Sheldon C. Dunning
Sketch On The Life Of S.C. Dunning
A singular man, utterly devoted to the New Testament, Shelton C.
Dunning was considered fanatical, perhaps naive. Yet no one ever
questioned the sincerity of his convictions.
He was of medium height, stood quite erect. He usually carried a
walking cane. He wore no beard and had a healthy, reddish complexion
with abundant, light hair. A charming smile, combined with a sense
of humor, made him a delightful conversationalist.
Born in Welton Township, Fairfield County, Conn., in 1780, his
parents were Episcopalians. It is not known when he moved to Georgia
and located at Savannah. He became a Baptist minister, but seceded
from the Baptist church. As related, his study of the New Testament
led him to immersion about 1819.
Dunning was a charter member of the Savannah Steamship Co.,
incorporated by the Georgia Legislature on
Dec. 19, 1818. When the stockholders met,
Feb. 25, 1819, he
was chosen one of five directors for the firm. "There was a ready
sale for shares of the company, due to the well-known character and
high standing of the incorporators."1 Those businessmen were
responsible for the construction of the "City of Savannah," the
first steamship to sail the Atlantic, which was in 1819. Dunning
earned much money from his maritime interests, but lost heavily and
left the business. With a reasonable competency, he later turned to
writing life insurance.
His first marriage was to a Miss Richards. They had four children: a
daughter, Sarah, who became Mrs. Henry Davis Weed, mother of
Episcopal Bishop Edwin Gardner Weed (1837-1924) of
and Gertrude, William, and Shelton Dunning. A Mrs. Osborne became
the second wife. The family resided in a frame, duplex house, old
and unusual, on Broughton Street, Savannah. The husband and father
did the marketing and liked to work in the garden.
Dunning was one of the founders of the Savannah City Hospital, but
his life centered in his strict religious interests. The casual
observer was apt to regard him as stern. Well educated, he was a
zealous student of the Bible. He searched the Scriptures at his
office, as well as at home, and conversed in biblical language.
Nathan W. Smith called him "the most constant reader of the
scriptures of any man I ever saw."2
Dunning's eccentricities likely increased the difficulties of
establishing a congregation of Disciples at the seaport. Friends
would smile tolerantly and go their separate ways. When James J.
Trott, Cherokee missionary and evangelist, was once Dunning's guest,
he preached in the home, as was customary. Later, he referred to
"some of the brethren" being "too zealous for the letter."3 Such
literalism was responsible, no doubt, for the failure of the
Disciples to grow at
in those years.
In August, 1844, Dunning joined Dr. Daniel
Hook in conducting a protracted meeting at the Antioch Church in
Clarke County. It was credited by Nathan W.
Smith with arousing the evangelistic passion of the struggling
congregation: "The church had been so edified and strengthened in
numbers . . . that a missionary spirit pervaded it, and so wonderful
was this influence that they started me out as their evangelist to
preach at different points."4
Dunning sought to follow the New Testament practice of every
Christian being an evangelist. Smith and Dunning joined in the
summer of 1846 for preaching in
and Alabama. Thereafter, until Dunning's death, every summer and
into the autumn, the two preached together at many places.
Like Alexander Campbell in 1838, and other
brethren, Dr. and Mrs. Hook were among those who enjoyed the
Christian hospitality of the Dunning home. Dr. Hook and Dunning
traveled and preached together often. Early in 1856, the Hooks were
in Savannah and South Carolina. Dr. Hook preached in the Dunning
home "and in the houses of other members."5
Dunning died of apoplexy at
Apr. 2, 1858, at the age of 78.6 He was buried in
Laurel Grove Cemetery
there. When his estate was settled, it was found that a corner lot
in Savannah, owned by Dunning, was kept vacant for years. It seemed
that he intended to use it for a church building. However, there was
no provision for disposition to the church, so the property went to
his heirs. After his passing, the Dunning family moved to Augusta
and no more was heard of the members in the annals of Georgia
Lamar, Georgia Landmarks, Memorials and Legends, Atlanta -
Bird Printing Co. c.1914, Vol. II, p. 229
W. Smith, "An Old Preacher's Experience," Christian Standard,
May 17, 1879, p. 156.
Advocate, Apr. 1857, quoted in Barfield, op. cit., p. 34.
D. Howell, "The Life of Dr. Daniel Hook" (Unpublished MS.,
1875), p. 53. Typed copy in possession of The Disciples of Christ
Historical Society, Nashville, Tenn.
Harbinger, May 1858, p.293
-From Disciples Of Christ In Georgia, by J. Edward Moseley, c.1954,
The Bethany Press, pages 117-119
To Dunning Grave
Head Toward Savannah, Georgia on I-16. Go to Exit #166 and turn right on E.
Gwinnett. Then turn to your first right on May St. Go to the end of that road
and turn left on W. Anderson. Enter the Cemetery on the left. The address is 802
W. Anderson St., Savannah, GA, 31415.
Phone # (912) 651-6772. Hover over green arrow below for specific location.
Hover over green button below for specific location.
View Larger Map
Special thanks to
Ray and Barbara Cozart for providing the pictures of the grave of
S.C. Dunning. Also, note that in the above article taken from
Moseley's book on the history of the Disciples in Georgia, he spells
Dunning's first name with a "t" Shelton, not as the grave marker
designates it as "d" Sheldon.
Grave Photos Contributed By Wayne Kilpatrick
Special Thanks To Wayne Kilpatrick for contributing these photos of the
Dunning plot in Savannah's Laurel Grove Cemetery - June, 2010