Friday, May 8, 2015

George William Dickson: From Canada to California

George William Dickson, my second great-grandfather

I've been writing about my Rutherfurd and Dickson ancestors and the years they spent in Douglas, Wyoming.  My second great-grandmother, Annie Dickson Rutherfurd, was very close with her parents, George William Dickson and Mary Elizabeth Bellangee.  She followed them from Ontario, Canada to Wyoming in the late 1800s, and then joined them in Los Angeles in 1913, after the death of her husband. 

Mary Elizabeth Bellangee Dickson, who I've previously profiled, lived to be 85 and was fondly remembered by her granddaughter, my grandmother LaVerne Rutherfurd Smith.  While my grandmother left no personal recollections of her grandfather, George William Dickson, who died two years before her birth, she was always very interested in knowing more about him and his ancestors.

George William Dickson was born December 11, 1838 in Buffalo, New York.  His parents were William Dickson and Mary Ann Browning, both immigrants.  His father was from Northern Ireland and his mother was born in Leicestershire, England.  George was the third of six children born to William and Mary Ann in America.  His sisters were Esther, Sarah and Elizabeth Dickson.  His brothers were John and Robert Dickson.  George's father, William, was a ship's captain on Lake Erie, and George followed in his father's footsteps.  He, too, became a sailor and then a ship's captain.

A drawing of Buffalo Harbor circa the late 1850s, when George William Dickson would have been sailing these waters.  (Source: Historical and Statistical Gazetteer of New York State, Published by R.P. Smith in Syracuse, 1860)

George William Dickson married Mary Elizabeth Bellangee in either 1863 or 1864.  There is some discrepancy about the date and location of their marriage.  Family records indicate that the nuptials took place in Hamilton, Ohio.  However, the book "Early Settlers of New York State, Their Ancestors and Descendants, Extracts from Vol.3, No.11 (May 1937)" says the marriage took place in Buffalo, New York.  The New York State Census records from 1855 and 1865 also list Buffalo as George Dickson's place of residence.  Mary Bellangee and her family had moved to Ohio from Milwaukee sometime between 1861 and 1863.  Mary's mother, Amelia Brown, was from the Buffalo area.  It's unclear whether George and Mary met and married in Ohio or Buffalo, but there's a case to be made for both locations.

Once married, George and Mary had five children.
  1. MARY DICKSON, born 1866 in Hamilton, Ohio or Buffalo, New York.  She died as an infant.
  2. ELIZABETH DAVOCK DICKSON, born 1868 in Point Edward, Ontario, Canada; died 1952 in Los Angeles, California.  She did not marry.
  3. ANNE AMELIA DICKSON, born 27 October 1870 in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada; died 1952 in Hood River, Oregon.   She married (1) John T. Griffin and (2) Malcolm Brakspear Oliver Rutherfurd.
  4. GEORGE WILLIAM DICKSON, born 16 April 1872 in Point Edward, Ontario, Canada; died 1945.  He married Janet Adamson.
  5. WILFRED BELLANGEE DICKSON, born 1 January 1875 in Point Edward, Ontario, Canada; died 1937.  He married Grace Clift. 

Their first child, Mary, died as an infant.  Sometime after her death and before the birth of their second child, George and Mary relocated to Point Edward, Ontario, Canada.   This area was a major shipping center, and George worked as a ship's captain on Lake Huron.  His children spent time on the waterfront and sailing on the lake, witness to the rapid growth of Point Edward and the surrounding cities.

The area [Point Edward] remained sparsely populated until 1859 when it became the crossing point into the U.S. for the Grand Truck Railway. Rapid development followed and in 1864 a town plan was laid out for the community called Point Edward, reportedly after Queen Victoria’s father, Edward, Duke of Kent. In 1870 a steamship service was inaugurated to transport immigrants and supplies to western Canada and by 1873 the town contained stores, hotels, sawmills and large immigration sheds. Five years later it was incorporated as a Village with a population of more than one thousand. (source:

Point Edward and its much larger neighbor, Sarnia, where the Dickson family also lived in the 1870s and 1880s, was a critical shipping hub on the Great Lakes.  From these towns, ships could access Lake Huron, the St. Clair River and Lake St. Clair.  Ships went back and forth between Canada and the United States, making it one of the busiest inland waterways in the world.

George William Dickson

Point Edward and Sarnia were experiencing a massive growth in population and job opportunity at the time the Dicksons lived there.  Shipping was not the only industry that was growing exponentially in the area.  Newcomers flocked to careers in lumber, oil, railroad work and ship manufacture and repair.  This would have been an exciting time with much possibility for George Dickson and his family.

A view of modern day Sarnia Harbor, courtesy of Tourism Sarnia-Lambton.

In 18891, when George Dickson was fifty-one, he retired from shipping.  His son, George William Dickson, Jr., had been offered a job in a telegraph office in Douglas, Wyoming.  George, his wife Mary and their children George Jr., Wilfred and Elizabeth all relocated to Douglas together.  Their daughter Annie, my second great-grandmother, would join them shortly thereafter, when her marriage to John T. Griffin failed in 1894.  It's not clear why the entire family decamped to Wyoming, so far from the waterways that had enabled George's career, but the Dicksons liked to do everything together.  Some years later, several of them would move as a group to Oregon, and then to Los Angeles.

 In 19002, George's sons, George Jr. and Wilfred, departed Wyoming for Nebraska.  They took work as railroad station agents in Long Pine, which is in Brown County, some 300 miles to the east of Douglas.  While George Jr. returned to Douglas and established a hardware store in town, Wilfred remained in Long Pine, working in railroad management, for the rest of his life.  This marked the first time in George's sixty years that any of his children had been away from him for a significant time.

George William Dickson in 1898, aged 59

The 1900 census shows George William Dickson, aged 61, working as a "warehouse man" in Douglas. However, he was not employed much longer.  In 1908, according to records kept of the Douglas Hospital, George, Mary and their daughter Elizabeth moved to Portland, Oregon.  Elizabeth's colleagues at the hospital stated that George planned to retire in California, but apparently they went to Oregon first.  The 1910 census shows all three Dicksons living in Portland.  According to that document, George was not working in 1910, but living on his own income.  At 71, he was properly retired.

Sometime between 1910 and 1913, George, Mary and Elizabeth fulfilled their dream of moving to California.  They settled in Santa Monica, near the ocean, perhaps at 3009 Ocean Front Walk, where Mary and Elizabeth remained in 1920, according to that year's census.  George lived the last three to six years of his life next to one of the most beautiful stretches of beach in California.

George William Dickson died on New Year's Eve, December 31, 1916.  He was 78 years of age.  His legacy is an important one, because it was he who brought his family west to California, where most of his descendants still live.  His commitment to keeping family close and his love of the water were apparent until the end of his life.

1 The year of the Dickson family's move to Douglas, Wyoming was 1889, according to the 1920 US Census. In that census, George William Dickson, Jr. lists his year of immigration to the USA as 1889.

2 Brothers George William Dickson, Jr. and Wilfred Bellangee Dickson are listed in the 1900 US Census in both Douglas, Wyoming and Long Pine, Nebraska. The Long Pine census was taken on June 5, 1900. The Douglas census was taken on June 13-14, 1900. There are several possibilities for this appearance in two different locations. The brothers could have taken a trip home to Wyoming after June 5 and before June 13. They could have made that trip in plenty of time via railroad. Or, just as likely, the brothers were in Long Pine at the time of the Douglas census, but a family member or neighbor still included them in the accounting of family members.

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