Wednesday, July 27, 2011


© Kathy Duncan, 2011

Early in our relationship my husband often wondered if we might be related to each other. After all, his great-grandfather was named Rev. Duncan Hyder Selph, and my last name is Duncan. Decades later, I can still say that not only we do not have any ancestors in common, which is almost a mathematical oddity at this point since our ancestors frequently lived in the same counties at the same time, but that I can not account for the source of Duncan Hyder Selph’s name.

Here is what is known to date about Rev. Duncan Hyder Selph. In the records he is referred to as Duncan H. Selph, Duncan Hyder Selph, at least once as Duncan Hyde Selph, but usually as D.H. Selph. According to his tombstone in Oak Grove Cemetery in Oak Grove, Jackson County, Missouri, he was born on October 22, 1825. His tombstone can be viewed on According to census records, he was born in North Carolina. Family tradition narrows his place of birth to Chatham Co., NC where Peter Self can be located on the 1830 census .

Peter Self is believed to be Duncan Hyder Selph’s father primarily because of the similarity of naming patterns among Peter’s grandchildren. Peter Self who was in Benton County, Tennessee by 1850 had a son named Iley Nunn Selph, who became a physician. Dr. Iley Nunn Selph named his own son Duncan Hyder Selph. Meanwhile, Rev. Duncan Hyder Selph named two of his sons Duncan Hyder Selph and Iley Nunn Selph. It is this repetition of unique names that links Rev. Duncan Hyder Selph to Peter Self with the assumption that they are father and son.

Regrettably, Duncan Hyder Selph was not enumerated in Peter Self’s 1850 Benton County household. To date, Duncan Hyder has not been found on the 1850 census. There is, however, a third otherwise unaccounted for male in Peter Self’s 1840 Benton County household who is the correct age to be Rev. Duncan Hyder Selph.

The shift in spelling from Self to Selph seems to have happened in Rev. Duncan Hyder and Dr. Iley Nunn Selph’s generation.

Duncan Hyder Selph’s first appearance in the records was as a student in the junior class at Union University, Murfreesboro, Tennessee during 1849-1850 term. The school catalogue stated that he was from “Lexington, Tenn.” He appeared again in the 1850 - 1851 catalogue as a senior. While a student at Union College, Duncan Hyder was a member of Phi Gamma Delta.

Also appearing in the Union University catalogue was Paul W. Dodson, Professor of Mathematics and Dean. Paul W. Dodson was Duncan Hyder’s future brother-in-law. In 1850, P.W. Dodson was a boarder in the household of Lavinia (Murfree) Burton. He married her daughter Sarah M. Burton on July 23, 1850 in Rutherford County, Tennessee. Their wedding was a little more than month after the marriage of Sarah’s sister Lavinia E. Burton to Joseph Henry Stewart on June 4, 1850, also in Rutherford County, Tennessee. Duncan Hyder would become Lavinia’s second husband. It seems probable that they became acquainted with each other during Duncan Hyder’s years at Union University.

Whereas Duncan Hyder Selph is missing from the 1850 census, his future wife Lavinia was enumerated twice. In 1850 the enumerator was to record each person living in a household as of June 1, 1850. Since Lavinia Burton did not marry until June 4, it can be assumed that she was still living in her mother’s household and should have been enumerated there as, indeed, she was when the enumerator arrived on November 13, 1852 to take the census. However, Lavinia was enumerated prior to that on October 23, 1850 in Madison County, Tennessee while living with her new husband Joseph Stewart in the household of her widowed, elder sister Mary A. Goodwin. Lavinia Emily (Burton) Stewart was widowed on March 12, 1851. She had only been married for nine months when her young husband died or was killed. There were no surviving children from their union. Lavinia apparently continued to live with her sister rather than returning to her mother in Murfreesboro.

During his senior year at Union University, 1850 - 1851, Duncan Hyder Selph was also the pastor at Bradley’s Creek Baptist Church in Lascassas, Rutherford County. Lascassas is fourteen miles from Murfreesboro. He graduated from Union University in 1852 and was ordained in Lincoln County, Tennessee. Rev. William Shelton, a professor of Greek and Hebrew at Union College [University] preached a sermon for Duncan Hyder’s ordination at the Mulberry Church in Lincoln County, Tennessee. This sermon was published in The Baptist Preacher in 1852 at the request of the church. The sermon is lengthy and contains no personal information about Duncan Hyder Selph.

