Friday, September 4, 2015

The Children of William Dickson and Mary Ann Browning (Part II)

My second great-grandparents, William Dickson and Mary Ann Browning, had eight children.

In my last post, I shared William Dickson Young's remembrances of the three eldest Dickson children, Esther, Sarah and George.  Here, I will share what William Dickson Young wrote about the three youngest surviving Dicksons.

John Henry Dickson

John Henry Dickson was the fourth child and second son of William Dickson and Mary Ann Browning.

Born May 11th 1841.  He was the fourth child of William and Mary.  I never knew him as he died..... [date not mentioned].  I imagine, from the family tales, that he was a rather whimsical, good-natured sort of a boy and man, whose father had too much money for the boy's best good and was away from him for too long periods.  John was never very fortunate, in possible consequence, in what he undertook.1  He married Sarah Mitchell and they had one child, Hattie, who died in infancy.

In May/June of 1863, John Henry Dickson registered for the Civil War draft along with his brother George.  It's unclear if they actually served.  I do not find them on the rolls of the 21st, 49th or 116th Infantries, which were assembled in Buffalo.  On the draft registration, both brothers are listed as mariners.  John was single at the time of his registration.  Soon after, he married Sarah Mitchell in Buffalo.

According to the New York Census, in 1865 John Dickson was residing in Buffalo with his wife Sarah and their daughter Hattie.  The young family was living with 42-year old Mary Mitchell, Sarah's widowed mother, and multiple Mitchell children in their teens and twenties.  John can also be found in Buffalo's 1865 City Directory, living at 155 Delaware.  His occupation is listed as sailor.

The census was taken on June 20, 1865, and Hattie is recorded as being one year and three months of age.  This would put her date of birth around March 1864.  Hattie is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery, where the majority of the Dickson family is buried.  Her headstone is hard to read, but I believe it says she was age 2 years and 8 months at the time of her death.  This would put her death around November 1866.  However, when I reviewed the 1870 and 1875 census records, I found Hattie in both of them, aged 6 and then aged 11, living with her mother, Sarah in Buffalo.  Perhaps this means she actually died at age 12, not age 2.  Why, then, does William Dickson Young claim she died as an infant?  If Hattie died in 1876, one year after that final census listing, her cousin William would have been four years old, perhaps too young to remember the details of her death.  This remains a bit of a mystery for now.  

We don't know what killed John Henry Dickson, a young man in his prime, in 1865.  We do know that his wife, Sarah, did not remarry.  She lived nearly forty years after John's death, dying in 1903, and is buried next to him at Forest Lawn in Buffalo.

Robert James Dickson

Robert James Dickson was the third son of William Dickson and Mary Ann Browning.

Born Oct. 8th 1843, the fifth child of William and Mary.  He never married.  He was an able chap and very clever with his hands in drawing, carving, etc.  He lived with us at 29 Park Street for a number of his last years, having that small room that my father occupied in his last years.  He died there in 1878 at the age of 35.  I was of course a small boy and I do not remember him personally at all well, but I do remember the smell and taste of his pipes and tobacco, lying on his table, for I used to try them when he was out.  He was a civil engineer.  His first active work as such was on the Lake Short & Michigan Central Railway, under Peter Emsley, when they were building the stone arch culverts and bridges on that line (and it is interesting to remember that most of the lime stone blocks for the bridge over Eighteen Mile Creek came from what was later our own beach at Derby, being gotten out near the waters edge, by gangs of red-shirted Irish laborers, who had huts along our bluff where, later, our house was moved). 
He was on the train which met with the fearful accident at Angola, N.Y. when it ran off the track on the bridge over the creek near the mill (the bridge is still there).  He felt the car leave the rails on the bridge, pulled the bell rope over head, humped to the door, and as the train plunged over the side of the bridge he leaped off on the opposite side, turning over and over, his overcoat flying in the wind, and crashing through a tree, which broke his hall.  He always suffered more or less from that shock, but was the only one in that car who was not killed. 
After leaving the railroad, he was on Government work at Oswego under Col. Harwood, U.S. Engineer Corps.  In 1872 he entered the service of the Canada Southern R.R. and was on work at Amherstburg, Ont.  In the summer of 1873 he entered the office of the Buffalo City Engineer, under Mr. Ditto, and continued during the term of Mr. Edward Mann (father of Stuart Mann) up to Feb. 8th 1877, and was in charge of the Department of Sewers, and later of streets.  He was also in charge of the digging of Buffalo Park Lake.  He left this office to go with the Bradford, McKean & Olean R.R., and was in their employ when he died.  I believe he died of Typhoid Fever.   
He was an enthusiastic sportsman and a fine shot, winning the $100 prize for shooting with the shot gun at the State Sportsmen's Convention in Buffalo in 1877. 
He was also, as has already been mentioned, quite an artist and wonderfully clever in making little knick-knacks with his knife.  There is a little black boat, made from a button, with a gold skate on it, and gold buttons up the side, also a wooden pocket knife, and other things about, which he made. 
The bearers at his funeral were E.B. Guthrie (also a city engineer), Geo. E. Mann, Charles F. Bingham, H.R. Jones, O.S. Warren, John Bullymore, Frank Kimberly, Wm. W. Lyon, all prominent younger men of the city.

