Friday, April 25, 2014

William Smith Dickerson - A man with two families

(family lineage: William Smith Dickerson 1 ; Hiram Dickerson 2; William Vincent Dickerson 3;
Queen Rebecca Dickerson 4; Edna Bethel Hayward 5; Judith Ann Hayward 6)

1801 - 1861
William S. Dickerson (probable picture passed down through the generations)

This branch of the Dickerson family tree was, if not lost, certainly misplaced.  One reason was that the genealogy records on William Vincent Dickerson and Elizabeth Martin gave no details beyond the fact that they were married in 1824 and their fourth child, Hiram Dickerson, was born in 1833. Their full story hid  behind a proverbial "brick wall".

But curiosity can be a great motivator, especially when genealogical research continually points to a William Smith Dickerson who was also the father of a Hiram and husband of an Elizabeth Martin in the same time period.  Trouble was  this William Dickerson had children much younger than Hiram and his middle name was Smith.  Obviously, you can ignore strong pointers like these just so long!

Finally, one night the brick wall started crumbling because of  something as simple as browsing through genealogy message boards.  What was found there was a message posted several years before which made it clear that there could be much more to the story than ever suspected.  

The writer was Almeda Lappin, who had spent a good portion of her life researching William Smith Dickerson with her cousin, Margaret Shawver.  Their research included chasing down records in various court houses and interviewing members of their far-flung family. These women continued to document all their findings with each other through the years.  Best of all,  Almeda gladly shared those findings and observations with me.  The story they told finally filled in some of the blanks of a  man's life which had been hidden for many years from his "first family".

Actually the new story began when William's tenure as husband and father of three children and another (Hiram) on the way, ended in 1832.  It's useless to speculate at this point what led to the divorce. Suffice it to say the official  record was recorded in Lawrence County, Kentucky in the Annotated Circuit Court records as follows:

WILLIAM DICKERSON VS. ELIZABETH DICKERSON, Nov. 26, 1832: William Dickerson sues Elizabeth, his wife, for divorce; states he married Elizabeth Martin in the year 1824. Divorce was granted.”

Two years later he married Mary Cooper in Greenup County, Kentucky with whom he raised ten children, including a boy born two months before their marriage and carrying his mother's maiden name.

William obviously settled down when, on April 7, 1847,  he was ordained and granted a license to preach as an Exhorter by order of the Anberry Grove Clap Cravansville Circuit of Missouri Conference in the Methodist Episcopal Church South which had split off from the Methodist church over the issue of slavery.  A license to serve as Exhorter had to be signed by the “Preacher in Charge” and required that the Exhorter "hold meetings for prayer and exhortation whenever opportunity is afforded, attend all sessions of the quarterly conference, be subject to an annual examination of character and a renewal of license annually”.  His license was authorized “so long as his conduct shall comport with the gospel of Jesus Christ.” There is no confirmation that William's license was either renewed or revoked after 1847.

One of the treasures Margaret found came through a man who had seen and copied by hand entries made by William Smith Dickerson into a family Bible which was too old and frail to be photocopied for fear of damage. The following notes had been written in the Bible but not dated: 
"When my daughter led (sic) sick, I prayed to God three days at every opertunity (sic) for her Releaf (sic). The third day at night she got better. Next morning I went out as usal (sic) and Bowed down and give God the thanks. As I returned back I heard a voice saying "William, William, William". Said "hear (sic) am I." It said 'go back, go back, go back and give up your daughter for God almihty (sic) knows what is best'. By the help of God I dun(sic) so and she died within three or 4 hours afterwards. This I am willing to be qualified to at any minet (sic). Wm. S. Dickerson”

Also written in the Bible was his birth date and the date of his second marriage, as well as the birth and death dates of all of his children from both marriages.  However, information about his place of birth, parents, the name of his first wife and date of that marriage was neatly cut out of the Bible.  Although the "second family" children stated that he hadn't shared much about his previous life with them, it does make you wonder who cut that information out of the Bible (surely not the person who wrote it in the first place).

But this item was added into the Bible by a different hand: 
"Wm. S. Dickerson joined the southern army, 4th Missouri Regiment as an Exhorter and soldier. Died of cholera on his way home 22 Dec. 1861”. 

The legend carried down through the years is that on the way home after  his term of service as chaplain to members of his congregation had been completed, he became ill, stopped off at a farmhouse because he had become too ill to travel, and died there of cholera at 60 years of age.   His grave was never found.

It is interesting to note that during those war years, the Dickersons were a divided family in loyalties. Both William and his son from his first family, Hiram, served the cause of the war on the Confederate side, while a son from his second family, William Wiley Dickerson, became a private in Company B of the 23rd Regiment in Missouri on the Union side three years after his father's death.  

Both sons survived the war and lived out their lives with their families.