Richard Dicken: Not Quite Dead Yet

So, as it turns out, Richard Dicken, my 5th great-grandfather was not quite as dead as I thought he was by 1819. And there’s a moral to that story!

I had assumed for years that since Richard Dicken’s estate was found in Edgecombe county probate files that he must in fact be dead. Furthermore Thomas Bembry had been declared Richard’s daughter, Patsy Dicken’s, guardian, and his brother, Kenneth Bembry had been declared guardian to her three younger brothers. So Richard’s being dead was a reasonable conclusion.

BUT, as I was tidying up the rest of Richard’s family, I noticed something odd. His son, Ephraim H Dicken had an elderly man born 1777 in Halifax County and named Richard Dicken living with him in 1850 and 1860. Who the heck was this?

I knew that I had the right Ephraim, because in 1875, this same Ephraim H Dicken left property to his nephew, Henry L Bembry, Thomas’ son. Other records clearly support this identification.

Mercifully, as opposed to all the Benjamins, Williams and Ephraims in the Dicken family, there were only two Richards of which I am aware. The other Richard usually went by Richard H Dicken (many Dicken men had this middle initial, I do not know what it stands for). But not always. And the Richard Dicken living with Ephraim went by R H Dicken in 1850 and Richard Dicken in 1860. Argh.

The most obvious conclusion was that this Richard was Ephraim’s father. But given the “probate” records, and the H in 1850, more proof was clearly required.

I went back through the 1827-29 court records and noticed three things: Richard was never referred to as Richard H. Neither was he referred to as deceased, though his estate was discussed in detail. And his children were never referred to as “orphans.” That was an assumption on my part. Conclusion: this was in fact an estate record but not a probate record.

(Further confusing matters, the other Richard “H” Dicken died about 1827, his actual probate file kept coming up under my Richard’s file!)

I then went through deed indexes for Halifax and Edgecombe counties looking for Richard. Each Richard was featured in deeds in both counties, however, by noting whether the Richard in question was “of Edgecombe” or “of Halifax,” the use of the initial “H,” as well as matching properties to other Dicken deeds, I eventually managed to clearly separate the two sets of deeds and the two men.

Furthermore, Edgecombe Richard referred to land left to him by “my father, Lewis Dicken,” so that clinched it: there were two Richards, one the son of Lewis, one of the son of Benjamin. They were mostly likely first or second cousins.

Here is what I believe happened: when Richard went to jail in 1815, assuming his wife had died by then, his minor children were declared abandoned, leading to the “probate” file that I had found earlier. Guardians were then found for them; Patsy’s guardian being her husband, and the three boys being assigned to Kenneth Bembry, her brother-in-law — who at least appeared to be a responsible man of substance, though events soon proved otherwise.

The next time Richard appears, in 1840, he is living alone in Edgecombe county with no slaves (he had previously held several, mentioned by name in the court records). By 1850 he had moved into Ephraim’s household in Halifax County. Ephraim was well-off and had no children, he was the most logical person to take him in.

The moral of this story is: never assume anything! I know I will be more careful regarding estate files from now on.

While I’ve spent far more time with this Dicken family than I intended to (and I’ll probably never completely sort out this clan of doppelgangers) I am happy to have finally figured out Richard’s story. In the process, I uncovered and recorded more Dicken deeds, many naming enslaved individuals. They are all posted on my Ancestry tree now, waiting to be found.

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