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.

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