Duncan, Warren W. 1857-1938

Warren Webster Duncan, of the Williamson County Bar, was born on a farm in Jeffersonville, Lake Creek Township, Williamson County, Illinois, January 21, 1857. Jeffersonville was located a short distance due east of Johnston City.  He spent his entire life in this county, being numbered among the successful attorneys of Marion the county seat.

His parents were Andrew J. and Matilda A. (Nall) Duncan. The father was born May 9, 1831, and was reared on a farm but since 1860 has followed general merchandising in Johnston City and dealing in tobacco. Warren’s mother died while he was an infant and he was reared by his step mother Nancy (Powell) Duncan. He is descended from Scotch ancestors, who leaving the land of hills and heather, located in North Carolina, after which their descendants moved to Kentucky and later to Illinois.

During his boyhood, Warren attended the public schools of his native county and afterwards spent five years in Ewing College at Ewing, Illinois. There he pursued the seven year mathematical course and the four year Greek and Latin courses. In June of 1879, the college conferred upon him the degree of Bachelor of Arts and in 1883 the degree of Master of Arts. The work of the farm was not altogether distasteful to him, but he had no inclination for the mercantile life which his father wished him to enter. When he announced his intentions to study law, his family and friends predicted failure and tried to convince him otherwise, but he persevered and won a place among the practitioners of his native county.

He studied law under Judge Williams, of Benton, Illinois, from May, 1881, until the fall of 1884, when he passed an examination to enter the senior class of the St. Louis Law School, in which institution he was graduated the following June, being one of four who graduated cum magna laude, having made over eighty-five per cent average on the final examinations.

He was admitted to the bar by the Supreme Court of Illinois, in February, 1885, and began practice in Marion on August 18, 1885, where he remained. He was thoroughly prepared by a long course of study and his knowledge of the principles of jurisprudence, of precedents and of decisions was very accurate and comprehensive. At that time he was five hundred dollars in debt, and in order to secure his creditor against loss in case of his death, he took out a life policy in the Equitable Life Insurance Company, of New York.

In politics he is a Republican, and was elected and served as county judge of Williamson County from December, 1886, until December, 1890.

On the 20th of November, 1890, Judge Duncan was united in marriage to Miss Ella Goodall, daughter of Hardin Goodall, of Marion, and they had one child, Pauline Duncan, born May 26, 1892.

He was elected the Republican elector in the twenty-second district of Illinois, in November, 1896, and was selected by the Illinois electors as the messenger to convey the Illinois vote to Washington in the following January.

In March, 1897, he was defeated for the Republican nomination for judge to the first judicial circuit.

When the Williamson County Board of Education was formed in 1898, Judge W.W. Duncan was one of its charter members.

Warren Duncan served as part of the defense in the Carterville coal mine riots of 1898 in which five black men were murdered in similar circumstances to the Herrin Massacre in the 1920’s.

When Edward E. Denison, son of Charles H. Denison,  was admitted to the bar in June 1900, he formed a law partnership with Warren Duncan and entered upon the practice of his profession. This relationship continued until June 1, 1903, when Duncan was elected to serve a six year term as one of three Circuit Court judges who alternated holding court. Their terms expired on June 7th 1909, but Duncan was re-elected for another six year term and served until 1915. In 1909 and 1910 he was Appellate Judge for the Fourth District. From 1911 to 1915 he was Appellate Judge for the First Appellate District.

Prior to 1909 Warren Duncan and his family were living at 204 E. College St. which would have put them in the block behind the current post office. Around the time he was re-elected to circuit judge in 1909, he moved his family into their new home at 518 S. Market Street.

He was elected to the Illinois Supreme Court from the first District in 1915, re-elected in 1924 and served as a justice until 1933 when his health began to decline and he was subject to a number of operations.

Warren died at his home at 518 S. Market St. in Marion, Illinois on April 11, 1938. He was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery on April 13th.

Warren had been a member of the Masonic fraternity since 1880 and had joined the Knights of Pythias fraternity in 1895.Because of his strong convictions and independence of mind that frequently manifested itself with strong and dissenting decisions, Duncan was often referred to as “the Oliver Wendell Holmes” of the Illinois Supreme Court.

After Warren’s death, his wife Ella (Goodall) Duncan continued living in their S. Market home until her death in January 1961. She was buried on January 4, 1961 at Rose Hill next to Warren.

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Sam’s Notes: Warren’s daughter Pauline married Edwin Gibson Bolger circa 1921. Edwin was born in 1889 in Pennsylvania and as a young man in 1918 was working as an engineer for the Peabody Coal Company in Danville, Illinois. He moved to the Marion, Illinois area while with Peabody around 1920, where he met Pauline Duncan. In 1922, they were living with her parents on S. Market St. and he was listed as a Division Engineer for Peabody Coal. Shortly after that, the couple moved to Denver, Colorado and were located there from the 1920’s to Warren’s death in 1938. In 1930, they were living in Grand Junction, Colorado but didn’t appear to be getting a lot of work from the mines.

By 1961, when Ella Duncan died in Marion, Pauline had apparently already been widowed. She returned home and started living in the family home where she appears to have lived until her death in the 1970’s. I have found no record of her or her husband’s deaths to date. No children were found in any of their census records.

(Data from The Bench and Bar of Illinois, Federal Census Records, WWI Draft Records, Ancestry.com, Marion City Directories, Marion City Cemetery Records; compiled by Sam Lattuca on 03/17/2013)

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