Duncan Irby

This year I am going through an alphabet of news items taken from The Emancipator newspaper, published  between 1917 and 1920 in Montgomery, Alabama.  Most are about my grandparent’s circle of friends. All of the news items were found on Newspapers.com. Each item is transcribed directly below the clipping.  Click on any image to enlarge.


The Emancipator, Montgomery, Alabama Sat. Oct 20, 1917.

“Mr. Duncan Irby, accompanied by his mother and little sister, also Mrs. Mollie Dillard and Miss Daisy Turner, motored from Selma to this city last Sunday and visited Camp Sheridan.” 

"Jennie Allen Turner and Daughters"
Fannie, Jennie (mother) Alice. Daisy standing.

According to my mother’s family memories, Duncan Irby was my Aunt Daisy’s lost love. Here is what she wrote in 1980.  Daisy was my grandmother Fannie’s sister.

 Doris Graham Cleage’s (my mother) memories of her Aunt Daisy and Duncan Irby

“Maybe here a word about Aunt Daisy.  Look at her picture, sweet, soft, pretty, taught school awhile in Montgomery (with high school diploma)  loved Congregational preacher named Duncan Erby who loved her and waited for her for years.  Had the church in Buffalo, NY.  Whenever she really considered leaving, Grandmother did the old guilt trick “How can you leave me to take care of Alice (note: Alice was Daisy and Fannie’s younger sister. She was born 20 years after my grandmother) all by myself?”  and “No man in this world is good enough to touch your little finger.  They are all no good except (maybe) Shell.” (note: Shell referred to my grandfather, Mershell Graham.) and Daisy listened and stayed and played numbers, studied dream books and drank a little apricot brandy.  I always found their house light, cheerful, full of magazines (McCall’s, Journal, etc.) which I loved to read, full of good things to eat.  All three were super cooks and they had always just had a bunch of friends to dinner and to play cards or just about to have.

Daisy took us downtown to the show every summer and to Saunders for ice cream afterward.  And I always ended up with a splitting headache.  Too much high living I guess.  She and Alice would buy us dainty, expensive little dresses from Siegel’s or Himelhoch’s.  They all went to church every Sunday,  Plymouth Congregational. Daisy always gave us beautiful tins of gorgeous Christmas candy, that white kind filled with gooey black walnut stuff, those gooey raspberry kind and those hard, pink kind with a nut inside, and chocolates, of course!  She loved to eat and to cook. Never seemed bitter or regretful about her lost love.”


According to his draft registration cards, Duncan Irby was five feet nine inches tall, stout, light complected with brown hair, brown eyes and freckles.

Duncan’s parents, Duncan Irby, Sr and Mary Smith were married in Selma, Alabama on Christmas Eve, 1890. Mary Smith Irby was the daughter of a house painter. Duncan senior’s mother, Emmeline Gee, inherited over 100 acres and a horse from a former slave holder, Josiah Irby.  I do not know if Emmeline was enslaved on Irby’s plantation.

“Also I give and devise unto the said Emeline Gee, about fifty acres of land known as the Saw mill field, and bounded as follows to wit commencing at the point at which the P Bluff and Cahaba Road crosses the Athens and Parks Landing Road thence down the P Bluff & Cahaba Road to Chillatchie Creek at the Cahaba Bridge, thence up the said creek to a line between sections 11 and 12; thence West to Parks Landing Road; thence along said Road to the starting point in Township fourteen Range seven in Wilcox County. It is further my will and desire that at the death of the said Emeline Gee, that all the land herein before described and devised to the said Emeline Gee shall go to her and belong to her son Duncan. I also give and bequeath to the said Emeline Gee my Roan Horse named Tom”

After this, Duncan used the surname “Irby” instead of “Gee”. I do not know if they were allowed to take possession of the property. Emeline continued to use Gee as a surname.

Both Duncan senior and his wife Mary Smith Irby were literate. Emeline Gee, Duncan’s mother, lived with the family until her death in 1901.

