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Judge Francis Dunlevy
Early Baptist Leader in Southern Ohio
By A. H. Dunlevy (his son)

     Francis Dunlevy was one of the early Baptists in the Northwestern Territory, and in its early history took an important part. He became a member of the Columbia Church in 1792: was one of the conference which took the first steps toward organizing the Miami Association, and, it was said long after, drew up the articles of faith agreed upon by the association. The same probably, contained in the foregoing pages. He continued an active member of the church in the Miami Valley until his death, November 6, 1839, a period of forty-seven years, and had been a member of the Baptist Church some five or six years previous to his uniting with the Columbia Church.

     Mr. Dunlevy's ancestors were originally from Spain, from whence they were compelled to fly from the terrible persecutions of the Catholics, to France, where, at that time, Protestants enjoyed comparative liberty under the Edict of Nantz. The name which was properly Donlevy, has since been written variously, according to the vowel sounds of the different countries into which the family was scattered -- sometimes Donlevy, by others Dunlevy, and again Dunlavy. On the repeal of the Edict of Nantz, and the re-enactment of the severe penalties against Protestant Huguenots, as they were called, the grandfather of Mr. Dunlevy escaped to Ireland, which he reached about 1688. He there lived many years, dying at near one hundred, and leaving a large family, especially of sons. One of these, Anthony, father of the subject of this notice, came from Ireland to the American provinces about 1745, and settled in Virginia, near Winchester, where he married Hannah White, sister to the late Judge Alexander White, of that State. Of this marriage Francis Dunlevy was the eldest of four sons and four daughters, except one, all of whom attained maturity and left families, except one sister, who died without issue.

     The parents of Francis Dunlevy were zealous and rigid Presbyterians, the father almost inheriting a constitutional hatred of Catholicism from the persecutions by which his father and ancestors had suffered so much and so long; and the mother was not less zealous in her views, descended as she was from an old Scotch Presbyterian ancestry. Francis, as the first-born son was early intended for a minister. But the revolutionary war breaking out about the time he should have been at college, seemed for some years to threaten the frustration of all their plans. At an early day, in 1772, or about that time, the family removed from Winchester to what was supposed to be Western Virginia, on the west of the Allegheny Mountains, and settled near to the place where Washington, Pennsylvania, now stands. The running of Mason and Dixon’s line soon afterwards left them in Pennsylvania, much to their mortification, having contracted great love for the Old Dominion. In this frontier settlement, when the revolutionary war broke out, they were greatly exposed to Indian depredations; and the men of the new settlements were almost constantly called upon to serve in longer or shorter campaigns, considered essential to the safety of the frontiers. When Francis was but fourteen years old, though not liable to military duty at that age, he volunteered to take the place of a neighbor who had been drafted, and, having a family, could not well leave home. Raised as he was in the backwoods, and early accustomed to hardships and dangers he satisfactorily discharged the duty of a soldier in that campaign. He served also in four or five others and from 1776 to 1782. was almost constantly in the service of his country. He was with the detachment which built the first fort on the northwest side of the Ohio — long and well-known as Fort McIntosh. He also assisted in erecting the first block-house at Mt. Pleasant at the mouth of the Great Kanawha. He was also in Crawford’s defeat in 1782, and being on the extreme western flank engaged in conflict with Indians until dark, when the army retreated, he was left with but one or two more, to make their way, as best they could, from Sandusky plains to Pittsburg, [sic] through an Indian country. As the Indians, in large numbers, pursued Crawford's retreating army, it was impossible for those separated to join the army, as the enemies' forces intercepted them.

     As soon as the peace of the country permitted him Judge Dunlevy was sent to Dickinson College to prepare for the ministry. Here be made rapid progress in science, and at the second commencement might have graduated but thinking his course too short and having little respect for titles of all kinds, he refused his diploma, though filled up and offered him; and which was thrown about the college many years afterwards. Leaving college he became a student of divinity under the Rev. James Hoge, then of Winchester, Virginia. Dr. Hoge was an uncle of his by marriage and was esteemed one of the most eminent divines of that day in the United States. It was of him that John Randolph said in Congress, about 1822, that "since the death of Dr. Hoge he had never heard the gospel preached in its purity."