The Baptist Register for 1852 by John Lansing Burrows lists Duncan Hyder Selph’s residence as Cainsville. By the latter part of 1852, Duncan Hyder was in Madison County, Tennessee where he served as a delegate to the West Tennessee Baptist Convention. At the end of the year, he married Lavinia (Burton) Stewart on December 21, 1852 in Madison County, Tennessee. Lavinia had been widowed for twenty-one months, but Duncan Hyder could only have been in Spring Valley for a few months before their marriage. The speed of their courtship suggests that they were acquainted with each other previously in Murfreesboro.

Duncan Hyder Selph’s career as a minister can be traced until his death in 1874. Many dates and places overlap, and at this point I do not have precise transfer dates for him.

From 1852 to 1858, Duncan Hyder Selph was the president of the Baptist Male Institute in Spring Creek, Madison County, Tennessee. In 1854 the school’s name was changed to West Tennessee Baptist Institute. In 1853, Duncan Hyder was again a delegate to the West Tennessee Baptist Convention which was held in Spring Valley that year. From 1855 to 1857, in addition to his duties as president of West Tennessee Baptist Institute, Duncan Hyder was preaching a sermon once a month at the First Baptist Church of Jackson in Madison County.

On January 15, 1854, their first son Hardy B. Selph was born.

In February of 1856, Lavinia E. Selph received three slaves as a gift from her mother Lavinia B. Burton. Later that year, on June 19, Washington Selph, the infant son of D.H. and Lavinia Selph, was buried in the Utley Cemetery, now called the Spring Valley Cemetery, in Madison County. He had only survived one day. Washington Selph’s tombstone may be viewed on

Probably feeling the need to provide roots for his young family, that same month Duncan Selph purchased a three acre lot on the west side of Main Street in Spring Valley for $475 and built a “substantial” dwelling there. Later in 1857, West Tennessee Baptist Male Institute once again changed its name and became known as Madison College with D.H. Selph continuing as its president.

Daughter Sallie B. Selph was born on 5 May 1857.

By March 1858, Duncan Hyder Selph had accepted a new position as president of Eaton College for Women in Murfreeboro, Tennessee. The new house and lot on Main Street were sold for $3,000 to Lemuel Day. The move to Murfreesboro, would locate the growing young Selph family near Lavinia’s mother, Lavinia B. (Murfree) Burton.

Daughter Priscilla "Dee" Selph was born in December of 1859, probably in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Duncan Hyder only served as president of Eaton College for a short time. While the Selphs were on the Rutherford County, Tennessee census on June 6, 1860, later in the year D.H. Selph accepted a position as president of the Danville Female Academy in Danville, Boyle County, Kentucky, and the young family was moving again.

The Danville Female Academy was brand spanking new in 1860. It was an imposing structure with grounds landscaped with magnolia japonica, mountain ash, maple and tulip trees, hawthorn, white pine and fir. The school stressed an education in science, humanities, and had a teacher preparation program. At the end of four years, its attendees received a Mistress of Arts degree. It was attended by daughters of prominent families in Boyle County. In addition to serving as its president, Duncan Hyder Selph was a professor of mathematics, moral philosophy, and ancient languages. He was assisted by his wife Lavinia E. Selph.

While at Danville, three more children were born to the Selphs: Duncan Hyder Selph, Jr. in 1861; Elizabeth “Bettie” Vicks Selph on December 9, 1863; and John Williams Selph in December of 1865. According to the 1870 census, son Frank B. Selph was born on February 1, 1866 in Tennessee. Either this is an error, or it suggests that Lavinia was at her mother’s home in Murfreesboro when Frank was born.

By June of 1861, the Danville Female Academy may have already been experiencing financial problems. The Civil War had just begun, but things may have already been thrown into chaos. On June 17, 1861, at the end of the term, little Sallie Scott, a student at Danville Female Academy, was delivered to her home by Mr. Cooper along with a note from President Duncan Hyder Selph, asking that her father send remittance to the school for her expenses. As the war drug on, Duncan Hyder allowed daughters of destitute ministers to attend Danville Female Academy on “scholarship.” This action along with other financial difficulties experienced during the war years is credited with plunging Danville Female Academy into financial ruin.

