Donald was born in the town of Wick on the southern coast of Caithness. While farmers and fishermen dominated the male population in that county, Donald and his father were tradesmen. His father died when he was a boy, and the Dunnet children were raised by their mother, probably at her coffee-house on High St., Wick. Oral history says that Donald attended a divinity school, but whatever his schooling, he is also said to have become proficient in Latin and Spanish. His expertise supposedly led to a job at John O'Groat's Journal in Wick. Soon after his immigration to New York he found work as a compositor, indicating that he had acquired that skill in Scotland. A photograph taken there shows that he played the tuba. He isn't known to have continued that avocation in Brooklyn.
Donald doesn't appear with his family in Wick in the census of 1871. His death certificate said that he had been in the country 37 years, indicating that he immigrated in that year. He was certainly in New York City by 13 August 1874, when he applied for US citizenship. He was approved for naturalization in the New York County Court of Common Pleas on 23 October 1876. Given that the law made it necessary for an alien to be a resident in one state for five years before gaining citizenship, an 1871 immigration date is given further credence. He was very likely the "A. Dunnet" who came to New York on the steamship India, which sailed from Glasgow and arrived on 9 June 1871. Mr. Dunnet's age was 24 and Donald was two months shy of his 24th birthday. The passenger list says that he came in company with 4 other "engravers." Passenger lists aren't known for their accuracy, and engraving and compositing are within the printing business. Also, "A" and "D" handwritten in script can appear similar. The list would have been made by the captain of the ship, but was it his transcription of a less formal list made by him or a mate as passengers arrived on board? The first initial is clearly an "A" on the formal list given to the Port of New York authorities, but a man with the unusual last name of Dunnet being very nearly the same age, in the printing business and traveling from Scotland in 1871 is probably not a coincidence.
Donald's naturalization papers and the New York city directory for that year say he was living at 197 East Broadway. He doesn't appear in earlier directories. He was soon hired by the publisher D. Appleton & Co. as a compositor, supposedly specializing in Latin and Spanish. He may have been a compositor for Latin and Spanish language books. At the time of his death he is described as a proofreader. He eventually became a member of the local Typographical Union #6.
Appleton operated at 201 Kent St. in Williamsburgh, Brooklyn. Donald and the Vyse family were living at 146 4th St. (later 323 Bedford Ave.), Williamsburgh, in 1879, and this is likely how he and Laura Vyse met. They were married by Rev. John Hyatt Smith of the Lee Avenue Baptist Church. He was a noted orator and later retired from the ministry and was elected to the US Congress. The family moved to 142 Kosciusco St. and to 196 Stockton St. by 1890-1, both in what is now the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. When Laura's mother died in 1898, she inherited land in Canarsie, Brooklyn, and had a house built there at 89th St. and Farragut Rd., also known as Ave. F.
Donald was active in the church. He and the family attended Throop Avenue Presbyterian Church in Bed-Stuy and Grace Church in Canarsie. He was a deacon, taught "Sabbath" school and was active in the church's mission organization.
When the family moved to Canarsie about 1898, the famiy attended Grace Methodist Protestant Church. The online magazine "Canarsie Courier" has the following reminiscence of John Denton:
In those days we went to Grace M.P. Church and I think Pastor Henry Hull was minister or Rev. Chas. Ackley. The church had a Christmas party and all of us were given a box of hard candies by Santa who we kids knew was not our Sup't (the well known lawyer who in later years became a Supreme Court Judge, William R. Wilson), nor was it Elmer McCrodden (our well known Canarsie plumber), but we suspected it might be Donald Dunnet as he was one of the Choir singers in the Church and had a lovely voice.
According to his death certificate, Donald died at his home after passing into a coma from chronic nephritis. He is buried in the Forest Knoll section of Cypress Hills Cemetery, Brooklyn/Queens. His stone hasn't been identified, but it may one of several that have been knocked over, face down.
children of Donald and Laura Emma (Vyse) Dunnet:
James Gilbert b. 24 October 1879, m. Maria Kouwenhoven Miller
Robert Hancock b. 7 June 1881, m. Emma Louse Krin
Isabella Emma b. 10 May 1882, died as an infant after being dropped on her head by a nanny
Elizabeth Vyse b. 10 November 1885, m. Stanton Eldredge
Laura b. 9 September 1888, m. William Garnett
Donald b. 24 October 1889, m. Jenny Johnson Rowland
Christina b. 9 March 1893
Margaret Lois b. 23 March 1895, m. Alfred Edward Sinclair