The train wreck which William Dickson Young describes is also known as "The Angola Horror."  It was a devastating and grisly derailment over a gorge that killed about 50 people and was widely sensationalized across the nation.  Future Standard Oil magnate John D. Rockefeller was meant to be on that train, but missed it by minutes.  The incident eventually led to widespread change in railroad safety protocol.  In her book The Angola Horror: The 1867 Train Wreck That Shocked the Nation and Transformed American Railroads, author Charity Vogel describes Robert Dickson's experience in the train car and his desperate leap to safety.  He was, in fact, the only passenger in his car to survive the wreck.

Elizabeth Jane Dickson

The youngest surviving child of William and Mary Dickson was Elizabeth Jane Dickson.  She was the mother of William Dickson Young, whose biography of the family has shed so much light on their lives.
Born Oct. 8th2 1847.  This is my mother.  She married Albert B. Young [Albert Barnes Young] Oct. 20th 1870, in a house on Niagara Street near Georgia, where her mother was then living.  They then went on to live at 29 Park Street and have been there ever since, except for one year, a part of which was spent at Niagara Falls, Ont., and a part with her mother at 61 Park Street.  Mother was, next to Esther, and perhaps more than Esther, the cleverest and ablest of her family.  She tells so much of her early life in her own story that I shall not even attempt to add details here.  She graduated at the Buffalo Female Academy, now the Buffalo Seminary, and in later years was President of the Graduates Association.  She was an accomplished pianist, and I now have several old books of her music.  She had almost black hair and eyes, and before her marriage was said to be the handsomest girl in Buffalo and had a host of friends.

Elizabeth married Albert Barnes Young in 1870, when she was twenty-three.  They had two children, William Dickson Young and Alice Fletcher Young.  I will share Elizabeth's memoirs in a future blog post.

The youngest children of William Dickson and Mary Ann Browning were fraternal twins, Louis and Louise Dickson.  They were born in 1850 and died in 1851, at just over a year of age, of some sort of illness.  They are buried at Forest Lawn in Buffalo with the rest of the Dickson family.

I am so grateful that William Dickson Young took the time to write down these recollections of his family members.  Without them, we would know little more about these relatives than the dates of their birth and death.  The specifics of their lives in Buffalo would be completely lost to us.

William Dickson Young

1 William Dickson Young's disdain for his uncles and assertion that they were not successful is somewhat of a mystery. Both George and John were steadily employed as seamen on the Great Lakes. Both married and had families. Robert had a notable career as a civil engineer and overcame an extremely traumatic accident to contribute meaningfully to society. It's unclear where William's feeling that his uncles were less successful and serious than they should have been originates. It seems William was raised in a more academic household than his mother, aunts and uncles had been, and perhaps was less financially privileged than his mother and her siblings, but it's not clear if this influenced his feelings about his uncles or it was something else entirely.

2 Elizabeth's memoirs say her birthday was actually October 6th.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Children of William Dickson and Mary Ann Browning (Part I)

William Dickson was an affable man and an accomplished seaman.  He was apparently well-liked in Buffalo and respected for his work as a ship's captain on the Great Lakes.  Much of William Dickson's personal contentment seems to have come from his happy family life.  His marriage to Mary Ann Browning was a long and successful one, and they had eight children together, six of whom survived to adulthood.

