|Judge James Dunn was the youngest son of William Dunn, one of
the earliest settlers of the valley, coming here about the beginning of
the present century.
The elder Dunn, in company with Judge Payne, built the first grist-mill at this place, and was also interested in a country store. He (William Dunn) came here from Bath, where several of the family were born, among the number being Charles Dunn, now a respected and venerable resident of the State of Indiana. Charles recently came east on a visit to his relatives here, and participated in a banquet given in his honor at Bath as the first white child born in that village. Charles was the eldest, and the other boys were Thomas and William. Lyman Covell’s wife (Susan) was a daughter of the elder Dunn, and another (Alice) is the mother of J. Davis Baldwin. Of the immediate family, with the death of the judge, there now survive only Charles and Mrs. Isaac Baldwin.
Judge Dunn’s early education was attained at the primitive schools of that early period.
He first entered the law office of Aaron Konkle, and was admitted in the bar about 1824-25; was subsequently in partnership with Mr. Konkle, and was also a member of the law firms of North & Dunn, Dunn & Hathaway, and Dunn & Patterson.
He was the second First Judge of the county of Chemung, the first judge being Joseph L. Durling, who was succeeded by Mr. Dunn, who served from 1844 to 1846. He was also the second surrogate of the county of Chemung.
In his prime he was looked upon as possessing a strong legal mind, and numbered among the ablest members of his profession, and was a man of powerful ability. He was able to cope with the best of his profession, and his triumphs as an advocate were many and brilliant.
Early in life Judge Dunn imbibed an interest in politics. In 1840 he was the candidate of the Whig party in this district for Representative in Congress, but the district being strongly Democratic he was defeated. But for a long series of years he was the acknowledged and unquestioned leader of his party in this county, and had for his trusted friends such men as Seward, Weed, Greeley, Charles Cook, John C. Clark, and Andrew B. Dickinson.
In 1848, Judge Dunn "bolted" and joined the Free-Soil wing of the Democratic party in support of his old-time antagonist, Martin Van Buren.
He became a supporter of General Scott in 1852, and was an original, earnest, and active Republican; was extremely radical in his views on the slavery question, and during the war was urgent at all times for the boldest measures. During the days of reconstruction he drifted into the Democratic party, but never afterwards took an active part in politics. For the last three years previous to his decease he probably voted the Republican ticket, and was intensely interested for the success of Governor Hayes, for whom he cast his last vote.
Judge Dunn’s domestic relations were of the most pleasant nature. He was married April 28, 1827, to Miss Eliza Thompson, of Goshen, Conn., who survives him. Their golden wedding was only three days prior to his decease, May 1, 1877. There are three sons and two daughters living, --D. Thompson and Henry, now residents of Georgia; Isaac’ Mrs. Frank H. Atkinson, of Elmira; and Mrs. Thomas Root, of Philadelphia.
Quotations from the remarks of Hon. Ariel S. Thurston, delivered at a meeting of the bar of the county Chemung, held May 3, 1877, will express more fully the esteem of the profession for the memory of one of their number:
"At the time of his death, Judge Dunn was, with one exception, the oldest member of the bar within the limits of the old county of Tioga; and he, Judge Gray, and myself were then the only members of the bar, originally residents of Elmira, admitted to practice before the division of the county of Tioga by the act of the Legislature of 1835-36. He was, too, as I believe, with one exception, the oldest native-born citizen of the city of Elmira residing with its limits....
"I early became acquainted with Judge Dunn. He was most genial and companionable in his manners; somewhat sarcastic; a man of broad humor and quick repartee; always immensely enjoying a joke, and, with his friend, James Robinson, Esq., their ‘flashes of merriment’ were often ‘wont to set the table in a roar.’
"In the argument of a legal proposition, or questions under the old system of practice in the trial of a cause, he was by no means an antagonist to be trifled with.....
"Judge Dunn was strong in his attachments, but as he did not always discriminate as to men, his confidence sometimes was misplaced. As a politician he was devoted to the old Whig party. Scarce any man could withstand him in a political argument....
"Although possessing but limited educational advantages in early life, Judge Dunn was a highly educated man, --he educated himself. With much reading and a retentive memory, he was familiar with all the prominent events of the world’s history. The history of the campaigns of Napoleon he had almost by heart, and it has been told me that he would read and re-read Abbott’s ‘Life of Napoleon’ as though it were the most fascinating tale of fiction. It was with such productions as Allison’s ‘Europe,’ Hallam’s ‘Middle Ages,’ or Gibbon’s ‘Rome’ with which he stored his mind, rather than with the trashy effusions with which the press of to-day teems....
"As I have said, Judge Gray and myself are the only survivors of the old bar of Tioga, and, in the common course of events, the next called will be one of us. But it may not be. It may be one of you; and, impressed with the uncertainty of the time the summons may come, let us so live that when it does we may each
..... "Approach the grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams."