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).

Source: buffaloah.com

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.

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