Jesse Dungey (ca. 1820–1884)


Jesse Dungey served one term in the House of Delegates (1871–1873). A skilled laborer, he was born free and began acquiring land in 1847. He owned 248 acres by the time of his death. The Freedmen’s Bureau recognized him as a community leader after the American Civil War (1861–1865), noting his work in building a school and church for African Americans. Elected in 1871 as a Republican to represent King William County, Dungey sided with the Readjusters in debates and early votes over how to settle Virginia’s crippling pre-war debt. After his term in office he served as a minister and census enumerator for the county. He died in King William County in 1884.

Dungey was born about 1820 in King William County and was the son of Joseph Dungey and Elizabeth, or Betsy, Collins Dungey, members of a free family of mixed African, Pamunkey, and white ancestry. Contemporaries spelled his first and last names in a variety of phonetic ways. Autograph signatures rendered in 1871 and 1880 demonstrate that he preferred the spelling Dungey. He may have been related to Shed Dungee, who represented Buckingham and Cumberland counties in the House of Delegates from 1879 to 1882. Some reference works confuse Dungey with John William Dunjee, allegedly a son of John Webb Tyler who was born into slavery, escaped to Canada in 1860, and after the Civil War became a Baptist minister in Virginia, West Virginia, and Oklahoma.

Dungey was a boot- and shoemaker and also practiced cupping and leeching, skills that increased his income and enabled him to buy land. His name appeared in the scant surviving records of King William County for the first time in the 1841 personal property tax returns. In 1847 Dungey purchased a 25-acre farm. By 1851 he owned 90 acres of land in the county and at the time of his death 248 acres. He was successful enough that in addition to paying taxes on his real estate and livestock, he was assessed for his above-average-quality wagons, furniture, clocks, watches, and sewing machines.

Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute

Dungey and his wife, Mary Jane Dungey (whose maiden name is not recorded), married young and had at least five daughters and ten sons. About half of Dungey’s children died before he did. Three of his sons graduated from Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (later Hampton University) after the Civil War, and they and some of his other children had successful careers in education, law, and medicine. One son became a published poet. What Dungey did during the Civil War is undocumented. After the war he submitted a claim for $290 to the federal government, for which he received $150 as payment for goods provided to Union authorities.

In October 1867 the local agent for the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands praised Dungey as a noteworthy community leader who had donated land and provided lumber for constructing a school and also had raised $100 toward the cost of erecting a new church. The agent reported that Dungey planned to teach in the school, and “when he gets his school & church in order he will start a Temperance Movement.” In April 1868 Dungey and his wife officially conveyed the land, for the price of one dollar, to be used for the school and church in West Point, in King William County. In September of that year he was mentioned in a Freedmen’s Bureau report as being a teacher at the completed school.

On November 7, 1871, Dungey defeated the Conservative Party candidate, with 634 to 530 votes, to win King William County’s seat in the House of Delegates. A Republican, Dungey was appointed to the lowest-ranking seat on the Committee of Agriculture and Mining and to a low-ranking seat on the Committee on Officers and Offices at the Capitol. His legislative career, like those of many other inexperienced African American legislators of the time, was relatively undistinguished. Dungey attended and voted regularly but apparently did not make any motions, introduce any bills, offer any resolutions, or participate in debates. On the third day of the assembly he was on the losing side of an 81-to-31 vote on a motion that Richmond ministers, without regard to race, alternately open House sessions with prayer.

Bond Issued After the Funding Act of 1871

On December 15, 1871, Dungey voted with the majority to suspend payment on Virginia’s public debt and on January 5, 1872, with the majority in favor of a joint resolution to discontinue issuing bonds for funding the public debt. The Funding Act of 1871, passed at the previous assembly session, had pledged to pay off the entire principal and interest of the prewar state debt. Tax revenue had proved inadequate, however, and many Virginians exacerbated the state’s financial difficulty by paying their taxes with coupons clipped from the bonds rather than with money. The two votes Dungey cast were part of the first important attempts to refinance the state debt, and on March 2, 1872, he joined the majority in voting to override the governor‘s veto of a bill prohibiting the use of coupons to pay taxes and debts.

Dungey apparently did not seek reelection in 1873. He later ministered at several churches in King William County and in 1880 served as a census enumerator. Dungey died, probably at his King William County farm, on an unrecorded date in August 1884, possibly of Graves’ disease. The place of his burial is not known.

ca. 1820
Jesse Dungey is born free in King William County.
Jesse Dungey purchases a twenty-five-acre farm in King William County.
By this year Jesse Dungey owns 90 acres of land in King William County. By his death he will own 248 acres.
October 1867
A Freedmen's Bureau agent praises Jesse Dungey as a noteworthy community leader in King William County who helped construct a school.
April 1868
Jesse Dungey and his wife convey land, for $1, to be used for a school and church in West Point, King William County.
September 1868
Jesse Dungey appears in Freedmen's Bureau records as a teacher at the school in King William County he helped to establish.
November 7, 1871
Jesse Dungey, a Republican, wins election to the House of Delegates, representing King William County.
December 15, 1871
Jesse Dungey votes with the majority to suspend payment on Virginia's public debt.
January 5, 1872
Jesse Dungey votes with the majority in favor of discontinuing the issuance of bonds to fund the public debt.
March 2, 1872
Jesse Dungey votes with the majority to override the governor's veto of a bill prohibiting the use of coupons to pay taxes and debts.
Jesse Dungey likely does not seek reelection to the House of Delegates.
Jesse Dungey, of King William County, serves as a federal census enumerator.
August 1884
Jesse Dungey dies, probably at his King William County farm.
  • Jackson, Luther Porter. Negro Office-Holders in Virginia, 1865–1895. Norfolk, Virginia: Guide Quality Press, 1945.
  • Moger, Allen W. Virginia: Bourbonism to Byrd, 1870–1925. Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1968.
  • Moore, James Tice. Two Paths to the New South: The Virginia Debt Controversy, 1870–1883. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1974.
APA Citation:
Jordan, Ervin & Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Jesse Dungey (ca. 1820–1884). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/dungey-jesse-ca-1820-1884.
MLA Citation:
Jordan, Ervin, and Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Jesse Dungey (ca. 1820–1884)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 12 Jul. 2024
Last updated: 2021, December 22
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