According to his grandson, William Dickson Young ("WDY"), whose biography of William Dickson provides most of the details we know about him, William Dickson was very content in Buffalo.  Even when he stood to inherit his parents' estate in Ireland, he did not consider moving his family from New York.
William was the eldest son of the family [his parents, George Dickson and Elizabeth Black, had six children total] and therefore the heir to the property in Ireland, for that property was entailed, but on his father's death he refused to accept it, for he was then well off, and had become an American citizen and would not go back to Ireland, so it went to his next brother, John.

The children of William Dickson and Mary Ann Browning were as follows:

  1. Esther Dickson, born Sept. 16, 1833 in Port Stanley, Ontario.  Died February 2, 1872 in Buffalo, New York.  She did not marry.
  2. Sarah Ann Dickson, born October 8, 1836 in Buffalo, New York.  Died October 15, 1915 in Buffalo, New York.  She did not marry.
  3. George William Dickson, born December 11, 1838 in Buffalo, New York.  Died December 31, 1916 in Santa Monica, California.  He married Mary Elizabeth Bellangee.
  4. John Henry Dickson, born May 11, 1841 in Buffalo, New York.  Died 1865.  He married Sarah Mitchell.
  5. Robert James Dickson, born October 8, 1843 in Buffalo, New York.  Died 1878.  He did not marry.
  6. Elizabeth Jane Dickson, born October 8, 1847 in Buffalo, New York.  Died March 9, 1935 in Buffalo, New York.  She married Albert Barnes Young.
  7. Louis Dickson, born 1850 in Buffalo, New York.  Died 1851.  (Twin of Louise Dickson)
  8. Louise Dickson, born 1850 in Buffalo, New York. Died 1851.  (Twin of Louis Dickson)
William Dickson Young wrote about his aunts and uncles in his biography of the Dickson family members.  

Esther Dickson

Esther Dickson is sometimes also referred to as Hester in various online accounts of the Dickson family.  However, in all the census records I've seen, she is called Esther.  This is also the name engraved on her tombstone.
[Esther Dickson] was born in Port Stanley, Ont. Sept. 26 1833.  She never married, although she was at one time engaged to Charles Church, a brother of Mrs. William Ives (William Ives was a little man whom every one in older Buffalo knew, for he was the first, and for many years the only librarian of the Young Mens Association, later the Buffalo Public Library).  I never knew Esther, for she died before I was born.  She was apparently an able, brilliant and popular girl and woman, very active socially and fond of good clothing and nice personal possessions of the best quality.

Sarah Ann Dickson

Of his aunt Sarah Ann Dickson, William Dickson Young wrote the following:
[Sarah Ann Dickson] was born in Buffalo, N.Y. in the Eagle Street house Oct. 8th 1846.  Sarah was never very brilliant, but faithful, good, true and devout.  She was blue-eyed.  She was, in a way, the off-chick of the family, and among her quick and clever brothers and sisters people seemed to think that she could not do things as well as the rest (which may have been true) but this was perhaps why she never had the chance or desire to try.  None of the children, except my mother, ever had much education in the modern sense, in part probably because their parents had never had much and could not visualize what a real education was, and so far as the girls were concerned, also probably because it was thought less necessary for females than for men, for the family had the means to get it [education], and perhaps partly because they were a social rather than a reading family.
Sarah lived with her mother until the death of the latter and then lived with us at 29 Park Street until her death.  She was a loving and devoted friend to we children, always ready to serve us or to read to us by the hour, at such a speed that no one but we could understand what she was saying.  When I was small I called her Aunt Lalu, my understanding of Sarah (pronouncing "A" as in "sad"), which in time became simply "La" ("A" as in "say") to us to her death.  She was a devout and devoted member of Calvary Presbyterian Church.  She is buried in the Dickson lot in Forest Lawn [in Buffalo, New York].

George William Dickson

William Dickson Young didn't know his uncle George William Dickson (my third great-grandfather) very well.  George left Buffalo as a young man, making few return visits.  Still, WDY wrote a summary of him based on his memories.
[George William Dickson] was born in the Barker Street house on Dec. 11th 1838 and died some years ago in California and is buried there.  I remember him, but not very well, as a tall, broad-shouldered, quiet man.  He was never a money-maker, nor were any of his brothers.  He was also a lake-man for most of his life, and for many years was Captain of the big Grand Trunk car ferry from Sarnia, Ont. to Point Huron, Mich. across the river, which would take on whole trains.  They lived in Sarnia.  He married Mary Bellangee of Milwaukee, Wisc., a niece of Mrs. Davocks .... who lived on Delaware Avenue, in a house where the Westminster Parish House now stands.  They never lived in Buffalo.  

