Dunn Surname Genealogy

Dunn has English, Irish and Scottish origins.
Both the English and Irish have the meaning of “brown-haired” or
“dark-colored,” whether it be from the Old English dunn or
the Gaelic donn
(which gave rise to the O’Duinn sept).
In Scotland Dunn might also have derived from the place-name Dun
Dunn and Dunne
are the two main spellings, Dunne in Ireland and Dunn elsewhere.

Dunn Resources on

Dunn Ancestry

Ireland. The
sept was separated into two branches:

  • first the Tara O’Duinns in county Meath
  • and then the Tinnahinch O’Duinns in county Laios.

Tara O’Duinns were dispersed at the time of the Anglo-Norman
invasion. The Tinnahinch O’Duinns held firm. As lords of
Iregan they became
of the principal
of Leinster and managed to resist
the English incursions in the 16th century.

their Chief Rents
were abolished in 1613; and then
stronghold of
Tinnahinch castle, built by Tadhg MacLaighnigh
Ui Duinn in 1475, was destroyed by Cromwell.
six Dunnes fought in King James’ army. Lieutenant
Colonel Dunne and Captain Terence Dunne both fell at the
Battle of Aughrim in 1691. Many Dunnes
then fled as “wild geese.”

The Dunne chief built for himself a more modest new home
1771 the Dunnes of Brittas conformed to the Protestant church. Francis Dunne, known as the Squire, was
to have been so angry at losing his silver mounted rapier that he
himself as a Protestant. However, he continued to have his
children baptized
and brought up as Catholics. A later
Dunne built a neo-Gothic mansion at Brittas in 1869, but this building
down in 1942.

The Dunns of Ards descended from a younger brother of the Dunne
chief of the late 16th century. Other
in Ulster were more
likely to have been of Scottish rather than of Irish origin.

Wales. Donne
came from the Welsh dwnn and t
he Donnes were a
distinguished family at Kidwelly in Carmarthenshire.
Sir John Donne was a Yorkist figure at the
time of the War of the Roses. He may
have been related to the Jacobean poet John Donne, although not as a
ancestor as Sir John had no male Donne grandchildren.
However, the poet did use the same coat of
arms as Sir John.

Scotland. The
early spelling was Dun. The Dunn
spelling was relatively rare until 1800.
But fifty years later the Dunns exceeded the Duns by almost six
to one
and now it is Dun that is rare.

The Dun name, possibly
originating in Angus, was to be found along the East Coast, from
Aberdeen to
the Borders. Early examples were:

  • Adam de Dun who was
    elected to the deanery of Moray in 1255
  • and Thomas Dun who was hanged at Elgin
    in 1296 for stealing books and vestments from the church.

Border Duns
appeared later but were sizeable in number by the 17th century. George Dun, a Covenanter in
narrowly escaped with his life in 1679

. Dunn has been very much a northern name, with
close to 50% of Dunns
the 1881 census
be found in the five northern counties.

North. Sizeable
numbers were in Northumberland. The Dunns were a Border reiver
family, albeit a minor one, on the Eastern Marches. The Dunn name
surfaced in Whickham and the surrounding villages of Blaydon and Stella
in the 17th century. Mrs Dunn of Burnt Houses in Whickham Fell
had lived to be
107 on her death there in 1804. The Dunns of Stella Hall were
Catholic. Matthias Dunn was an inspector of mines in the early
1800’s, his son Archibald a prominent local architect.

Yorkshire the Dunn name appeared in the East Riding – in the 17th
century at
Brandesburton and Hornsea and in the 18th century in places such as
Howden and South Cave. In Lancashire the
Dunn numbers were augmented by Irish immigrants such as Michael Dunn,
well-known Irish fiddler.

Elsewhere. Dunns
were to be found in the Hertfordshire village of Ware from the 17th
century. Robert Dunn went from there to South Africa in
1824 where he set himself up as a merchant trading in ivory. He
died in 1847.

“There are many stories as to how exactly Robert Newton Dunn
died. One was that his son John saw him trampled to death by an
elephant. Another said that he died after a fall from his horse
when surprised by elephants. A third was that he died in Congella
drunk on the side of the trail, supposedly from an apoplectic fit.”

