Catharine Link Dunnagan

By Dave Southern & Denny O’Neal

October 2011

Click to enlarge

On the Dunnagan Trail in the Eno River State Park, hikers encounter a small graveyard, and it frequently piques the interest of the curious. Chris Graham, History PhD candidate at UNC-G who keeps the blogsite Whig Hill, wrote in 2005 of walking there, accompanied by his border collie Lizzie.

So we went to the Cole Mill section . . . and hiked around the Pea Ridge and Dunnagan trails. At the top of the latter, on a wooded bluff overlooking the river, is a small cemetery with a smatter of unmarked slate headers* and one engraved stone marker. It reads “P. Catharine Dunnagan / Born / M[ar]ch 7, 1826 / Died / Jan. 6, 1914”.

Later, he found her obituary in the Durham Sun.

Mrs. Dunnagan, mother of Mr. E.D. Dunnagan, formerly of West Durham, now of Fayetteville, died at her home near the pumping station yesterday morning at 10 o’clock. Mrs. Dunnagan was a very old woman, and people in the vicinity of her home say that she was about a hundred years old. Her death was the result of complications of diseases incident to her extreme age.

She is survived by four children, all of whom live in Durham County, in the pumping station section, with the exception of E D. Dunnagan. The other children are Foy, Roscoe and J. A. Dunnagan. The funeral services will be conducted from the home this afternoon at 3 o’clock, and the interment will be made to the in the old family burying ground.

 A check of Orange County marriage records reveals that Catharine Link married Norman Dunnagan on 12 May 1854, and from a combination of Orange County census records, deeds, and estate records, and with occasional assistance from the Web, we can learn much of their back story. Phebe Catharine Link was the daughter of Orange County (then encompassing most of Durham County too) Surveyor Silas M. Link and his first wife, Beda Harris, who died in 1834. Catharine Link’s grandparents were John and Phebe Link, Eno River homesteaders, and Robert and Cassander Harris, who lived in the area now called Bahama. Norman Umstead Dunnagan, 1834 – 1900, was the son of prominent Little River landowner Charles Dunnagan Jr., who died in 1847 when Norman and all but one of his five siblings were still in their minorities. In September 1848, S. M. Link divided for the heirs of Charles Dunnagan 1233 acres of land where the north and south forks of Little River meet, and Norman received tract number 3, a very rocky and hilly 250 acres on both sides of the river. It appears that Norman and Catharine made their home on the north side of Eno River between the McCown (later Cole) and Guess mills and not far from the miller Kinchen Holloway whose house still stands near the Eno River Association office. Most of the children of Norman and Catharine are buried at the nearby Rose of Sharon Baptist Church, though Norman’s grave is in the cemetery attached to Mount Lebanon Primitive Baptist Church, much closer to his birthplace and the original seat of the Dunnagans.

For the 1988 Eno River Calendar, Margaret Nygard compiled anecdotes from some of her best local informants with a page each for James Felton Dunnagan, who was a great-grandson of Norman and Catharine, his kinsman Harry Umstead, and two Holloway sisters-in-law who were neighbors of Norman and Catharine and who knew them well. Felton Dunnagan’s house, a 1920s bungalow sited on a hill near the Orange-Durham county line, will be familiar to all who drive the section of Cole Mill Road between Pleasant Green and Umstead roads for its most prominent feature is the wooden water tower near the front porch.

In his reminiscence, recorded by Mrs. Nygard, Felton Dunnagan recited the names of four generations his Dunnagan forefathers and explained that his great-grandfather

“Norman Umstead Dunnagan bought the land on the river slam halfway to Guess Road. We owned 104 acres. We lost a lot of it in the Civil War. My [great-]grandmother was a Link. All them Links are kin. She was buried in the Link cemetery on land owned by my great-uncle. The best I can remember his name, it was Roscoe Graham. Harry Umstead and I went down to the cemetery and saw my great-grandmother’s grave. She was Catherine [sic] Dunnagan. The stone had fallen down and we did our best to set it straight. Susan Link lived in the house raised on the hill.”

A pile of stones indicating a chimney is evident near this graveyard on the Dunnagan Trail, and in late winter daffodils bloom in the yard of the former Link home.**

While there is no entry for the Link cemetery on the excellent Durham cemeteries site, there is a plea for further information, for which see and the menu item “Help Us Find Lost or Unlocated Cemeteries.”

Link Graveyard. No white people except Susan Link, mother of Katherine Link Dunnagan. Behind Continental Drive just off the buried cable line. Contact Felton Dunnagan 383-1849.

Below it are three more undocumented cemeteries in need of investigation, all in Lebanon Township and cited by Felton Dunnagan. Alas, Mr. Dunnagan died on 21 October 1988, and the locations and other clues he gave for these lost cemeteries may now be difficult to follow. A year before his death, he relayed to Margaret Nygard the wonderful anecdote of Norman Dunnagan and the Eggs.

“My great-granddaddy was going into town with a load of wood. It was a wagon path then. It was cold and when they got to where Watts Hospital is setting now, he got off. They walked behind the wagon going up the hill to get warm. He just fell over dead. It was the day before Christmas Eve. People said he was carrying eggs in a handkerchief. . . . It wasn’t a handkerchief. It was a red rag about a foot square. He must have gathered the eggs into it. I’ve got it right here, hanging in a frame on the wall. It’s thin and worn. I don’t know about the eggs but I can tell you a joke. When they came back and told his wife that Norman fell dead this morning going into town, she asked, “Did he break the eggs?”


* At least 7 are visible today.

** There was also an old homestead ~ 1000 feet east, next to a huge white oak tree, as indicated by a well or cistern pit, and daffodils too. Could it have been a Link or Dunnagan home?

Additional useful information was provided by Dick Dunagan, of Beloit, Wisconsin, who has helped compile much geneological data on the “Dunnagans of Every Spelling”.