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


  1. Exciting to think Frank Selph may be the Frank Selph in Myrtle Fannie Selph's family...
    Daughter[-in-law of Myrtle.

    1. Nelda:

      Sorry to take so long to get back to you. Which Frank Selph are you researching? I have more information on the Frank B. Selph who was Rev. Duncan Hyder Selph's son.

  2. carolyn gregoryMay 4, 2014 at 7:22 PM

    Do you have a picture of fnw burton, former sec of state? He was Lavinia's brother.

    1. Carolyn: Unfortunately, I do not have a picture of F.N.W. Burton Jr. Do you?