Francis Dunlavy: Pioneer Teacher

Francis Dunlavy is recognized as the first teacher in the Miami Valley, the land between the Great and Little Miami Rivers which includes present-day Lebanon. He was also one of the principal writers of Ohio’s first constitution, and served Southwest Ohio as a president judge for 14 years.

Dunlavy was born on New Year’s Eve, 1761, near Winchester, Va. He was the oldest son of Anthony and Hannah Dunlavy’s eight children. In 1772, the family moved west of the Allegheny Mountains to the settlement of Catfish in Washington County, Pa. It was there that Dunlavy was drafted into a militia to defend their frontier community from American Indians and red coats during the American Revolution.

Young Dunlavy served no fewer than eight times before age 21, beginning in 1776 when he was 14. On a few occasions, he served as a substitute for his father. These campaigns ranged from 14 days to 3 months.

In May and June of 1782, Dunlavy was among the 500 volunteers led by Col. William Crawford in a campaign against American Indian villages along the Sandusky River. Crawford led what was supposed to be a surprise attack deep into enemy territory. But the Indians and their British allies from Detroit found out ahead of time. After a day of indecisive fighting, Dunlavy and the other volunteers found themselves surrounded. During a confused retreat in which Dunlavy escaped, Crawford and some of his men were captured. Crawford was tortured for at least two hours before being burned at the stake.

In 1790, Dunlavy graduated from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. Two years later, after abandoning plans to become a minister in favor of education, Dunlavy moved to Columbia, near Cincinnati at the mouth of the Little Miami River, and opened a school. That same year, he married a young widow named Mary Craig Carpenter. Together they would have six children, among them were Anthony Howard, a Lebanon lawyer who married Ichabod Corwin’s daughter Lucinda; John Craig, a physician in Hamilton; and James Harvey, also a lawyer.

After the Treaty of Greeneville opened the Miami Valley to white settlement, Dunlavy and his family moved upriver to the Turtle Creek Valley in 1797. The following spring, Dunlavy opened the first school in the Miami Valley. The log-cabin subscription school was north of Turtle Creek on what is now West Main Street, where Lebanon’s water department is now located. Among his students was Matthias Corwin's four-year-old son, Thomas, who would grow up to be governor.

In October 1800, Dunlavy was elected to the Northwest Territorial Legislature and left teaching the following year. Dunlavy was an anti-Federalist and clashed with the power-hungry territorial Gov. Arthur St. Clair.

In 1802 Dunlavy was Hamilton County’s top vote-getter for a seat at Ohio’s constitutional convention in Chillicothe. Hamilton County was much larger at that time, containing about 5,000 square miles and including what is now Lebanon. Dunlavy was one of the principle writers of the state constitution, where he lobbied unsuccessfully to grant suffrage to black men. His views on racial equality were unpopular, earning him ridicule and costing him votes during his failed campaigns for the Ohio legislature in the early 1820s. But Dunlavy clung to his principles, advocating civil, religious and political privileges for all men of whatever name, country, color or religion.

Dunlavy was described as "distinguished," "brilliant," "devout," "amiable," and "brave" and he was said to have "great integrity" and "firmness of character." He was also known to be cranky and sometime careless, and it has been argued that the only reason he was not the first governor of Ohio was that his personality was not as pleasing as Edward Tiffin's.

In 1803 Dunlavy was elected a State Senator in the first state legislature, but the Senate promptly appointed him President Judge for southwestern Ohio's Court of Common Pleas. He held this position for 14 years, despite that fact the he had never seriously studied law or been admitted to the bar. On horseback, Dunlavy traveled his circuit throughout southwestern Ohio, undeterred by harsh weather conditions or flooded rivers. He missed only one court appearance during his tenure.

Upon leaving the bench, Dunlavy practiced law, traveling and representing clients throughout a ten-county area. Ten years later, at age 70, Dunlavy retired. He continued studying and reading his Latin Bible until dying of pleurisy on November 6, 1839 at age 78. He is buried in the old Baptist Graveyard below a marker that reads:

“He was among the first white men to enter the Territory now forming Ohio; was a member of the Territorial Legislature; and of the Convention which formed the Constitution of Ohio.”


Francis Dunlavy

Dunlavy or Dunlevy?

Francis always signed his last name "Dunlavy," but his descendants adopted a different spelling: "Dunlavy."

Francis's oldest son, Anthony Howard, changed his name to "Dunlevy" soon after becoming a lawyer in Lebanon. He wrote, "The family were originally from Spain. The name, which is properly Donlevy, has since been written variously, according to the vowel sounds of the different countries in which the family was scattered — sometimes Donlevy; by others, Dunlevy, and again, Dunlavy."