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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Dunlevy: The First Judge Of Warren County

Dallas Bogan on 30 August 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Another Warren Countian who earned and received creditable acclaim was the first judge in the County, Francis Dunlevy. Among Judge Dunlevy's attributes were his trials as a soldier during his youth in the Indian War, a pioneer teacher in the Miami Valley, and one of the framers of the first Constitution of Ohio.
Francis Dunlevy was born near Winchester, Va., and later moved with his family to Washington, Pa., when he was about 11 years old. Living in a frontier settlement during the Revolution, Francis served in no less than eight campaigns against the Indians before he was 21, these campaigns ranging from 14 days to 3 months. He served during Col. Crawford's disastrous defeat, which resulted in the capture of the Colonel and his death by burning at the stake. Fifty years after this incident, in 1832, Dunlevy wrote an accurate report concerning that tragic expedition.
Dunlevy, after the Revolution, was a student in Dickinson College and studied to become a Presbyterian minister. His parents, of the same faith, longed for him this vocation, but a change in religious views by Francis led him into the Baptist church. He eventually gave up his ministerial studies and became a teacher.
He next relocated to the neighborhood of Washington, Ky., in 1790, and, in 1792, moved to Columbia near Cincinnati. Here he opened a classical school that he maintained several years. This house of education was believed to have been the first school taught by a respectable scholar in the new Miami country.
He moved, in 1797, to the locality of Lebanon and opened up a school; among his pupils was Thomas Corwin.
While teaching in Turtlecreek, he was first elected to office in October 1800 as a Representative in the Territorial Legislature from Hamilton County. (Hamilton County was then part of the Northwest Territory and contained an estimated 5,000 square miles.) He took his seat in November 1801.
During this term he was a spirited Anti-federalist and fought the invariable power of Gov. St. Clair.
Dunlevy was elected in 1802 as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. He received the most votes of 99 persons running for this office. The following year he was elected a State Senator in the first State Legislature, and from this body he was elected President Judge.
The first Constitution of Ohio stated that the Court of Common Pleas should consist of one President Judge in each circuit and three Associate Judges in each county. The Associates were generally men of various vocations such as mechanics, farmers, or those who were of adequate intelligence.
Also to be elected were three Supreme Judges. Salary for the Supreme Judges was fixed at $1000 per annum and for the President Judges, $750.
Lawyers were elected judges of the Supreme Court and also as President Judges of the eastern and middle circuits. Credentials for the President Judge were that he be qualified in law. Francis Dunlevy, who had never seriously studied law, or had never been admitted to the bar, was elected President Judge. He served his seven-year term and was reelected for a second term.
In the 14 years in this office he traveled his circuit through the most tortuous weather. He was an expert swimmer, his skill allowing him to cross both Miamis at high water. In his numerous campaigns against the Indians, and his ordeals as a pioneer, he thought nothing of crossing the Ohio River at flood time.
There were no bridges constructed in his circuit and repeatedly he swam his horse across the swollen rivers. Persons during this period, while purchasing a horse, would ask: "Is he a good swimmer?" In the 14 years of his profession he missed only one court appearance. Judge Dunlevy, though not a lawyer, was most likely better qualified to sit on the bench than most. He was gifted with great intelligence and was possibly the finest classical scholar in the Miami Valley.
The Judge was also possibly the first outspoken abolitionist in the valley. He was born in a slave State, but from his youth he denied this "peculiar institution."
Regarded by most men as an accepted institution, Dunlevy repeatedly spoke out against the persecution of the Negro. His patience ran thin with those who opposed his viewpoint and he "looked upon the advocates of gradual emancipation as men who would tolerate slavery."
He was a provider to the "Genius of Universal Emancipation," published by Benjamin Lundy at different locations, until being destroyed by a mob. Lundy traveled on foot and gave many speeches and lectures regarding his abolition journal, and, once while traveling his circuit he visited a day or two at Dunlevy's house.
Though Judge Dunlevy was open to much abuse, he never wavered once in his cause regarding the Negro's freedom. His opinions were seen as unpopular, but his composure and eloquence reigned high.
He was regularly a candidate for the Legislature after retiring from the bench and was defeated for Representative in 1821, '22 and '23.
His name had been announced as a candidate for the State Senate in 1823, when a correspondent for the Western Star attacked him for his friendliness toward the Negroes. The journalist quoted from the journal of the Constitutional Convention simply to show that Dunlevy had voted to strike the word "white" from the said document simply for the Negro's right to vote.
Judge Dunlevy, in the next issue of the Star, wrote a long article in reply to his critic. In essence, he basically upheld the doctrine that "all men are created equal." He continued by stating his views on another adverse subject, that of allowing persons of color to testify against a white man. He stated:
"I cannot see the justice or policy of the law which suffers a villain to escape because his crime was committed only in the presence of persons of color."
His defeat in 1823 caused the Judge never to seek office again. However, in 1824, his name was placed on the Ohio electoral ticket for John Q. Adams.
He retired from the practice of law and in his later years dedicated his life to reading and study. Latin came easy for him and he preferred reading the Bible in Latin rather than in English.
Judge Dunlevy was described as a rather heavy-set man, quite plain in appearance, and significantly abrupt in his manner. He lived a great deal of his life on a farm two miles northwest of Lebanon. He was described as a remarkable man and one of the most distinguished men of the Turtlecreek valley. One of his achievements was that of assisting in the formation of the Miami Baptist Association and was a leading member of the Baptist church in Lebanon.
In my research Francis' name has been sometimes spelled "Dunlevy," but he personally spelled it "Dunlavy." It was spelled in the latter form in the first Constitution of Ohio. Anthony H. changed the name to "Dunlevy", oldest son of Francis, soon after he became a lawyer in Lebanon. Anthony as "Dunlevy signed a legal document in 1821" while his father spelled his name, "Dunlavy."
The son claimed the original family came from Spain. The family then passed through France to Ireland and then to America. He contended that the original spelling was "Dunlavy."
Francis Dunlavy died October 6, 1839, aged 78 years, and is buried in the old Baptist Cemetery in Lebanon. On the monument he is credited with being among the first white men who entered the territory now forming Ohio. It also reveals that he was a member of the Territorial Legislature and of the Convention, which formed the first Constitution of Ohio.

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This page created 30 August 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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