A Brief History Of Eastern Kentucky's Duff Family

By William Henry Young - 2000

On March 15, 1781, the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina, was raging. General Greene, the Colonial general, had carefully picked this site as the place to engage the English general, Cornwallis. That day, Henry Lee's cavalry encountered Cornwallis' advancing army and fought it briefly. Then the British Army crashed up the hill toward the courthouse, where green colonial troops fired two promised volleys and fled.

The battle was fought furiously by John Howard and William Washington's cavalries and seasoned Colonials. Colonial and English troops fought each other, with neither side gaining the advantage, until Cornwallis ordered his gunners to open fire on friend and foe alike. At the end of this slaughter, Shadrach Duff, the father of Daniel Duff, the ancestor of generations of Eastern Kentuckians, was dead.

Shadrach Duff's ancestors came from near the present site of Dufftown, Scotland. There is little doubt that his ancestors fought the British in the Battle of Culloden, Scotland, during the time when the Scots were attempting to place Bonny Prince Charles on the throne. Family history has Shadrach's father arriving in America from northern Ireland, which is clear testimony to this fact.

Shadrach married Deborah Dickson (Dixon) a few short years before the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. He and Deborah had two children: Daniel and Elizabeth. Deborah Dickson Duff died soon after her husband, and both children were bonded to Mary Hamilton at Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina, on November 20, 1786.

In the spring of 1787, Elizabeth would have been 13 years old and was bonded until she was 18. Daniel was 11 years old that spring and was bonded until he was 21 (Court Records: Pleas and Quarter Sessions, Guilford County, North Carolina, November 20, 1786; page 232).

Elizabeth Duff, the eldest of Shadrach and Deborah Dickson Duff's two children, was born in 1774. She married Thomas McQueen and settled in Greene County, Tennessee. Daniel married Nancy Ann Allison in North Carolina, but a short time later, the couple moved to the Wallin Ridge section of Lee County, Virginia, where many of their children were born. He became a minister of the Primitive Baptist Church before he came to Kentucky.

Nancy Ann Allison was born of Welsh parentage at Guilford County, North Carolina, in 1776. As is usually the case with the distaff side of a family, not much is known about her. We do know, however, that she was a faithful, caring wife and mother.

Prior to 1818, this couple had moved to the head of the North Fork of the Kentucky River, in what is now Letcher County. According to family history, it was upon the suggestion of Elder Jesse Bowling that they settled on Grapevine Creek in old Clay County (now Perry County).

History also suggests that Daniel was originally of the Presbyterian faith and changed his religious affiliations before arriving in Kentucky. This is very probable, since the Primitive Baptist and the Presbyterian faiths, at that time, were very similar. This opinion was strong in more than one of the families which descended from Daniel and Nancy Ann Duff.

Daniel was active in Primitive Baptist churches of the Indian Bottom Association. Records confirm that he was involved with the Sandlick Church in Floyd County, the Oven Fork Church in Letcher County, the Indian Bottom Church in Perry County, and the Stillwater Baptist Church in Breathitt County. He was also the mover who brought the Quicksand Primitive Baptist Church in Breathitt County into existence.

The Indian Bottom Church was founded in 1810 in what is now Letcher County, and soon became the leading church of the Indian Bottom Association of Regular Baptists. That church, and all other Primitive Baptist churches in Eastern Kentucky at that time, was a member of the Washington Association of Southwestern Virginia. Regardless of distance, these early churches were represented at the annual associations.

One church historian states, "In 1814, Elder Daniel Duff was known to have preached where Whitesburg is now located (then Floyd County). In 1815, returning from Virginia, he was accompanied by two ministers, William Wells and John Flannery, pastor of the Deep Springs Church in Lee County, Virginia. Duff once lived on the river above Blackey, Kentucky, and came down into what is now Perry County in 1818.

Records show that the Presbyteria, which organized the Oven Fork Church in 1820, was composed of Elders Daniel Duff, William Wells, and John Flannery (Perry County: A History, page 120). As an early minister in Perry County, he performed many of the marriages, which are entered in Marriage Books A and B.

In 1839, the Quicksand Regular Baptist Church was organized. Its first moderator, which most faiths refer to as a "pastor," was Daniel Duff. According to church records, it was built about 600 yards above the mouth of Quicksand Creek. Measuring 20 feet by 24 feet, it was made of hand-hewn logs. Its seats were made of split logs and served the congregation for many years (from the minutes of the Quicksand Regular Baptist Church). An interesting fact is that none of the minutes of the Indian Bottom Association churches list Nancy Ann Duff as a member.

Nancy Allison Duff died in 1849 and is buried in the John Bach Cemetery at Quicksand, Breathitt County. After her death, Daniel went to live with his daughter, Drucilla Duff Gilbert, in Carter County. A short time later, he married Ellen Roe.

During his residence in Carter County, as a minister of the Christian Gospel, he continued to marry couples in this capacity. He died on August 15, 1855 and was buried near Olive Hill. His grave is yet to be identified, but family tradition has it that he is buried in the same cemetery as his second wife, Ellen Roe.

