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Law firm may hold longevity record

Lucius B. Dabney Jr. talks about the history of the Dabney & Dabney Law Offices at the office on Walnut Street.(Brian Loden The Vicksburg Post)

[8/31/04]Celebrating 210 years this year, the Vicksburg law firm of Dabney & Dabney is likely one of the oldest, if not the oldest, in Mississippi.

With a founding date in 1794 and a list of attorneys all named Dabney, the firm is also likely to be the oldest in the United States still in the same family.

There’s no way to know for sure, since the American Bar Association nor any other group could be found that keeps longevity records on law firms. But since the U.S. Constitution the basis for all American law was only five years old when the firm started, it’s safe to say the firm’s founder was there when the American legal system was born.

“If there was anybody before Benjamin (King) Dabney, I do not know,” said Lucius B. Dabney Jr. of his ancestor who founded the firm the sixth-generation lawyer heads today.

The first Dabney lawyer began his practice in 1794 in Gloucester Courthouse, Va., in what is called the Tidewater section of the commonwealth, Dabney said.

But, he said, Benjamin Dabney was not the first Dabney in the colonies. That honor goes to three French Huguenot brothers who emigrated to North America from England in the 1600s. At the time of their emigration, the family spelled its name d’Aubigne.

“Two settled in Virginia and one went to Boston,” Dabney said, adding, there seemed to be at least three generations of the family before Benjamin Dabney was born and eventually studied law.

According to “Memorials of a Southern Planter” by Susan Dabney Smedes, Benjamin Dabney was the head of the bar in King and Queen County, Va., and was employed by the British government to settle British claims.

“He was considered by his breathern in his profession to be the most learned man in the law in his law section,” Smedes continued.

By the third decade of the 19th Century, farming had gotten more and more difficult in the area of Virginia where the Dabneys lived, Dabney said.

“They had not figured out crop rotation and the land was just farmed out,” he explained.

As a result, Benjamin Dabney’s son, Philip Augustine Lee Dabney, followed a general migration of Virginians to the South and Southwest in search of more fertile soil. He found what he was looking for in Raymond and settled there in 1835.

About that time, Philip Augustine Lee Dabney dropped Philip and began signing papers with his initials “A.L.”

“He was a probate judge in Raymond for a long time and he signed his decrees A.L. Dabney,” Dabney said.

The second of the family in Mississippi was Marye (pronounced Marie) Dabney, the son of A.L. Dabney.

Continuing the listing of Dabney lawyers, Dabney said the next to join the firm was Moncure Dabney, a nephew of Marye, in 1907. Moncure was followed by L. Bryan Dabney Sr., who joined the firm in 1913, and finally Lucius B. Dabney Jr. in 1949. Another family member, Fredrick Dabney, the brother of L. Bryan, joined the firm in 1916 and practiced until 1942 before leaving to go into another business.

There is a seventh generation of Dabneys who is a lawyer. Emily Dabney, the daughter of Lucius, practiced with her father four or five years before moving to Chicago, where she still practices.

The Dabney firm was moved from Raymond to Edwards, then a thriving port on the Big Black River, and finally to Vicksburg in 1885. At the time of the move to this city, Vicksburg was the largest city in Mississippi with some 15,000 residents.

In addition to practicing law, the Dabney family has a history of military service dating to Marye Dabney who served in an infantry company during the War Between the States. During his service, he was stationed in Vicksburg for a time.

L. Bryan Dabney Sr. and Fredrick Dabney both served in World War I in 1918 and 1919.

Lucius Dabney, 79, served in World War II and the Korean War.

Dabney said he had no idea what compelled so many of his ancestors to study and practice law, but he well knows why he did.

“I wanted to practice with my father,” he said.

Dabney is now a senior among members of the Warren County Bar Association. His reputation, said colleague J. Stanford “Stan” Terry is like his father’s as “an able and honest lawyer.”

Landman “Landy” Teller Jr. of Teller, Chaney, Hassell & Hopson is a second-generation Vicksburg attorney and has a son, Blake, practicing here. There’s more to Dabney than longevity, Teller said.

“Lucius represents what has been largely lost,” Teller said, “the true gentleman lawyer. He is always the same and always friendly.”