In July of 1863, D. H. Selph was required to enlist for the draft. Since he was married, he was registered as a Class II individual subject to military duty from Boyle County, Kentucky. Younger men and unmarried men were registered as Class I individuals. For that record he stated that he was 38 years old and had been born in North Carolina.

For the 1864-1865 term, Danville Female Academy published a catalogue that listed Rev. Duncan H. Selph as President and his wife Lavinia as Assistant Principal. In attendance were the older Selph children: [Hardy] M.B. Selph and Sallie B. Selph. The cover of the catalogue featured a block print of the school with students and faculty on the lawn. Both the catalogue and photograph from which the block print was made are in the online archives for Centre College. They date the photograph to c. 1865, but it must have been made earlier in order for it to be used as the cover of the 1864-1865 catalogue. The photograph was probably taken in early 1864 or perhaps in 1863. Somewhere in the photograph are Duncan Hyder, Lavinia, and their children.

The 1865 commencement exercises of the Danville Female Academy were described in detail in a newspaper article that appeared in the Cincinnati Daily Enquirer on June 29, 1865. In it, the school and Rev. D. H. Selph are lauded. Duncan Hyder is referred to as “the learned and persevering Principal of the Academy.”

In 1866 or 1868, the First Baptist Church in Danville, Kentucky sent a letter to Rev. Broadus asking for him to recommend a woman to assist at the Female Academy. Broadus approached a young Lottie Moon. Within a week she was on her way to Danville and her first teaching job. Lottie Moon was the famous Baptist missionary to China. She taught at the Danville Female Academy until 1871.

In 1868, Rev. Duncan Hyder Selph was the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Danville in addition to his duties as president of the Danville Female Academy. At some point in 1868 Rev. D.H. Selph was once again the pastor of Bradley’s Creek Baptist Church back in Lacassas, Rutherford County, Tennessee. His son Washington B. Selph was born in Tennessee on May 14, 1868, so the Selphs were probably in residence in Tennessee by then. More than likely they moved in with Lavnina’s mother Lavinia Burton since they were enumerated with her on July 29, 1870.

Duncan Hyder Selph’s old alma mater Union University had suffered so greatly during the Civil War that it closed its doors from 1861 to 1868. It’s first president after it reopened in 1868 was D.H. Selph. His acceptance of that position was seen as a positive sign of the school’s potential to endure.

Next, Duncan Hyder Selph followed Dr. Durbin as president of the Baptist Female College in Lexington, Lafayette County, Missouri, supposedly in 1869. Certainly, he was still in Murfreesboro when he mailed a letter to Nashville on 28 August 1869. In reality, he probably did not begin at Baptist Female College until late in 1870. He resigned from First Baptist in August of 1870. He and Lavinia joined the First Baptist Church of Lexington, Missouri in October of 1870. Duncan Hyder was the pastor of that church from 1871 to 1872.

Iley Nunn Selph, the youngest child of D.H. and Lavinia, was born in Lexington, Missouri on February 9, 1872.

Sometime in late 1872, Duncan Hyder Selph’s health began to fail him. He was ill for more than a year prior to his death. In a letter written from Lavinia’s cousin Mary M.M. Hardeman to Lavinia’s mother, Lavinia (Murfree) Burton, Hardeman wrote, “When did you last hear from him [D.H. Selph?] and my dear cousin Lillie and their 9 children? I cannot realize that she has so many, yet it has been a long time since I had the happiness of meeting her. How is Mr. Selph and how are they all? I hope his restoration may be perfected so that he may dwell in safety with his loved ones and his lovely wife in bringing those dear children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. That in their home tenderness, the soft dews of the heart may cause good seed to opening up and bring forth fruit abundantly, I am of the opinion, when the heart is full of love, the world is full of beauty--it elevates and ennobles mankind, and I think we should cultivate a generous flow of kindliest feelings towards all mankind. It will reclaim the vicious and set their hearts and affecting right toward God and fill them with easy temper that is tender and affectionate towards men.”

