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Historical marker honors one of Irondequoit’s first Black settlers

James Brown
Irondequoit Supervisor Dave Seeley and Councilmember Patrina Freeman at the unveiling of the Asa Dunbar sign on North Winton Avenue on Thursday, June 24, 2021.

The town of Irondequoit on Thursday honored Asa Dunbar, who officials say was the first Black man to settle in the area more than 200 years ago.

The sign recognizing Dunbar was unveiled on the corner of Traymore Street and North Winton Avenue. 

Deeds from the 1790s say he owned about 100 acres of land in Irondequoit and the city of Rochester, spanning from the North Winton neighborhood to Irondequoit Bay. Dunbar moved to Irondequoit from Massachusetts, before eventually moving to Canada, where he died. 

Irondequoit Supervisor Dave Seeley called the sign a simple gesture to honor a missing piece of the area’s history.

“Sometimes small things that we do are important,” Seeley said. “They may seem insignificant, but they really are large in the grand scheme of things.”

Historians say Dunbar was a volunteer member of government in the old town of Tryon, which sat near where Ellison Park is today. 

Robert Dunbar, Asa’s great-grandson, lives in the 19th Ward neighborhood today, as do several other family members. He beamed as he watched the sign being unveiled. He said he’s been looking back at his family’s genealogy for the last few decades and learned that he was related to Asa a few years back.

Credit James Brown / WXXI News
The historical marker recognizing Asa Dunbar on North Winton Avenue. Historians say he was one of the first Black settlers in Monroe County.

“He had to be some kind of a special man to be married and raise seven kids along the Irondequoit Bay back in the late 1700s, and I'm here today as proof that he did something right,” said Dunbar. 

Irondequoit Councilwoman Patrina Freeman learned about Dunbar a few years ago, and said he was one of the reasons she ran for office. 

“We have someone who is considered the first African American to settle in the Rochester area now handing the torch to me, the first African American elected to town council in Irondequoit. So it's really special to me,” Freeman said.

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.