's Beaufort book: Porchscapes, The Colors of Beaufort—Three Centuries of History Woven Through Art and Words. In that introduction, Mr. Wrenn wrote, “In November 1969 Dr. H.G. Jones, of the then North Carolina Department of Archives and History, asked me to undertake a study to locate and copy documentary material relating to Fort Macon, constructed between 1826 and 1834, and then undertake an architectural survey of Beaufort.”

Mr. Wrenn continued describing the setting, “After the Beaufort survey was completed I returned to Beaufort twice to “house sit” Jean and Copeland Kell’s second-level home at The Cedars. There was very little difference looking out over the Atlantic from views owners had in earlier years. Sitting on the second-level porch, reading, dreaming, having a meal, listening to the pianist who lived downstairs, made almost every day dream time. One could look almost directly south, across Town Marsh and Bird Island Shoals to Fort Macon and the open beach beyond. The fort itself was hidden behind sand barriers, but the Coast Guard Station was within ones line of vision and the fort easy to spot in relation to the station.

“The channel into the state port at Morehead City crossed directly across Beaufort’s waterfront and ships entering and leaving the port presented broadside views to Beaufort. Fishing boats came and went, and at any given time there may have been twenty or more in the harbor—the cut between Town Marsh and Front Street. During the menhaden season one could almost walk across the water to Town Marsh by stepping from boat to boat. Sail was frequently seen, as was the occasional grand yacht that had strayed from the Inland Waterway.

 
“Wild marsh ponies grazed on Town Marsh. Porpoise occasionally broke water at play in the cut, within a hundred feet of Front Street. There was never a time when there was nothing to see or feel, for sea breezes always kept the porch comfortable and peaceful. I can never again think of Beaufort without thinking of the serenity, comfort and peace of that porch.” 2 


After learning that the new owners of the Duncan House had applied for permission to demolish the house—that anchors the west end of Front Street, Wrenn wrote, 

 
"The demolition of the Duncan House, which has been called the 'signature house' of the Beaufort Style, whose location makes it Beaufort's most memorable house, would not only be a great loss, but a tragedy for the town and the state." 3
 ......................................................
 
1 Wrenn, Tony P., Beaufort, North Carolina, Raleigh, NC, North Carolina Department of Archives and History, December 1970, page 18. 

2 Wrenn’s report includes an "inventory listing of Historic District properties, with buildings of historical and architectural importance identified, as are those of importance as part of the Beaufort scene that provide a landscape and geographic setting for the town, each identified by street address, name when known, date then assigned, ownership, use and whether occupied. The survey took place in 1969-70, when the entire district was walked, photographed, mapped, and submitted to the state with notes on the district and on individual properties. The report is illustrated, with both documentary photographs and those taken at the time by Wrenn and Archives and History staffers. It served as the basis for the entry of Beaufort on the National Register of Historic Places, and the town was entered on the Register in 1974."


"After the Beaufort survey, Wrenn "was commissioned by the state to do architectural surveys of New Bern and Wilmington, sites that shared Beaufort's southeastern North Carolina location on the water. The Beaufort House type did not show up in these cities, and was not known to the north of New Bern. Subsequently in counting the number of Beaufort houses that evidence the Beaufort House style, it is clear that the number in Beaufort, makes it the largest collection in North Carolina and most likely the largest in the nation.

"The Beaufort variations are important in American Architectural history, and clearly the collection is of statewide importance, and should be considered nationally important. as well."


3 Personal email to Warshaw.
       

Duncan House and Duncan Family History

The Duncan House on the West End of Front Street -1910 
Photo Courtesy Jack Dudley, Beaufort - An Album of Memories

This old gabled roof "Beaufort House"-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 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 building date—1815

The Property and the Building of the House

Oldest-known Photo of West End of Beaufort and Piver's Island 
Photo Courtesy Jack Dudley, Beaufort - An Album of Memories

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 

BUILDING DATE and BUILDER CONFIRMED
An accurate name and date would be:
 "Davis-Duncan House 1815"

Research by this author found the following, with the help of Carteret County tax records found by Ansley Wegner at the Department of Archives and History in Raleigh: In 1814, tax values on 6 half-acres lots owned by James Davis were a total of $270. In 1815, the tax value, including improvements, on  lot 111 was $800. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume a substantial structure, the original east four-bay Caribbean-style home, was built by James Davis in 1815. 

Davis is also documented as builder and resident (for 5 years) 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

JAMES DAVIS to BENJAMIN TUCKER HOWLAND
When James Davis sold the house in 1820 to Captain Benjamin Tucker Howland, the selling price was $1000. 

CAPTAIN HOWLAND TO THOMAS DUNCAN
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
1857 Beaufort Female Institute - 505 Front Street
Later home to Thomas Isaac Duncan
and Laura Nelson Duncan Family

Image found on ancestry.com 

▪ Thomas Duncan, Trustee of the Beaufort Male and Female Academy:
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-lawsAtlantic & 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 CensusImage 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 1815 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 Quaker colony, north of Beaufort on Newport River, Carteret County. 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).
 FOOTNOTES
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.