Another branch of the family had clergymen overseas,
including the Rev. Andrew Hunter Dunn who served as the Bishop of
Quebec in the
early 1900’s. From his line came the Joan Hunter Dunn made famous by
John Betjeman’s poem.

John Dunn was born in Cornwall around the year 1670
and there were numerous Dunns at Megavissey in Cornwall a century or so
later. The best-known was James Dunn, a smuggler
during the Napoleonic Wars. His son
Samuel became a Methodist minister.
In Devon, there were Dunn yeoman farmers in Crediton and
Bondleigh at
that time.

America. The
first Dunn who came to America was probably
Thomas Dunn who arrived in Virginia in 1620 at the age of 14 on the Temperance as a servant to Governor
George Yeardley. He was later granted land
in Essex county and lived to be 93:

  • one line of his family migrated to North Carolina and were
    plantation owners in Wake county in the early 1800’s. David Dunn
    enlisted on the Confederate side in the Civil War but died of gunshot
    wounds in 1864.
  • another line
    headed north to Massachusetts and then to Vermont. Aaron
    Dunn married a Canadian in the 1820’s and
    moved to Nova Scotia before settling in Wisconsin

first Irish Dunn in America was probably Hugh Dunn
from Tipperary who had come to Piscataway, New Jersey in 1666 and was
one of the
early landowners there. But he was of
English rather than of Irish stock and Protestant not Catholic. In fact he took a leading role in organizing
the Baptist church in Piscataway. These Dunns then became
Quakers. Later:

  • Captain Hugh Dunn fought
    in the Revolutionary War and migrated afterwards with his family to
  • while Captain Josiah
    was plundering on the Georgia frontier and did not survive
    the war.

Dunn, born in Dublin, might have been a truer Irishman. He had
come to Bullitt county, Kentucky sometime in the 1790’s, drawn there by
reports of salt deposits. His brick house, built in 1805, still
stands. His son
Charles served as the Chief Justice of the
Wisconsin Supreme Court and Dunn county there was named after

Canada. Charles
and Rebecca Dunn were Loyalists of Scots
origin from Vermont who had crossed the border into Canada as early as
1778. They settled on a farm near
Trois-Rivieres in
Quebec. Their grandson T.H. Dunn
pioneered the development of the timber trade in the province in the
1800’s. Another descendant Oscar Dunn
became a prominent Montreal journalist.

New Brunswick.
The Loyalist John Dunn departed New York
for New Brunswick in 1784 and built his home (which is still standing)
in St.
Andrews, New Brunswick. Dunns from
Ireland came to the province in the early/mid 1800’s:

  • John Dunn arrived from Derry in 1824
    and established himself as a cabinet maker in St. John. His
    son John was a prominent St. John
  • while sometime later another Scots
    Irish Dunn family came to Bathurst and developed a very profitable
    building wooden boats. However, that
    business was in decline by the 1870’s and James Dunn, born into this
    family in 1874,
    also lost his father Robert when he was still an infant.
widow raised her son in the best Presbyterian tradition.
The mother and boy’s survival depended on her
selling the family furniture and working as a live-in housekeeper,
which she did.”

James’s rise from there was a rags-to-riches
story. He owed much of his success as a
in England to his relationship with fellow Canadian Max Aitken who
became Lord Beaverbrook. His daughter
Mona, described at the time as
the most beautiful girl in England, died tragically young; another
daughter Anne became a painter; while grand-daughter Nell Dunn made her
name in the 1960’s as an author and playwright

Australia. John Dunn was a miller in Devon who found himself eking
out a meager living in the 1830’s.
Poverty was so close that he
was only dissuaded from migrating to Canada in 1833 by a rise in
wages. He rented out his own mill until 1840 when he was
persuaded by
four of his six brothers to join them in South Australia.

with the emergence of Mount Barker as a wheat-producing center, his
fortunes changed dramatically. He and his sons prospered greatly
and he was running eleven modern mills by the time of his death
in 1894.

Dunn Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Dunn Names

Gilliananaemih O’Duinn was a poet and a historian in 1102 of
the early Dunnes.
John Donne
was the English metaphysical poet of the early 17th
was a prominent financier and steel magnate in London during
the first half of the 20th century
Clive Dunn was the popular TV
actor in the BBC sitcom Dad’s Army.

Select Dunns Today

  • 51,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Yorkshire)
  • 52,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 61,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)




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