The younger Duncan Irby was born in 1892. The following year Duncan Sr, a blacksmith, suffered injuries when he was trampled by horses while making some repairs on a hack. He recovered.

Mr. Duncan Irby Seriously Injured.

“Selma, April 4.-(Special.)_ This evening Duncan Irby, a blacksmith, while making some repairs on a hack, was run over and seriously wounded.  Mr. Irby was in front of the horses when they started on a run, dashing the unfortunate man to the ground and trampling upon him. The horses were finally stopped. Not much damage was done to the hack.”   The Montgomery Advertiser Montgomery, Alabama Wed, Apr 5, 1893

The younger Duncan’s only sibling, Mary (To add to the confusion, Duncan Senior’s only sibling was also named Mary) was born the following year, in 1894. Both Duncan Jr and his sister Mary attended school. In 1908 they were both enrolled in  Talledega College, a boarding school,  in the College Preparatory Course. They studied Latin, Algebra, English  Literature, Ancient history and Drawing along with hands on courses in Agriculture and Wood-Turning for young men and Dressmaking and Nurse-Training for young women.

Duncan’s sister Mary became a teacher. She married Edwin Gibson, a teacher and a principal. They had one son, Edwin Gibson Jr.  They later divorced.

Duncan worked with his father in his blacksmith shop and later became a mechanic. The elder Duncan Irby died in November of 1915.

“Duncan Irby, one of the best known colored men in this section, is dead. He was a most reliable man and his death is regretted by whites and blacks.” The Selma Mirror, Selma, Alabama, Fri, Oct 15, 1915

Duncan Irby senior, left everything to his wife Mary Smith Irby, with the proviso that should she ever remarry, everything would go to their children. She did remarry in 1921. She married Rev. Marshall Talley. The family relocated to Homestead, Pennsylvania. Duncan was 35 in 1930 and worked as an auto mechanic in Homestead.

Several years later, they all relocated to Indianapolis, Indiana. Duncan, his sister who was divorced from her husband by this time and her son Edwin Gibson Jr. formed a household. Edwin Jr  grew up to become a well known architect and the first black architect registered in Indiana.

In 1966 Duncan Irby died of pneumonia brought on by lung cancer. He was 74 years old and had lived in Indianapolis for 34 years. He never married.

“Death Notices Irby.  Mr. Duncan Irby, age 74, 1238 North West St., died Wednesday at Methodist Hospital, beloved brother of Mrs. Mary Gibson, uncle of Edwin Gibson. Funeral Friday 10 a.m., Jacobs Brothers Westside Chapel. Cremation following. Friends may call after 4 p.m. today.” The Indianapolis News, Indianapolis, Indiana, Thu, Aug 4, 1966


In writing this story I used writings by my mother, Doris Graham Cleage; Census, death, and other records from Ancestry.com and a surprising number of news items found on Newspapers.com

11 thoughts on “Duncan Irby

  1. How sad they both never married! But I guess it wasn’t so unusual in the last century and in extended families – people remaining single and staying home to take care of relatives.

    1. I don’t really understand why my great grandmother needed Daisy to stay home and help her with Alice. She had polio when she was little, but she walked with just a limp. She worked some outside the home for awhile and did everything inside the house. Much later, she had some problems, but nobody could have foreseen that when she was a little girl, and I’m sure the extended family would have helped.

  2. I too think this is sad. Since Duncan Irby didn’t marry, he must have thought no one could take Daisy’s place. The story has all the ingredients for a Hallmark movie, but with a happier ending where Daisy and Duncan would meet each other in their later years.

  3. Hard to tell why Daisy and Duncan didn’t marry over this distance but I suspect Daisy wasn’t the only daughter who was guilt tricked into staying at home to look after family.

    1. My mother shared her memories of things her mother and aunts told her, with me. And I do a lot of research. My grandparents saved letters from each other and from friends and it came down to me. Photographs came to me. Other relatives also shared their thoughts and memories.

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