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DUN (Dunn), JOHN, Church of Scotland minister, merchant, and office holder; b. 11 Dec. 1763 in Fintry, Scotland, second son of James Dun, a farmer; d. on or about 6 Nov. 1803.

Little is known of John Dun’s early life, except that he had been “regularly educated.” When he graduated in 1788 from the University of Glasgow with an ma, he was living in Largs, a coastal village west of Glasgow. On 5 July 1791 he was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Irvine. Within two years he emigrated to the state of New York where he was accepted as a licentiate by the Presbytery of Albany and received the vacant charge of Cherry Valley. His name appears in American Presbyterian records for 1794, but by the fall of that year he was resident at Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake), Upper Canada.

It seems probable that while he was at Cherry Valley Dun had visited John Young*, minister of the Scotch Presbyterian Church in Montreal, who had advised him to apply for an appointment at Newark, where the Presbyterian congregation was numerous and prosperous and in 1792 had built a meeting-house. The two men may already have been acquainted for Young had been born in Beith, Scotland, not far from Largs; he too had been licensed by the Presbytery of Irvine and had emigrated to New York where he had ministered before moving to Montreal. In late 1793 or early 1794 Dun reached an agreement with the Newark Presbyterians which provided him with a room and a salary of £300 New York currency for a three-year period; it also called for a ten-week trial “to Judge, if his Loyalty, piety, prudence & other ministerial qualifications” were acceptable.

Although his ministry was to commence on 13 June 1794, Dun arrived some three months later, bearing a recommendation from Richard Duncan, a merchant and legislative councillor who alternated his residence between New York and Upper Canada, to Surveyor General David William Smith*. On 30 Sept. 1794 a committee of the Newark congregation, composed of Ralfe Clench*, Robert Kerr*, and Andrew Heron, resolved to build a new church and to raise adequate funds for the support of a clergyman. The following day Dun called together the elders of the congregation; they formed a session and at once held their first meeting with Dun as moderator. The financial terms of a new contract with Dun differed slightly from those of the original. He agreed to itinerate between Newark and Stamford Township where a church had been built in 1791. His salary was £100 New York currency annually.

On 1 Nov. 1794 after the successful completion of his trial period Dun petitioned Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe for 1,200 acres of land, promising that “if your Petr reside here it shall constitute his glory and ambition, to sow the Seeds of Loyalty, Morality and religion among his congregation.” On 8 Nov. 1795 Simcoe wrote to the Duke of Portland that local support in the Newark area for the construction of a church for the Church of England minister Robert Addison* had diminished because “unfortunately the last year a Presbyterian Clergyman having arrived from Scotland the Inhabitants of all denominations built a place of Worship, so that I apprehend very little assistance will be expected from them in the Erection of the Episcopal Church.” Simcoe’s obvious displeasure notwithstanding, Dun’s petition was successful and on 31 Dec. 1798, 800 acres were finally patented in Ancaster Township and 400 in Pelham Township.

Two and a half years after his arrival in Newark, Dun abruptly left the ministry. His reasons are uncertain, but in a land petition of 28 Dec. 1796 he mentions his resignation because of “certain discouraging circumstances,” stating that he “professes the Christian religion, & obedience to the Laws and has lived inoffensively in the Country.” He was succeeded briefly in 1802 by his friend John Young who had had to resign his Montreal pulpit because of alcoholism. It was only with John Burns*’s arrival in Newark, now Niagara, in 1805 that the congregation finally secured a regular minister. Dun might have been successful in Scotland ministering to an established congregation. In Newark he was isolated, the nearest Church of Scotland minister being John Bethune at Williamstown in Glengarry County. He was therefore unable to secure ordination and could not perform marriages and christenings, rites essential to a pioneer community. Moreover, had ministers of his denomination been at hand to offer counsel and companionship it is possible the scepticism that beset him might have been allayed. But although he left the pulpit Dun continued his association with the church and rented a pew.