Duncan Hyder and Lavinia were dismissed by letter from First Baptist Church of Lexington, Missouri on June 18, 1873. This was probably about the time he resigned as president of the Baptist Female College.

Duncan Hyder Selph spent the latter part of 1873 as president of D.D. William Jewel College in Liberty, Missouri. It is doubtful that he was able to carry out his duties very effectively since his health was in rapid decline.

Rev. Duncan Hyder Selph died January 9, 1874 and was buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Oak Grove, Jackson County, Missouri. His obituary ran in a Lexington, Missouri newspaper:

“SELPH--Near Oak Grove, Jackson County, Jan. 8, after a long and painful illness of more than a year, Rev. Duncan H. Selph, D.D., formerly President of the Baptist Female College in this city.”

Lavinia E. Selph and children probably returned to Murfreesboro, Tennessee shortly afterward.

Above, children of Duncan H. and Lavinia (Burton) Selph from left to right: Sallie B. (Selph) McLean, "Dee" (Selph) Harding, Hardy Selph, and Bettie V. (Selph) Burton. Below, youngest child: Illey Nunn Selph.

Rev. D.H. Selph Graduates and Gets His First Teaching Job

Peter Self's Wife

Peter Self vs. Peter Smith Self

Page last updated on 4 November 2017

Monday, July 18, 2011


© Kathy Duncan, 2011

Mrs. Turner pointed over my shoulder, “You can see it from here. The cemetery is under that stand of trees on the hill.” Her tone seemed meant to discourage me. As I turned and followed her finger, I was instantly a bit taken aback. The little grove of trees appeared to be at least half a mile away with no road to it in sight.

I turned back to her and asked, “Is there a road over there?” Again, her response was discouraging, “Not really.” I took another look at the cemetery. If I stuck to the fence line until I got to the top of the hill, I would not get lost. It was drizzly and a little muddy, but I did not care. “Can I walk through this pasture?” She just looked at me silently. “Is there a bull in that pasture?” That could be deal breaker. I was starting to waiver. Mrs. Turner remained silent, looking me up and down. Finally, I blurted out, “I’ve come all the way from Dallas, and I don’t know when I’ll ever be able to come back!” She sighed heavily, “Come on. I’ll take you.” I protested, but she assured me that she needed to go over there to check on her husband any way. Without a second thought, I left my mother and kids sitting in the car and happily jumped into a pick-up truck with a total stranger.

I hadn’t just come all the way from Dallas to get to that moment. I had traveled through the last twenty-two years searching futilely for the parents of my great-great-grandmother, Rebecca (Walker) Nevill. The pieces to the puzzle had fallen together only a few days earlier through the kindness of another stranger, Shirley Denney.

Early on a June day in 1997, I was preparing to leave on a long anticipated trip to Mansfield Arkansas. That morning I sat down with a cuppa coffee to check my email. Meanwhile, Shirley answered a roll call on the Scott County, Arkansas email list, hosted by Rootsweb, with a post detailing the family of one John Walker. A little girl named Rebecca L. was included among the list of his children. She was the right age to be my Rebecca, and I had long suspected, but could not prove, that she might be one of John’s children.

My grandfather Duncan told me that his grandmother Rebecca Nevill’s maiden name was Walker and that she had been born in Neosho, Missouri. There is no Texas death certificate for her, which would have the answers to the questions about her parentage easier to find. In 1870 Rebecca and husband Grandison Nevill were living in Titus County, Texas. On that census her name appeared as, “Louisa R Nevill,“ age 26, born in Missouri. On her tombstone, her name appears as simply “L.R. Nevill.” I concluded that her name must have been Louisa Rebecca. I scrolled the entire 1870 Titus County census looking for a Walker family from Missouri, but did not find any likely candidates. Next I scrolled the entire Newton County, Missouri censuses for both 1860 and 1850 and did not find a Walker household with a daughter named either Lousia or Rebecca in the correct age group. For many years I was at a standstill.