A monument to his memory was erected at Caney, Kentucky, off Highway 191, about nine miles from West Liberty on the property of Daniel Duff's great-great-grandson, Wardie Craft. Daniel's Bible, a small English book, is now owned by his great-great-grandson, Cecil Duff, son of the late Claude Duff of Owsley County. Ira Duff, now deceased, owned the Bible belonging to Daniel's son, John A. Duff. I don't know who owns John's Bible today.

Ellen Roe was not a widow, as is stated in Perry County: A History. She and her first husband, Edward Roe, divorced (Carter County, Kentucky, Order Book A). Edward and Ellen had 11 children from 1814-35. In 1838, he married a 25-year-old widow, Rebecca Burris Lewis, and fathered five children by her, from 1838-49.

Daniel and Nancy Ann Duff's children follow:

Rachael Duff married Joshua Oliver. Most of the Olivers, and many of the families of Breathitt, Perry, Morgan, and Menifee Counties are descendants (or parallel families) of this couple.

Henry C. Duff married Mary Nancy Davidson, the daughter of Samuel Davidson. Samuel was one of the participants in the infamous Cattle War. Henry C. served in the Kentucky Legislature, was the first sheriff of Perry County, and served as a teacher and postmaster in the Grapevine section of Perry County. He moved to Missouri and was killed there by a roving band of irregulars during the Civil War.

John A. Duff was appointed by the Kentucky Legislature as the first surveyor of Perry County. He also served Perry County as one of its first county judges. He married Mary Polly Combs, the daughter of Elijah "General Lige" Combs. John lived out his life in Perry County, and most of the Duffs of that county are descended from him.

John's daughter, Sarah, married Daniel Davidson, the youngest son of Samuel, by his first wife. Most of the Perry County Davidsons and their offspring descend from John A. Duff through this marriage.

Mary Polly Duff married Martin Shepherd and moved to Missouri. He must have died before 1850, for in that year, she and her children were living in the household with Henry C. Duff.

Her sister, Martha Duff, married William Bowen. Family history has it that this family moved to Iowa.

Deborah Duff married William Boling (Bowling), son of Reverend Jesse Boling, who was a good friend of Daniel Duff. All of their children were born in Perry County, in the vicinity of the Middle Fork River, at or near the Breathitt/Perry County line. Most of them eventually moved to Arkansas.

Shadrach Duff, son of Daniel and Nancy, is mentioned in an interview by the Rev. John J. Dickey, conducted in May 1898 with Matilda Duff Lewis. She states, "Shadrach Duff, my brother, was killed by an explosion of a keg of gunpowder when a young man..."

From Perry County: A History, we learn that Shadrach married Lucinda Combs, daughter of Elijah "General Lige" Combs, a sister to his brother's (John) wife.

Colson Duff was born in old Clay County (now Perry County), Daniel's first child born in Kentucky. He married Elizabeth Gilbert, the daughter of Thomas Gilbert. Colson owned a large tract of land on Grapevine Creek in Perry County; 1,500 acres. During the Civil War, a group of men came by his home and robbed him. He escaped to Owsley County, built a farmstead, and lived there until his death on March 18, 1911.

Drucilla Duff married William Gilbert, the son of Thomas and Susannah Gilbert. She was a sister to Elizabeth, her brother's (Colson) wife. William Gilbert moved from Perry County to Carter County, Kentucky, where he was the keeper of the "poor house," before moving to Illinois after the Civil War. Their descendants are many and live in all sections of the country.

Alexander Duff married Catherine "Matilda" Noble in 1842 in Breathitt County. In the 1860 Breathitt County Census, he was listed as a 40-year-old cabinetmaker. Alexander is the ancestor of many of the Duffs in Breathitt and Lee counties.

Margaret Duff was born in Perry County in 1823, three years after that county was formed from Clay and Floyd. She married John Hays and moved to Wolfe County. John, the son of Nancy Angel and John Hays, Jr., was born in 1820. He first moved to Wolfe County to be near several of his brothers, who lived there in the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s. By 1880, he and Margaret Duff Hays had moved to Menifee County.

Matilda Duff, Daniel and Nancy's youngest child, was born in Perry County in 1825. She married John "Baldy" Lewis, who was born in 1815. It is from her interview with Rev. John J. Dickey that we know as much as we do about the history of Daniel and Nancy's origins and movements to Eastern Kentucky. She and John raised their family in what is now Leslie County.

Each of Daniel and Nancy Ann Duff's children are listed above in chronological order. Their younger children were all born on Grapevine Creek in Perry County. The offspring of this couple numbers into the thousands, by the time we get to the ninth and tenth generations of Revolutionary War soldier, Shadrach Duff.


William Henry Young, 130 West Warren Street, Germantown, OH 45327-1043, hoehandle@juno.com, shares this story and photos of the Duff family with our readers.