It's interesting that WDY repeatedly refers to his Dickson uncles in somewhat dismissive terms in his biography.  He brings up several times the idea that they were spoiled, had too much money and not enough fatherly supervision, and thus didn't turn out to have successful lives of their own.  My own family lore paints George William Dickson in a more positive light.  He certainly had a long career as a ship's captain.  His marriage seems to have been a happy one, and he was quite devoted to his children.  He may not have been as financially successful as his father, but he seems to have been a hard-working and contented family man.  Since WDY didn't know George well, he may simply be lumping him in with the other Dickson boys, but it's an interesting and unexpected characterization of his uncle.

William Dickson Young also wrote brief paragraphs about George Dickson and Mary Bellangee's four children.  Of these cousins, he only ever spent any real time with Elizabeth Davock Dickson, the eldest, since she lived in his household for a time while attending nursing school in Buffalo.
Lizzie Dickson, named after my mother who was always called Lizzie.  She was a little older than I am.  She lived with us at 29 Park Street for several years, a big, capable girl, and a good sport.  She graduated in nursing at the Buffalo Homeopathic Hospital, has adhered to it and is a wonderful nurse.  She was in France during the war, although then over 50 years of age.  She has never married and is, I believe, in California.

This is quite in line with what my grandmother told me about Elizabeth Davock Dickson, except that I've never heard about her being overseas during World War I.  WDY goes on to describe Elizabeth's sister, Anne Amelia Dickson.
Annie Dickson.  She was a boisterous, stubborn sort of a kid.  She also became a graduate nurse from the Buffalo Homeopathic Hospital, but she was never as able a girl as Lizzie.  She married and lives in the west.

Although this isn't a terribly nice way to describe my second great-grandmother, it does ring true.  My grandmother always described Annie as headstrong, willful and fiercely independent.  As I've written in previous posts, Annie was a nurse for some years, but gave it up when she became a mother to her five boys.  Elizabeth was a devoted nurse and hospital administrator her entire life, which is probably why the "not as able" comment is aimed at Annie.

Of Elizabeth and Annie's brothers, William and George Dickson, it appears WDY didn't know them at all.  He says simply that "both of these sons are married and live in the west."  More information about George and William can be found in my previous posts.

I'll continue with descriptions of William Dickson's three youngest children in my next post.

Monday, August 17, 2015

William Dickson (Part IV)

This is the fourth post in a series about my fourth great-grandfather, William Dickson.

Buffalo, New York, 1855.  William Dickson was living in Buffalo at this time and was captain of a ship that would have anchored in this harbor.
Photo courtesy of Dickinson College.

William Dickson was an affable, sociable man.  Not much given to intellectual pursuits, he preferred to spend time enjoying the company of friends and family.  He also loved being outdoors, not only on the lake while he was working, but in the countryside that surrounded his home in Buffalo, New York.  His grandson, William Dickson Young, expanded upon these tendencies in his biography of William Dickson.  I will continue to quote from this biography to give a sense of William's character.
The home on Barker Street was a center for a large and active group of young people who were sociable.  The Dickson family apparently never cared either for formal social affairs nor for books, but rather for music and informal, jolly good times.
He [William Dickson] never held any public office, and, perhaps because he was away for nine months of each year, took little part in public affairs.  He had never had much schooling in his early days and had small love for books (differing in that way from my grandfather Young), but liked the open, active work and quiet social pleasures.

According to William Dickson Young, his grandfather had a special bond with his youngest child, Elizabeth Jane Dickson (WDY's mother).  She was born in 1847, when William Dickson was 47 years of age.  Perhaps it was because she was the youngest, or that William was getting on in years and focusing more on his family and less on career at the time of her birth, that they became particularly close.  William Dickson Young's glowing memories of his grandfather must certainly have been influenced by the warm relationship William had with Elizabeth Jane.
He was especially fond of my mother [Elizabeth Jane Dickson], and in his last years, when he had retired from the lakes, used to love to have her play the piano for him (the center table in our living room is made from that piano), or read to him stories from the weekly papers of that day, and would weep openly over the sad parts, of which the melancholy stories of those times were well filled.  In the winter he would also drive her every afternoon down to the frozen lake in the Rumsey grounds (where Elmwood Ave. now cuts through Tupper and Tracy Streets), and, standing for hours in his cutter outside the high frame, watch her skate with the other young people.