     Here Judge Dunlevy studied the Scriptures more carefully, and could not avoid the conclusion that pedobaptism and sprinkling or pouring, instead of immersion, were unauthorized by the New Testament. Contrary to his own expectation, and much to the mortification of his parents, as well as brothers and sisters, he was compelled by his conscience to become a Baptist. He, however, was of that resolute and independent disposition that when he saw what he believed to be his duty, he never hesitated to follow in its path, however unpopular or injurious to his own worldly prospects.

     At the same time his study of the Scriptures opened to him more perfectly the system of salvation as therein revealed, and he became convinced that unless called of God, as was Aaron, he ought not to officiate in holy things. He therefore gave up his plans of preaching, believing he had not evidence of a special call to that work, and betook himself to teaching for a living. He taught a classical school for some time after in Virginia, and several men who afterwards were distinguished for their learning and talent were among his pupils. One of these was the late Philip Doddridge, the distinguished lawyer late of Wheeling, Virginia.

     After leaving Virginia he came with his father's family to Washington, Kentucky, or to that neighborhood, about 1790, where his father bought some lands, but the title proving defective, after much trouble and loss on this account, he became disgusted with the insecurity of land titles in Kentucky, and returned to Virginia. His son Francis, however, had early manifested great opposition to s1avery, and had determined, from the adoption of the ordinance of 1787 prohibiting slavery in all the Northwestern Territory, to settle within its bounds at the first opening for a school. With this view he came to Columbia, near Cincinnati, in 1792, and in connection with the late John Reily, of Butler County, Ohio, opened a classical school, which was continued for several years, and was the first good school in the territory.

     Judge Dunlevy was twice a member of the Legislature bf the Northwestern Territory; afterwards a member of the Convention which formed the first Constitution of Ohio. He was also a member of the first State Legislature, and then was elected Presiding Judge of the Court of Common Pleas, whose circuit included, at that time, all the Miami Valley from Hamilton and Clermont Counties on the south, to Miami and Champaign on the north. Here he served as judge for fourteen years, and though he had at that time to cross both Miamies at every season of the year, then without any bridges, in all that time he never missed more than one court. He often swam these rivers on horseback when very few others would have ventured to cross them. In his various campaigns and extensive travels in new countries he had become so expert a swimmer that he thought nothing of swimming the Ohio in its greatest floods.

     At the close of his term as Presiding Judge, being poor and having involved himself as security for some of his friends, Judge Dunlevy felt himself compelled to engage in the practice of the law for the means of sustaining a large and dependent family. For more than ten years he was indefatigable in his legal pursuits, attending the courts of several surrounding counties. For eight or more years before his death, however, he retired from business, and indulged himself in reading such books — mostly religious — as his engagements had before prevented him from studying with care and attention. During these last years of his life, however, the Bible was his daily book, and being so familiar with the Latin language as to write and speak it with ease, he preferred, before the English; Castellios Latin translation of the Scriptures, a copy of which he always kept by him.

     Judge Dunlevy possessed a remarkable memory, retaining whatever he heard or read with great accuracy. His knowledge of the Bible was, therefore, uncommonly correct, and ever enabled him to detect the slightest errors in quotations made from it, in the pulpit or on other occasions. He had in this way acquired a clear and comprehensive view of the doctrines and practice of the various religious sects of his own and past ages, and was able to class them whenever their peculiar views were propagated, as new or old, in their proper category. In the great Kentucky or New Light revival of 1801-2, which carried off all the Presbyterians in his neighborhood, he at once saw the similarity of their views to Shakerism, and then told some of them that they would all be Shakers. Four years afterwards this actually occurred, though at the time of this prediction scarce one of them had ever even heard of Shakers.

     In his doctrinal sentiments Judge Dunlevy was steadfast and unchanging. He was a Calvinist, firm and unyielding, but without any tendency to Antinomianism. In the church at Lebanon, Ohio, where he had his membership for more than forty years, he at several periods discovered tendencies to Antinomianism sometimes, and at others toward Arminianism, and often pointed them out that they might be avoided. He considered each equally dangerous, and constantly to be guarded against. In the division of the church at Lebanon, in 1836, on the missionary question, he made a long and earnest appeal to the members, giving the history of the church from its organization, and showed how often they had inclined toward one and then the other of these extremes. The anti-mission movement was but Antinomianism he said, in principle, and a step in contradiction to the whole history of the Baptist denomination in Ohio, as he proved by ample references to facts which fully appear in the preceding history of the Miami Association. He warned the advocates of this anti-mission movement of the destructive consequence upon them as a Christian denomination. He told them that he had seen a similar stand taken by Baptist churches in Virginia, fifty years before that time, and the result was that in twenty years, or less, those churches had become almost extinct and that the same consequences would as surely befall those churches who adopted these anti-missionary sentiments. How nearly his prediction has been verified the preceding pages will show.

