Peter Duncan was born in 1841 in Scotland, the third son and third of six children (four surviving) of Mary Brown and William Duncan.
The family were colliers (coal miners) and iron miners and moved from place to place to find work. By about 1842 they were in Gladsmuir, where a new ironstone mine had been opened.
Ironstone is a sedimentary rock from which iron can be commercially smelted. In Gladsmuir it occurs as a seam about six inches thick, thirty to sixty feet below the surface. Miners would have worked in near darkness lying on their sides in tunnels little more than three feet high, hewing out ironstone nodules and waste with a hand pick.
Mary and William Duncan were baptized as Latter-day Saints in 1848, and their children in 1849. In 1861 the family left for America on the Underwriter, and crossed the plains in the Joseph Horne Company.
Peter wrote: “We left Scotland for America on 19th of April 1861, sailed from Liverpool, England. In 28 days [we] landed at Castle Gardens and went by railroad steamlet to Florence, Nebraska, and crossed the plains in Captain Joseph Horn’s train, and arrived in Salt Lake City.”
The family settled in Salt Lake City, where William and Peter worked for a furniture maker named Jesse Little, hauling and preparing lumber.
Annie McNeil was born in 1839 in Scotland, the oldest of ten children to Agnes Jane Robertson and William McNeil.
Like the Duncans, the McNeils were miners, and moved around within the same small area of eastern Scotland, following work. William McNeil was baptized into the Latter-day Saint faith in the same year as Mary and William Duncan. There is no record of Annie’s baptism, but Peter records her as having joined the church in 1853. They became sweethearts, and when the Duncans emigrated in 1861, they remained in touch.
Annie left Scotland for America in 1863, sailing on the Cynosure, and crossed the plains in Captain White’s ox train. She walked most of the way. She was the only member of her family to emigrate at that time, although some of her siblings followed in 1864. Peter met her at Fort Bridger, Wyoming, and they were married in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City.
The couple lived in Salt Lake City until about 1870 and then moved to Almy, a coal mining town in Weber County. From Almy they moved to Farmington, where Peter may have owned a tannery. By 1880 they were living on Bench Creek in Woodland, where Peter is listed as a farmer, and where their youngest child was born. They had ten children, eight of whom survived to adulthood. Sadly, three of their daughters died in childbirth.
Peter’s great-granddaughter, Vera Brown writes, “We have no record of what kind of work Peter was engaged in at Salt Lake City or Farmington, but my mother remembers he was a cabinet maker. I remember a ‘high-boy’ my great grandmother had that he had made.”
Peter may have put his carpentry skills to use in the fine millwork still visible on the house.
Peter also played the violin for local dances. According to the family, Annie did not dance, but went with him to all the dances as she did not want him to find another wife and marry in polygamy.
Peter suffered a stroke in 1905, which left him unable to speak or care for himself. He communicated with his family by writing messages. He died in 1907 and Annie and her youngest son, Adam, moved to a little house in Woodland, leaving the Bench Creek home to their son James.
Annie died in 1923 at the Bench Creek home. She is buried beside Peter in the Woodland Cemetery.
The remains of the home still stand on Bench Creek Road.
- Bev Bemis
- Donald Brown
- Billie Sue McNeil
- Scottish Shale