Elizabeth Jane Dickson

Every person has their quirks, and William Dickson's seemed to revolve around health and disease prevention.  William Dickson Young explains in his biography:
My mother tells of only one thing that her father was afraid of, and that was cholera.  This was a fearful thing in those days, for no one knew the cause of it, and it would rage even through our country here, many people dying of it.  There was one belief that it was caused by eating green vegetables, and Captain Dickson gave the most strict orders that none of his family should eat green things or raw fruit, but eat chiefly boiled rice, which was considered safe.  They did their best but became so sick of rice (in fact my mother still has a feeling about it seventy years later) that when he was away on the lakes they had to break the rules, and no one had cholera.

William Dickson was well-liked by both family and community.  While he was away on the lakes much of the year, he seems to have made the most of his time in Buffalo.
He was apparently a very happy man, tender-hearted on occasions as a child, fond of his family, in fact too fond, for his boys grew up with too much money and too little training for work (although he was of course away from them for long periods).  He was generous, a devout Episcopalian (I have his large prayer book and his old family Bible in our library).  He gave the first $1,000 to help build Ascention [sp] Church on North Street at the head of Franklin, and was at one time its Senior Warden.  He was respected by everyone, one of the leaders on the lakes, which was then the most important business in Buffalo, and an honorable, clean, fine gentleman.
Ascension Church, which William Dickson helped to found, was incorporated in 1855.  It was for more than 150 years, a thriving religious community in Buffalo.  However, in 2014, the decision was made to abandon the church and relocate its congregants to another nearby church.  In making this decision, church officials cited rapidly declining membership and the financial demands of keeping up an old, deteriorating building.  The church that William Dickson funded and loved will be converted into a senior center.

Ascension Church, photo by Mark Mulville/Buffalo News

William Dickson Young's biography paints quite a picture of who William Dickson was as a person and what his family life was like in Buffalo.  In my next post, I'll continue to write about William's family, specifically his children.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

William Dickson (Part III)

This is the third post in a series about my fourth great-grandfather, William Dickson.

In my previous posts about my immigrant ancestor, William Dickson, I wrote about his journey to America, his marriage to Mary Ann Browning, and his successful career as a captain on the Great Lakes.  The biography of William Dickson, written by his grandson, William Dickson Young in 1933, is the best source of information about William's personality and habits.  I quote again from this document to give a sense of William's character.

There was little dependable paper money at that time and men were paid in silver or gold coin.  On one occasion when he [William Dickson] came late into port he started to walk out to his home on Barker Street, and for safety against dock thieves he took his money with him in two bags.  On Main Street at Virginia two men tried to rob him, but he knocked them down with the bags and went on.

Mother [W.D. Young's mother, Elizabeth Jane Dickson] says that at times he would get home late, in the above fashion, and because he loved the country but saw little of it he would sit on the fence outside his home (it was almost country out there then and there was a rail fence) for half the night, looking about and enjoying himself.

In the winter time his boat was of course laid up, and as he had ample means he would not work in that season.  He bought a tract of land of 21 acres out in the woods, bounded by what are now Forest, Bird and Delaware avenues and Chapin Parkway, although only Delaware was then in existence.  It was densely wooded and in winter he would in part occupy himself in clearing it.  There was much hard wood and he had quite a little furniture made of it.  We have one or two curly maple chairs and the maple bureau made of that timber.  The land was at last cleared, and grandmother, after his death, held it as long as she could, but in the early seventies a great trunk sewer was put through Bird Ave.  It was a contractors steal, for that region was all open waste or farm land, but the taxes were so heavy that they were almost equal to the value of the land, some $10,000, and she was forced to sell it to the Rumseys, who had the means to hold it.  This they did and finally cut it into small lots, it now being solid with houses.

