The Dunagin Family

By George L. Mason

Among the earlier settlers of Newton County were James and Sarah (Riser) Dunagin who moved to the county in 1836 and built a large two-story house about three miles south of Decatur. They lived here for forty years or more and raised a family of ten children.

James Dunagin was born on September 1, 1801, either North or South Carolina, and died at Hickory, Newton County, Mississippi, on August 24, 1872 after being thrown from a buggy when his team spooked and attempted to run away. His father was Jacob Dunagin, a native of Pennsylvania who died in Lawrence County, Mississippi, about 1826.

The name Dunagin is of Irish origin and also appears as Dunnagin and Donaghan.

James Dunagin was a successful farmer and had a large plantation in Newton County where he grew cotton and other crops. It was not always that way, however. In his early life he was a trader and was held in such low repute by the Riser family that the Riser men folk refused to come in out of the field to attend the wedding of James to Sarah Riser on October 15, 1829, in Hinds County, Mississippi.

As a farmer, James Dunagin continued to use his trading savvy to acquire both land and slaves. He is shown as the owner of 4 slaves in 1838, 5 in 1840, and 31 in 1860. His estate and personal worth in 1860 was given as $42,000, just short of todays equivalent of half a million dollars. The prosperity that his family experienced before 1860 was greatly diminished by the Civil War and its aftermath, but the contributions of this family in terms of improving education, living standards and cultural values of Newton County are exhibited in many ways through their descendants.

Sarah Riser was born June 22, 1807 and died November 28, 1879, Newton County. Her parents were John Adam Riser/Roiser and Margaret Preacher who migrated from Newberry District, South Carolina to Lawrence County, Mississippi, and in February 1828 to Hinds County, Mississippi. Her Roiser grandparents had immigrated from Heidelberg, Germany to the United States and settled in Newberry District, South Carolina before the Revolutionary War.

Sarah was one of seven children. Their home place in Hinds County was ten miles northwest of Terry, Mississippi. When James and Sarah Riser Dunagin moved to Newton County they were accompanied by one of her brothers, David Riser and his wife Nancy Hollingsworth Riser.

James and Sarah Riser Dunagin

James and Sarah were the parents of ten children who reached maturity:

1. Adeline Dunagin, born August 15, 1830, married Thomas Wells and had seven children. They lived north of Decatur where she died in 1909.
2. George S. Dunagin, born April 27, 1832, married Sarah Ann Pennington. George and Sarah had four sons before his death on August 20, 1866 at Decatur at the age of 34.
3. America Dunagin, born May 16, 1834, married Jesse Pembleton McMullan and had five children. She died on October 7, 1899, north of Decatur where they lived.
4. Sarah Ann Dunagin, born September 7, 1836, married (1) Thrashley Chapman and (2) Benjamin Wells. Sarah Ann and Thrashley had two children prior to his death in Fort Wayne, Indiana, at the end of the Civil War. By her second husband, Benjamin Wells, she had four children. She died in Newton County on June 25, 1915.
5. Medaline Dunagin, born November 12, 1838, married William Marion McMullan and had eight children. She died on January 26, 1923 in the Midway community south of Decatur where they lived.
6. Eggletine Kathleen Dunagin, born April 7, 1841, married Benjamin Franklin Norman and had six children. She died in 1916 at their home northeast of Newton.
7. James Lafayette Dunagin, born June 1, 1843, never married. He died at Union City, Tennessee, on July 9, 1861, Civil War, and is buried there.
8. Arabella Dunagin, born July 28, 1845, married Marine M. Watkins of Newton, Mississippi. Her date of death is unknown, but she had one son born March 1867 and died February 1868 at Newton.
9. William Tapley Dunagin, born June 10, 1848, married Henrietta Sophronia Norman. They had five children, three of whom died in infancy. William Tapley Norman died on November 29, 1904 while plowing his fields.
10. Arrett Dunagin, born July 19, 1850, married Thomas H. Shockley and had one son before her death on October 24, 1876.

It is noted that all of the children of James and Sarah married and had issue, with the exception of James Lafayette. There were thirty-nine grandchildren who lived to maturity and produced offspring. In the year 2004, two of their great-grandchildren are still living.


Odis Mae Spivey Dunagin, Dunagin Family and Allied Lines, Memphis, Tennessee, 1974.


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