G.D. Nevill, Born Dec. 22, 1841, Died Oct. 4, 1924
L.R. Nevill Born Nov. 8, 1844, Died Mar. 23, 1912

Then I ordered Granderson D. Neville’s Arkansas homestead papers. From them, I learned that he and Rebecca had removed from Titus County, Texas to Scott County, Arkansas, settling on their homestead on 5 August 1871. There did not seem to be any one there related to Granville. That meant that maybe Rebecca was. On the 1870 Scott County, Arkansas census there was a family headed by John Walker with children born in Missouri. John Walker, age 48, and wife Hannah, age 46, were old enough to be my Rebecca‘s parents. Armed with this new information I spent a long day at the National Archives Branch in Ft. Worth examining every John Walker household in Missouri in 1850 and 1860. When that got me no where, I looked at Johnson Walker and then at every household hold in which the head of household’s given name started with the initial J. When the day was over, I had ruled out every John Walker household in Missouri. No one had a little girl named Louisa, Rebecca, Louisa Rebecca, Rebecca Louisa, L R or R L or R or L of the correct age. I had hit a brick wall, and it seemed immovable. I gave up on the Walkers.

In the intervening years, the internet blossomed. I joined the recently created Rootsweb email list for Scott Co., Ark and monitored it. Then Shirley Denney posted her message and shed light on the mystery; the indexing services had overlooked John Walker’s household for both census years. He was, in fact, on the McDonald County, Missouri census in both 1850 and 1860, and my Rebecca was in his household in both years. In 1850, she is “Louiza” age 6, born in Missouri. In 1860 , she is “Rebecca L.” age 16, born in Missouri.

Shirley and I spent the rest of the day swapping emails and multitasking. I told Shirley that I was packing to leave that very day on a trip to Mansfield, Ark, where I was planning a research trip on my Duncans and Nevills. She took mercy on me and shared her research with me even though she had a busy day planned, which included mowing her lawn. Between laps around her yard, Shirley was checking her emails and digging through her own research in order to respond to my questions . I was doing the same while pulling loads of laundry out of the dryer and packing. I delayed my departure until late in the day so that I would be armed with as much information as possible. By the time I hit the road, thanks to Shirley’s generosity, I knew that Rebecca’s parents were John C. and Hannah (Holcomb) Walker, that Hannah was the daughter of Azariah and Susan Holcomb, and that best of all--John and Hannah were buried in the old Marshall field cemetery now located in Bobby Joe Turner’s pasture in Ione, Arkansas.

Ione, Arkansas was only a short detour off of Highway 71. Just six miles. My mother and I decided on the morning of our return trip to Texas that we had enough time go to Ione. On the way, we found ourselves in a convoy of chicken manure trucks. While discussing strategies for finding Bobby Joe Turner’s pasture, my mother laughingly suggested that we just follow the chicken manure trucks. “I’m sure they are headed to Bobby Joe’s pasture,” she kidded. At least, I think she was kidding. We stopped at a house on the highway into Ione and asked if they knew where Bobby Joe Turner lived. We were pointed up a dirt road. Within a few minutes, I was standing on the Turners’ porch explaining that I was looking for the graves of my great-great-great grandparents and that I had been told they were buried in an old family cemetery located in the Turners’ pasture.

Once we were in the truck, Mrs. Turner said that she also does genealogy. That explained why she had taken mercy on me. On the way she apologized for the condition of the cemetery. They had fenced it to keep the cows from dong any further damage, but it was now overgrown. She assured me that we would be able to see the Walker stones, though.

When we reached the pasture, Mrs. Turner’s husband, Bobby Joe, was sitting in his truck, overseeing the delivery of his chicken manure! Mrs. Turner waited patiently while I looked at the stones and took pictures.

I was fortunate that Mrs. Turner took time out from her busy day to help because to date I have not been able to return to Arkansas. Over the years I have also been fortunate to be able to continue exchanging information and research with Shirley Denney, who I count as one of my dear friends even though we have never met. Whenever I find even the tiniest bit of information on the Walkers or Holcombs, Shirley is the first person I contact.

The moral here is that no matter how much research we do on our own, we are always dependent on the kindness of strangers. There is always another researcher out there who holds the key to a problem that we can not solve ourselves. I wish that over the years, I had not been too bashful to knock on more doors and chat up more strangers.

Hannah M. Walker, Born Mar. 25, 1824, Died Feb. 26, 1901

John C. Walker, Born 1821, Died Nov. 1874