The approximate location in modern-day Buffalo of the 21-acre lot once owned by William Dickson

William Dickson loved horses, although he never invested in any of particular quality.  He had one old white horse in particular however named Billy of which my mother tells, and which had been some sort of  a racing horse in his earlier years.  One recreation of grandfather's in the winter was to race on the snow in a cutter, which impromptu races were then held on Main Street from North or Cold Springs (Ferry Street), as Main Street was then little more than a country road.  After his time this racing was on Delaware from Virginia to North Street, uphill, and still later on Richmond from Bryant to the Circle, uphill.

Grandmother [Mary Ann Browning] was afraid of horses.  He [William Dickson] however liked to take her driving and would promise not to race but he could not withstand the temptation, and when Billy won he would be in high feather.

Another story of old Billy was that his master  [William Dickson] had a habit of driving down town and spending much time in yarning with his old lake cronies or the merchants.  He would sometimes tie the lines about the whip, fold up the buffalo robes, and tell Billy to go home, all alone up Main Street, for there was of course little traffic, and Billy would come along safely and stand at the barn door to be let in.  Everyone knew Billy and did not molest him.

William Dickson's friend, General Bennet Riley,  in a portrait painted by Lars Gustaf Sellstedt. 1852.

Another recreation of grandfather's was to go to auctions with some of his special friends (in particular General Bennet Riley, who was the man, then a major, who first gave military escort to traders' trains on the Santa Fe trail, first used oxen on that trail, and was later first military Governor of California Territory.  He lived then on North Street in Buffalo).  At these auctions they would bid on any old lot of miscellaneous stuff which was offered.  And in my boyhood there was still old stuff about the house from these auctions.  I remember many rolls of cheap ribbons, but they seemed especially to bid for books.  Neither he [William Dickson] nor his wife were either readers or book lovers, and she would protest vigorously against these sleigh loads of books which he would bring home and threaten to burn them.  Many of them were not of much value, but a number of them I have now, chiefly old biographies, some published in Auburn, N.Y. (then a publishing center).


Grandfather also loved to go over and play cards in the evening with Levi Allen, who lived on Delaware Avenue, southwest corner of Summer, where the Rumsey house is, now occupied by Col. Donovan.  Sometimes he would fail to tell where he was going, and as the hours passed his wife would become more and more worried, until along midnight they would hear him coming down through the paths in the back gardens, whistling and happy.

In my next post about William Dickson, I'll continue to quote his grandson and further illuminate his character and family life.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

William Dickson (Part II)

This is the second post in a series about my fourth great-grandfather, William Dickson.

Capt. William Dickson in his later years

In my last post about my immigrant ancestor, William Dickson, I wrote about his birth in Northern Ireland and his journey to North America, where he married Mary Ann Browning.  The biography of William Dickson, written by his grandson, William Dickson Young, in 1933, provides insight into the life of William and Mary Ann after their marriage in 1831, and William's career as a ship captain on the Great Lakes.

He [William] was evidently an able seaman, for a letter I have, written in 1835, says he was given command of the best boat his employers had, one he thought as good as he wanted.

He worked hard, saved his money, and soon had a vessel of his own, probably a schooner or small brig, for the lakes were then full of sailing vessels.

In 1835 they came to Buffalo to live, and at first had a house on the north side of Eagle Street, opposite the County Hall, where the back end of the Athletic Club is now. Sarah, their second child, was born there.

About 1838 they moved to the large house on Barker Street, southwest corner of Linwood, which he had built, although Linwood Ave. had not then been cut through. That site is now occupied by a large apartment home.

There they continued to live until after his death on Jan. 20th 1865, all of the later children being born there. His land included what is now Linwood Ave. and extended south to Summer Street. All of that region was then quite open. The rear end of the house was at first frame, but later he rebuilt it of brick.

A modern view of the southwest corner of Barker and Linwood, where the Dickson home once stood.

In the period of 1835 to 1865, the thirty year span during which William Dickson lived in Buffalo, the city was growing by leaps and bounds.  Much of this expansion was due to the young city's role as a shipping center on Lake Erie.

Upon the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, Buffalo became the western end of the 524-mile waterway starting at New York City. At the time, Buffalo had a population of about 2,400 people. With the increased commerce of the canal, the population boomed and Buffalo was incorporated as a city in 1832.

In 1853, Buffalo annexed Black Rock, which had been Buffalo's fierce rival for the canal terminus. During the 19th century, thousands of pioneers going to the western United States debarked from canal boats to continue their journey out of Buffalo by lake or rail transport.  (Wikipedia)

The city of Buffalo in the mid-1800s.