Dun now began a career as a merchant. In his 1796 petition he had asked for a town lot in Newark and a patent was issued on 3 Aug. 1799. On 26 December he sold one of his Pelham lots for £25, possibly to finance the building of his store. He established himself in the town as a general merchant offering a variety of wares for sale ranging from books to rum, coffee, sugar, and dry goods. Whether or not he was a successful merchant is not known, but in January 1801 he advertised that circumstances had obliged him “to deny credit even to his most punctual customers.” In 1800 he was one of the signatories in the petitioning campaign of small merchants, office holders, and loyalist officers against the improvements proposed for the Niagara portage by the leading merchant in the province, Robert Hamilton, and his associates. By 1802 Dun had acquired a measure of local prominence. That year he was elected town assessor and the following year pound-keeper. In 1803 he drowned when the sloop Lady Washington went down in Lake Ontario.

Dun had not married and died intestate, leaving his creditors to petition for administration of his estate. Robert Hamilton and Dun’s principal creditors, Patrick Robertson and Company of Montreal, to whom he owed at least £1,400, sought control from Lieutenant Governor Peter Hunter. The decision was made in favour of the Robertson company’s authorized local agents, the Niagara merchant John MacKay and Samuel Hatt*, brother of Richard.

E. A. McDougall

Ancaster Land Registry Office (Ancaster, Ont.), Abstract index to deeds, I: ff.33, 99 (mfm. at AO). AO, RG 1, A-I-6: 347–48; C-IV, Ancaster Township, concession 1, lot 31; concession 2, lot 31; concession 12, lots 14–17; Pelham Township, concession 12, lots 14–17; RG 22, ser.155, will of John Dun; RG 53, ser.2-2, 2: ff.3–4. GRO, Reg. of baptisms, burials, and marriages for the parish of Fintry, Stirlingshire; Reg. of baptisms, burials, and marriages for the parish of St Ninian’s, Stirlingshire. Niagara Hist. Soc. Museum (Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.), Newark/Niagara Township, minute-book, 1 March 1802, 7 March 1803 (mfm. at AO). PAC, RG 1, L3, 149: D1/41, 150; D2/31, 70. Pelham Land Registry Office (Welland, Ont.), Abstract index to deeds, 236–38 (mfm. at AO, GS 2870). SRO, CH2/197/6 (Presbytery of Irvine, minute-books, 1759–84). Strathclyde Regional Arch. (Glasgow), TD 59/21, Presbytery of Glasgow, minute-books, March 1749–11 Aug. 1762. “Accounts of receiver-general of U.C.,” AO Report, 1914: 736, 739, 746, 750, 774. Corr. of LieutGovernor Simcoe (Cruikshank), 4: 134–35. “Journals of Legislative Assembly of U.C.,” AO Report, 1909: 135–36. Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, General Assembly, Acts and proc. (Philadelphia), 1794: 23. Niagara Herald (Niagara [Niagara-on-the-Lake]), 24, 31 Jan. 1801. Upper Canada Gazette, 3 Nov. 1804. Hew Scott et al., Fasti ecclesicæ scoticanæ: the succession of ministers in the Church of Scotland from the Reformation (new ed., 9v. to date, Edinburgh, 1915– ), 7: 632. The matriculation albums of the University of Glasgow from 1728 to 1858, comp. W. I. Addison (Glasgow, 1913), 133. A roll of the graduates of the University of Glasgow from 31st December, 1727 to 31st December, 1897 with short biographical notes, comp. W. I. Addison (Glasgow, 1898), 168. E. R. Arthur, StAndrews Church, Niagara-on-the-Lake (Toronto, 1938), 3, 27. An historical narrative of some important events in the life of First Church, StCatharines, 1831–1931, ed. J. A. Tuer (Toronto, 1931), 1–3. History of StAndrews Presbyterian Church, 1791–1975 ([Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1975]). A. L. Lonsdale and H. R. Kaplan, A guide to sunken ships in American waters (Arlington, Va., 1964). Wilson, “Enterprises of Robert Hamilton.”

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

E. A. McDougall, “DUN, JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 20, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/dun_john_5E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/dun_john_5E.html
Author of Article: E. A. McDougall
Title of Article: DUN, JOHN
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1983
Year of revision: 1983
Access Date: October 20, 2014