1823-1896

April 10, 1823, New York state.

Spring 1896, Coffeyville, Kansas.

Oak Grove Cemetery, Bedford, Massachusetts.

Dunbar was living in Lysander, New York, in 1850, and in Bristol, Massachusetts, in 1860. During the American civil war, he served in Company F, 2nd New York Volunteer Heavy Artillery. By 1870, he was living in Stillwater, Minnesota.

The following story from Topeka Capital will recall to many the death of Rev. Edward Dunbar, in the city jail here two years ago.

The Rev. Edward Dunbar, who wrote the old Sunday school song, There’s a Light in the Window for Thee, Brother, sleeps in a pauper’s grave at Coffeyville, Kan., where he died a tramp in the jail two years ago. His name became a byword in the places where he was known and from a prison cell he went forth a vagabond upon the face of the earth.

In 1867 Dunbar was arrested at Leavenworth while engaged in holding a series of revival meetings, and taken to Minneapolis, Minn., where he was tried for bigamy, convicted and sent to the penitentiary for three years and eight months. This ended his ministerial career and he became a tramp.

One night in the spring of 1896, Dunbar applied at the Coffeyville jail for lodging. He was ill and the authorities took him in. He died the next day. Papers in his pockets revealed his identity and showed that he had tramped all over the country. Some church people have erected a marble slab over his grave on which these words are inscribed: Here lies Edward Dunbar, who wrote, There’s a Light in the Window for Thee, Brother.

When Dunbar was a small boy he lived in New Bedford, Mass, and worked in a factory. His mother lived at the foot of the street on which the factory was located and as the lad’s work kept him away till after dark, she always placed a light in the window to guide his footsteps homeward. One day the boy took a notion to go to sea and off he went for a three years’ cruise. During his absence his mother fell ill and was at death’s door. She talked incessantly about her boy, and every night she asked those around her to place a light in the window in anticipation of his return. When she realized that the end had come she said: Tell Edward that I will set a light in the window of Heaven for him. These were her last words.

The lad had grown to manhood ere he returned home and his mother’s dying message has such an effect upon him that he reformed and became a preacher. In the course of his reformation he wrote the song, There’s a Light in the Window for Thee, Brother.

Coffeyville Journal, April 5, 1898

  1. Light in the Window, The

where to get Dunbar’s photo