Several American presidents were also associated with Buffalo during these years.  Abraham Lincoln gave a widely attended campaign speech in Buffalo in February 1861.  A crowd of nearly 10,000 people gathered to hear him speak at the American Hotel.  Former president Millard Fillmore later took Mr. Lincoln to a local church service.  Perhaps the speech was an inspiration to future president Grover Cleveland, who was living in Buffalo at the time and might well have heard Mr. Lincoln's oration.

 In these heady years in Buffalo, William Dickson's career was on an upward trajectory.  William Dickson Young provides many details about his grandfather's occupation.

In time he bought a share in vessels he commanded.  These included the Hunter, the Milwaukee, and the Globe, all sailing vessels, schooners or brigs.  Later he owned along a propeller (steamer), the Illinois.  The last one was again named the Hunter, a propeller, and although this would now be looked upon as a small boat, at that time she was rated A-1, with a fine cabin and up-to-date in every respect.  Like all of the earlier boats, she was both a freight or cargo carrier and had accommodations for 50-60 passengers, who were often carried, friends of family of the Captain, or pay passengers.  He both owned and captained her for several years.  An interesting little account of a trip from Chicago to Collingwood in 1860 is on page 16 in an old scrap book we have from Barker Street, pasted in a trip book of this same boat.

He was a fearless, aggressive and capable seaman.  He was always ambitious to be the first one out in the spring and last one in in the fall, and in those days, when there were few light houses, buoys and charts, it was dangerous work.  In fact he was often caught in the ice in the spring because he ventured out so early.

He was a fighter and would face all dangers.

In my next post about William Dickson, I'll share more details about his career and character.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Immigrant Ancestor: William Dickson (Part I)

William Dickson, my fourth great-grandfather

Over the past several months, I've been profiling my Dickson ancestors and the years they spent in Ontario, Canada and Douglas, Wyoming.  This next series of posts is devoted to the immigrant ancestor of this line, William Dickson, my fourth great-grandfather.  It was William who brought the Dickson family from Northern Ireland to Canada.

William is one of those ancestors who is long on legend and short on vital records.  The best two sources of information I have about him are the notes my grandmother took during her research, and a thorough biography written by his grandson, William Dickson Young, in 1933.  Missing are the ships' manifests, marriage records, birth certificates, and other pieces of data you'd hope to find when researching an ancestor.  This leaves the account written by William Dickson Young, who had quite a bit of anecdotal information about his grandfather and the extended Dickson family, as the most authoritative source on William Dickson's life.

I'm going to quote heavily from William Dickson Young's account of his grandfather.  I'd also like to say thank you to cousin Gerry, who reached out to me online and provided this document and a treasure trove of Dickson photos.  Without that generous gesture, I'd know very little about this part of the family.

The location of Pomeroy and Dungannon in what is now Northern Ireland
"He [William Dickson] was born in 1800 and always said he was born in Dungannon, which is a town in County Tyrone, a few miles from Pomeroy [the Dickson family's home], so it is to be supposed that his mother was there at the time, perhaps on a visit.

He was a strong, vigorous, forceful boy and man, with gray eyes, fearless and open in expressing his opinions, and that led to trouble in those days, especially in Ireland, for he was a Protestant, and for three hundred years and more there has been bitter enmity between the Protestants and Catholics in Ulster, as there is today, and much blood has been spilled there over this difference in religious outlook.

As he grew older he apparently made enemies among the Catholics.  Whether his family wished to get him away to save his life, or whether he simply had wanderlust I do not know.  (I judge it was the latter, for he was the heir, and all property in Protestant Ireland, as in England, was entailed to the eldest son, but my mother thinks it was the desire of the family for his safety.)  In any event, at the age of 16, he left home and went to sea.  The old green oak chest in our home was his sea chest, in which he kept his possessions.

How long he was at sea I do not know, but in 1829, thirteen years later, on a voyage to America, he met Mary Browning, a passenger on his ship, some ten years younger than he.  She did some mending for him and he fell in love with her.

She, with her parents, went to Port Stanley, Ont., on Lake Erie, and he followed her, although I do not know exactly how soon thereafter.  It was not long, however, and he secured a position on a boat which either sailed from that little port or touched there."
Mary Ann Browning, my fourth great-grandmother

Some time passed before William joined Mary Ann in Canada.  As William Dickson Young points out, William was quite popular with the young women of Buffalo when he remained a single man.

