Susan L. Duncan

Susan L. Duncan | 1875-1877

Susan L. Duncan – Our First Native Californian

Soquel Church photo by: Jennifer Harrison

Susan Levina Duncan was the first native Californian born to this family.  She was born in Susanville in August 1875 to Andrew and Maggie Duncan.  I imagine they named her for this town, which must have held a special place in her parent’s hearts.  In the year before her birth, Susie’s parents were married in this place and her father was ordained as a minister here.  While I have no official record of her birth, I do know Andrew was assigned to Susanville from 1873-1875, based on publications from the Pacific Theological Seminary.

Note: Lavina, Levena, and even Levenia are all alternate spellings of Levina.

The name Levina is a special name from Susie’s mother’s side of the family.  Levina (Gould) was the name of her aunt, the one her mother likely traveled with to California in 1870.  At this point, Levina was living in nearby Honey Lake.  Levina already had two children of her own, the second child was born just one month before Susie’s birth.  There were two more Levina’s on the Gould side of the family.  Susie’s maternal grandmother, Betsa Smith Gould, had a sister named Levina, who died at the age of 23 in 1834. Betsa also had a maternal Aunt Lavina Abbott who died in 1807.

Santa Cruz’s Diphtheria Epidemic of 1876-1878

In 1876 Rev. AC Duncan was assigned to the Soquel Congregational Church and the growing family moved to Santa Cruz County.  This was also the time when the diphtheria outbreak was just beginning to rise.  Phil Reader summarizes the effect of this disease in Santa Cruz in “Voices of the Heart: Introduction“.  According to Reader, the attack would last about a week, and usually ended in death.  Children were especially vulnerable.  By the end of 1876, there was an average of 7 deaths a month from the disease.  The crisis reached its peak in June, 1877, the same month Susie succumbed to the disease at 22 months of age.  According to a published list of children who died in the outbreak, Susie died on June 23, 1877.  At least 175 died in Santa Cruz from diphtheria during these two years.

Susan L. Duncan’s Gravesite

“Because there were so many deaths and funerals in such a relatively short period of time, and because the mourning was almost constant, a vast number of families chose to bury their youngsters without the usual amount of ceremony and public notice.” – Phil Reader

This may explain why Susie was buried, unmarked, with another family at the Soquel Cemetery.  According to the Soquel Cemetery Restoration Group, Susie was buried with the Tarleton family.  Other than the Tarleton’s being member’s of the Soquel Congregational Church, I’m not sure what connection the two family’s had, if any.  A few month’s prior to Susie’s death, AC Duncan had placed a bell in the belfry of the church.  It was believed that Thomas Tarelton had made the bell, according this this 1964 Santa Cruz Sentinel article, celebrating the history of the “Little White Church”.

Santa Cruz Sentinel 17 May 1964 | Historic Sequel Church Celebrates 96 YearsPage 13 Little White Church 1964


We do know, however, that the Duncan’s were well-supported by this community. during this very difficult time.

If you know anything more about Susie Duncan, or the family’s relation with the Tarletons, we would love to hear from you.







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