Go to USC home page USC Logo South Caroliniana Library



















Dickson Family Papers, 1818-1860   
    A gift to SCL Manuscripts Division announced in 2008

| Manuscripts Gifts 2008 | Front Page 2008 | Previous Issues | Friends of the Library |

Seventeen manuscripts, 1818, 1833-1844, and 1859-1860, written from Ireland, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Alabama, and Georgia to members of the Dickson family in Spartanburg District, S.C., give some insight into the activities of this immigrant family.

The first three letters, written in 1818 to William Dickson (b. ca. 1770) from family in County Tyrone, Ireland, describe “a fever” which had struck that country along with widespread agricultural difficulties. All three letters relate a desire by the writers to join the members of the family already living in America. While describing effects of the epidemic when writing on 30 March, John Heatherington tells his son-in-law William that the latter’s cousin Elizabeth “has loosed Both her feet By it, they mortified and Dropped off by the ancle and She is now in a way of recovery.”

By 1833 William’s brother-in-law George Heatherington had established himself in Indiana, and William’s oldest son, William P. Dickson (b. ca. 1808), had been living in that state for six years. On 4 September of that year the latter wrote to his father in Spartanburg, S.C., to inform him that he would be returning to South Carolina in October and wanted to give him notice that he had become “disposed to change my mode of living, and betake myself to husbandry,” and that he had recently become engaged to seventeen-year-old Margaret Susannah Martin. He describes her as “of small stature, fair complaction, and red hair,” but informs his father that although her mother is a widow, “there are five children and her Mother is in possession of all the property, so I do not expect much at this time.” Like the previous correspondence from Ireland, this letter also conveys news of family tragedy. He reports to his father that George Heatherington’s daughter Eleanor, the writer’s mother’s namesake, “was killed...by being in his [her father’s] cart when the horse [ran] away. The cart turned over and broke her scull, she died in an instant.”

Robert, another son of the elder William Dickson, settled in Dallas County, Alabama, and went into business with Green Underwood (1804-1879), another South Carolinian. Underwood traveled back to Spartanburg in August 1835, presumably for the purpose of buying slaves, and seems to have left Robert Dickson in charge of his Alabama affairs. In a letter of 26 August 1835, Underwood informs Dickson to tell John Smyley “that he need not expect me to get a seamstress for him I have Done all I can & have not succeeded nor do I expect to Do so. Negroes are high here fellows $800 to $900 girls $600 to $700...I will not Lay out Smyley’s money except I can Do it to some advantage. I have but one chance that is Mrs. Wades sale of 40 negros takes place 4 &5 Sept.”

Robert Dickson wrote to his father on 5 June 1836, following a trip to New York to buy goods to sell in Alabama. He notes that “we have a pretty large stock of goods. Such a stock as ought to command attention any place. Since we commenced...our sales have amounted to about Three Thousand Dollars.” In the same letter, he offers apologies for not writing sooner but reports a “derangement of the Mails through the Creek Nation. The Indians having stoped the stages from passing through. But I think the forces that have...been sent against the hostile Indians will be able...to make them submit.” Unfortunately, all would not continue well, for Robert, William, and his son, William P., were forced to travel to Alabama in February 1837 to settle Robert’s affairs following his death. On 1 March 1837, William wrote to his wife, Eleanor, “I am going this morning after Breakfast to see my sones grave which is a sorry part for me.”

William P. Dickson continued to correspond with his wife’s family in Indiana in the early 1840s. On 6 June 1841, Margaret’s brother John wrote from Dubois County to South Carolina conveying news of the extended family and inquiring whether William would be willing to sell his share of his mother-in-law’s farm in Indiana. On 20 February 1842 Milton Martin wrote to William from New Albany, also wanting to buy his share of the farm and passing on news from Indiana. Milton reported that he was working in a foundry and “their is more bisness doing in that line than there has bin since I ever new anything of the buisness.” When relating news of his mother’s health he adds that he was in hopes that “she had gave up mormonism until a few days ago.”

The last four items in the collection center around the medical and dental career of William P. Dickson’s son, John H. Dickson (b. ca. 1834). Included is a bill for dental supplies bought for Dickson by James E. Garretson from Horatio G. Kern in Philadelphia, 9 April 1859; a letter dated 26 May 1859 from the Philadelphia firm of Jones, White, and McCurdy relating the price for “making and mounting Block teeth or mounting single teeth”; and two letters, 24 January and 12 April 1860, written by Garretson in Philadelphia to Dickson at “Dental College, Baltimore, Md.,” and Spartanburg, S.C., respectively. In his first communication Garretson apologizes for not responding to Dickson’s letter sooner and informs him of volumes he has purchased for Dickson’s use. When Garretson wrote again on 12 April he congratulated Dickson “on the addition to your honors of the DDS,” and assured him “whether practiced or not Dental knowledge will not come amiss.” He goes on to assure him that the more he practices dentistry the more he will learn, “you remember the old surgical saying concerning the Occulist, ‘He must destroy a Hatful of eyes before he saves one.’”

The grandson of an Irish immigrant who had left his homeland to escape poverty and forge a better life for his family, John H. Dickson had become a true American success story. Unfortunately, he would not live long enough to enjoy this hard-earned prosperity, for he died on 3 August 1864.

| Manuscripts Gifts 2008 | Previous Issues | Endowments | Friends of the Library |