When he first came to Buffalo, perhaps on his way west, for he was soon on large vessels, there is a story that he operated some sort of a small ferry, perhaps a skiff, from Black Rock to Fort Erie.  A very old lady, Miss Wintermuth, whom I used to know, who lived in Fort Erie, an aunt of Mary Lewis', used to say that he was  a great favorite with the girls of Fort Erie, and that they would go over with no one else, in fact they spent their money in ferry tolls.  My mother also speaks of his swimming the river at Black Rock. 

William did eventually make his way to Port Stanley to try to persuade Mary Ann Browning to marry him.  William Dickson Young also wrote a separate, shorter document outlining the history of the Browning family.  He writes a paragraph there about the courtship of William Dickson and Mary Ann Browning.

She refused for a considerable time to accept him but finally did so, and they were married at St. Thomas, Ont., December 20th 1831, he being 31 and she 21, the record of which is shown in the old Dickson family bible, which I have.  They lived at Port Stanley until their first child... was born.

I hope someone that one of William Dickson Young's descendants still has that old Dickson bible!  

William Dickson and Mary Ann Browning had eight children together:

1. Esther Dickson, b. 1824 d. 1872 in Buffalo, New York.  She did not marry.
2. Sarah Ann Dickson, b. 1826, d. 1915 in Buffalo, New York.  She did not marry.
3. George William Dickson, b. 1838, d. 1916 in Santa Monica, California.  He married Mary Elizabeth Bellangee.
4. John Henry Dickson, b. 184, d. 1865 in Buffalo, New York.  He married Sarah Mitchell.
5. Robert James Dickson, b. 1843, d. 1878 in Buffalo, New York.  He did not marry.
6. Elizabeth Jane Dickson, b. 1847, d. 1935 in Buffalo, New York.  She married Albert Barnes Young.
7 and 8. Louis and Louise Dickson, twins, b. 1850, d. 1851 in Buffalo, New York.

In the next post in the series, I'll write about William Dickson's career as a ship's captain and share some anecdotes about his character.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Two Years of "Know Their Stories"

Know Their Stories celebrates two years of existence today.  Happy blogoversary!  Eighty-seven posts later, I have only skimmed the surface of my family's history, and look forward to sharing many more stories in the years to come.

The most popular posts on Know Their Stories in the past year:

Sharing Your Family History with Children and Young Adults -  Many genealogists lament the lack of interest from younger generations.  Here are my suggestions for engaging the kids in your family history.

The Parents of Lena Schmidt Laun - This post shows how I used probate records to (finally!) prove the parentage of my husband's great-grandmother.

The Series About my Rutherfurd and Dickson Ancestors in Douglas, Wyoming - I wrote a number of posts this year about the small town of Douglas, Wyoming.  My family members there ran the local hospital, owned the hardware store, and raised children on a working ranch.

Patrick Barrett and Catherine Reynolds and Albert Patrick Barrett - These posts about my third great grandparents and their son, Albert, my second great-grandfather, tell of coal mining and railroad work by Irish immigrant families in Maryland and Illinois.

Richard Stockton: Signer of the Declaration of Independence - My second cousin nine times removed signed the Declaration of Independence.  Great reading for the Fourth of July!

Other notable posts from Know Their Stories:

The series on Gil Cook, a B-24 pilot killed by friendly fire during World War II, which I wrote last year, continues to bring new readers to my blog.  In the past few months, I've been contacted by two family members of airmen from Gil's unit, who've provided additional details about Gil's last moments, the investigation, and the lives of the other men on his plane.  I've also been added to a Facebook group dedicated to the 7th Bombardment Group, and am learning a lot about the history of this group and their mission in the India-China-Burma Theater of World War II.  This topic continues to be of great interest to me, and there will undoubtedly be more posts about it.

Conflicting versions of how my grandparents met - Interesting discrepancies were found in their memoirs.

Reevaluating our DNA Results - Remember when my father's Y-DNA results indicated that our paternal line was, um, interrupted?  Yeah.  I needed to get to the bottom of that.

Thank you for reading Know Their Stories!  I am grateful for all the feedback I have received and appreciate those who take the time to read about these fascinating ancestors.