     Judge Dunlevy was an early and uniform opponent to slavery in every form. Though born and partly raised and educated in a slave State he never, in any way, approved or justified it. When but a youth he used to express opinions of the wrong and iniquity of slavery, which then surprised his acquaintances. Slavery then was permitted and practiced to some extent in all of the North American provinces, and the great majority of persons had never heard its right, perhaps, even questioned. Even at this day, in many places in the South, numerous individuals may be found who never heard the justice of slavery questioned, or had a thought that it was wrong. But this universal acquiescence could not satisfy his inquiring mind. He received nothing upon trust, but for everything affecting man's moral conduct he appealed to the law and the testimony in his Bible.

     An ardent advocate of the universal freedom of man, he warmly espoused the cause of liberty in our revolutionary struggle, and through life indulged the confident expectation that the doctrines of the Declaration of Independence would ultimately, and at no distant day, be adopted by every people. The tenacity with which the South adhered [sic] to slavery and sought its extension was the principal drawback to these fond anticipations. But still he continued to believe that a sense of justice and humanity would finally triumph over selfish schemes of interest and power; and slavery, sooner or later, be forever abolished. Being among the first thus openly and publicly to avow the equality of all men, white or black, he was subjected thereby to much odium and abuse. But none of these things moved him. He never flinched from embracing and avowing the truth, however unpopular; and seeing the disposition so general, if not to trample upon, at least to turn away from the oppressed and downtrodden, he seemed to take delight in espousing their cause and identifying himself with them, whatever the consequence to himself. Being a member of the first Constitutional Convention of Ohio, he was one of those who advocated the most liberal civil, religious and political privileges for all citizens, of whatever name, country, color or religion. The persecutions which his ancestors suffered in consequence of their opposition to Catholic tyranny in Europe, and somewhat similar disabilities, though by no means so great, to which Baptists had been subjected in continental Virginia, and in New England, no doubt had their influence in giving this prominent trait to his character -- a trait which can only be fully expressed by a determined opposition to every form of oppression on any pretext and toward any race of men.

     Judge Dunlevy retained his mental faculties in undiminished strength to the last, and apparently was a victim to his unconquerable love of books. Having been attacked with pleurisy, in October, 1839, which, after a few days, seemed to yield to medical aid, his physician supposed him out of danger; but a few days before his death he sat up much longer than was intended, his thoughts being engrossed with reading, and brought on a relapse, which was unmanageable, and terminated fatally on the 6th of November, 1839, in the 78th year of his age. He was perfectly rational to the last -- was sensible of his approaching dissolution, and talked of it as calmly as of any other event. To his friends, who came round him during the last few days of his life, he said that "for forty years I have never had any fears of death; and the day of judgment has long appeared to me as the most glorious feature in the moral government of God. Then and there all seeming mysteries in God's providence will be made so plain that all will acknowledge the justice as well as mercy of his administration. Then the truth, about which men differ so much here, will be made clear. The innocent and oppressed, too, however calumny and abuse have been heaped upon them here, shall be cleared from every unjust imputation, and the wrong-doer, of every grade, stand convicted in his own conscience, and in the eyes of an assembled world." Soon after these and similar expressions he fell asleep in Jesus as quietly as he had ever taken his natural rest.

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[From A. H. Dunlevy, History of the Miami Baptist Association, 1869, pp. 147-159. Scanned by Jim Duvall]


     The gravemarker for Francis Dunlevy:


In Memory of Francis Dunlavy
who died Oct. 6th, 1839 aged 78 years

     He was one of the first white men who entered the Territory now forming Ohio; was a member of the Territorial Legislature, and of the convention which formed the Constitution of Ohio.



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