Samuel E. Duncan was born on Jun 5, 1870 in Oak Hill, West Virginia, to the Rev. Arthur Brown Duncan and his wife, Annie.
In 1887, Sam was a teenage student at Bridgewater College, and Professor Anthony Showalter was his music teacher. The professor handed out several poems to the students, and Sam’s assignment was the poem by Elisha Hoffman, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” That evening, Sam wrote the tune, and turned the work in at the next class. The work was later published under the name of the professor, along with quite a few other students’ work. None of the students were credited with the work.
For more information about the hymn:
He married Susie Leach on May 17, 1899 in Oak Hill, West Virginia. They had five children, two girls then three boys (two were twins).
In 1900, he was working as a merchant. Also, that year, his father started the Oak Hill Brethren Church, in Oak Hill, West Virginia. Sam and his wife were among the charter members.
In 1910, he had his own milliner store, making and selling hats. All five of their children had been born.
In 1920, he was 48 and owned his own music store where he worked as the salesman. His oldest daughter was a school teacher at the age of 19. Their house was a rental.
In 1930, he was 58 and the proprietor of the music store. He had been married for 30 years. One son was divorced and working as his salesman, his daughter was living with them. Another son was a traveller working in the music industry.
When Sam was well up in his 80’s he went to Crab Orchard Baptist Church and told the congregation the story of the hymn and its tune, then led the singing of the hymn.
Sam Duncan died at the age of 89 on Sept. 17, 1960, in Oak Hill, West Virginia.
Shirley Donnelly, “Much History on Hand at Duncan Rites.” The Beckley Post-Herald (Beckley, West Virginia) Sept. 22, 1960, page 4, columns 3,4.
Shirley Donnelly, “Two Old Hymns Have Local Connection.” The Beckley Post-Herald (Beckley, West Virginia), May 21, 1968, page 4, columns 5-7.
Ancestry (Provo: Utah, Ancestry.com Operations, Inc. 2011), www.ancestry.com accessed Apr. 2, 2011 to use the many resources for census information and family trees.