Cooper: Douglas County's first legislator


This ad in a newspaper from the nineteenth century shows F.M. Duncan was the headmaster of the high school at Chapel Hill.

Francis Marion Duncan was born in Powder Springs in 1839 or 1840 depending on the resource consulted, and was the son of William Watts Duncan (1800-1847) and Mary Polly (Barnwell) Duncan. F.M. Duncan grew up to serve in the Confederate army, and afterward he finished up his education at Bowden College, graduating in 1870.

In 1871, he came to Douglas County to open and serve as headmaster of a new school in the Chapel Hill area called Chapel Hill High School. Yes! Even as far back as 1871 Douglas County had a high school by that name.

In those earliest days of Douglas County, political participation was the norm. The Democratic Party here in the county in the early 1870s was composed of a majority of white men who were former Confederates. Professor Duncan took part, as well.

In September 1872, the Douglas County Democrats had a meeting regarding the county's representation in the Georgia House because when Douglas County was created in 1870, the county had no representative and would not have one until 1873. This issue of no representative had to do with timing. Douglas County existed as of October 17, 1870. A new census was taken in 1870, but the results would not publish until 1871 or later, and then the issue met the very slow wheels of action with the Georgia Legislature. They needed the new population figures to realign the number of representatives each county was allowed.

At the meeting in September 1872, Professor Duncan made a speech upon the political issues of the day, and the group announced they were in favor of electing some suitable citizen of the county to be the direct representative of the people. Professor Duncan was nominated, eventually elected, and became Douglas County's first representative in the Georgia House.

In those days most members of the General Assembly who did not live in Atlanta would take up residence at the Kimball House hotel. One newspaper referred to the hotel as the "resort of the legislative members" and stated it was where "they did their log rolling work." I would venture to say many deals were made under the roof of the Kimball House hotel.

When Representative Duncan reported to the floor of the Georgia House of Representatives, he did not go to the Georgia Capitol building we have today because it would not be built until 1889. Representative Duncan and all the other members of the General Assembly met at the Kimball Opera House, at the corner of Marietta and Forsyth Streets, a building they used from 1869 until 1889.

I've reviewed Representative Duncan's legislative record while he served in the Georgia House, and didn't really find anything "that" remarkable -- just basic issues for a brand new county getting up to speed. In mid-January, 1875 Representative Duncan read his first bill on the floor of the House. It involved making the tax collector of Douglas County ex-officio county treasurer. A few days later Representative Duncan offered a resolution instructing the state librarian to provide the necessary reports and books that lawmakers in the newest counties like Douglas would need in order to do their jobs properly. Other legislation introduced by Duncan during his time in the House included a bill to incorporate the town of Douglasville, to create a Board of Commissioners for Douglas County, and to change the meeting times for the superior court.

By 1876, Duncan was eyeing a Senate seat. At that time Douglas County was in the 36th District along with Meriwether, Coweta, and Campbell Counties. Generally, the counties would take turns in nominating men to serve, and Douglas, the new county on the block, felt it was their turn. F.M. Duncan won the seat quite easily with his term beginning in 1877.

This means that not only does F.M. Duncan have the designation of being the first Representative from Douglas County; he is also the first person from the county to serve in the Georgia Senate. While in the Senate, Duncan introduced an amendment regarding requirements for male citizens to serve on "road duty" which dealt with the maintenance of roads, another amendment involved interest rates across the state, and yet another amendment involved a statute regarding bigamy.

After his term expired Duncan returned to teaching, going to Bremen where he was the headmaster of Hamilton College in 1893-94. Various accounts mention that while at Hamilton, Duncan "was" the faculty there, and at some point added business courses to the curriculum. I would like to add here that Hamilton College was not a college you and I think of today. It was basically a school covering all grades; however the curriculum was extremely rigorous and would be on par with the International Baccalaureate program at Douglas County High School today. He also taught in Powder Springs, too.

F.M. Duncan died on March 9, 1904 around 11 in the morning at his residence located at 531 Pulliam Street in Atlanta. Today, Pulliam Street runs parallel with the downtown connector. The home is long gone with the approximate location being the auditorium for the International Brothers of Electrical Workers.

Duncan's cause of death was given as an attack of paralysis. He was survived by his wife, and his body was brought the next day to Douglasville where he was interred at noon at the Douglasville City Cemetery.

Lisa Cooper writes the amazing stories of Douglas County each Sunday. You can find her new book "Every Now and Then: The Amazing Stories of Douglas County" online at Amazon, print and Kindle versions. Locally, her books can be found at the Douglas County Museum of History and Art, The Farmer's Table and Lithia Springs Pharmacy.

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