Another Brick Wall Down: John Dickerson, North Carolina to Tennessee

Years ago, I had traced my maternal Dickerson lineage back to my 4th great-grandfather, a John Dickerson who lived in Benton and Carroll counties, Tennessee. I knew that he was from North Carolina, and I figured he was very likely the John “Dickinson” on the 1820 and 1830 censuses in Wayne County. The name, age, and children all matched up. But that’s as far as I got.

Hello pandemic lockdown, in which brick walls topple. About a week ago, I made John Dickerson/Dickinson my latest project.

Probate records

I started by looking at North Carolina Wills and Estates on Family Search, to see if John had been mentioned in any wills or probate files in Wayne County from that time period.

The first thing I learned while browsing these files was that the name Dickerson was used more or less interchangeably with Dickenson and Dickinson in Wayne County going way back. So, there was no reason to think that John Dickerson couldn’t easily be John Dickinson.

Fellow genealogists will appreciate my crazy handwritten notes! I did type them into my genealogy software before I could forget what they meant. 😉

Google it!

I always try just Googling an ancestor. You never know what might come up. Right away, a John Dickinson appeared in the will of 1807 Edward Hood, who left property to his daughter, Anne Dickinson, and five grandchildren, Ythell (also Withel or Wethel), Isaac, John, Harris and Sarah Dickinson.

Note: this is an excellent reason to share will transcriptions online! You never know what useful information may be in there for someone else. This will was not indexed under Dickinson, so I never would have found it if another genealogist had not generously shared it.

Edward Hood’s will did not state which Dickinson was the father of all these kids. NC Wills and Estate files did, however, offer an excellent hint: Isaac and Withel Dickinson were the administrators of David Dickinson’s estate in 1811. He did not leave a will: this is likely because he died suddenly as a result of terrible accident. (More on David Dickinson in my next post.)

Given that Ythell/Withel is such a unique name, and that the dates make sense, I could safely conclude that Anne Hood’s husband was David Dickinson. John did not administrate David’s estate (or show up in the record of the estate sale) because he was several years younger than his brothers, being just about 16 years old at the time of his father’s death in 1811.

Land and property records

I wanted to be absolutely sure about this, though, before pursuing the line any further. I looked at Wayne County deeds on Family Search and compared the properties willed to the three brothers to their later real estate transactions.

Edward Hood’s will specified the following:

I Give to my grand son YTHELL DICKINSON all my Land lying on the south side of Juniper Swamp.

I Give to my grand son ISAAC DICKINSON all my Land lying on the north side of Juniper Swamp and also I giv the said ISAAC one mare, bridle and saddle, one Bed and furniture.

I Give to my Grand son JOHN DICKINSON all my Land Lying on the west side of the Rode, one negro named Isaac and one Still, after my wife’s death or Widow hood.

Sure enough, Withel Dickinson sold land on the Juniper Swamp in 1815. Isaac sold his land on the same swamp in 1817. There can be no doubt that these are the same men mentioned in Edward Hood’s will. And, a later transaction settles the same question for John Dickinson.

John held on to his inheritance until 1835, when he literally “bet the farm” on the outcome of a lawsuit, and lost. I do not have the details of the actual case, but in a deed dated 3 July 1835 (Wayne County DB16, p267), John mortgages the land, 300 acres along Black Creek, just south of Wilson, NC, along with his entire crop, as security for a lawsuit. If he loses the suit, so the deed states, then all his property will be forfeit.

He lost the case, because one month later, he deeded over 280 acres of the land to Robert Simms (Wayne County DB16, p349). It is described in this deed as being on the north side of Black Creek and bounded by Cobb Road–almost certainly the “Rode” mentioned in Edward Hood’s will. As further evidence, earlier deeds show that Edward Hood owned several tracts along Black Creek, adjoining the same neighbors as are mentioned in John’s 1835 deeds.

Therefore, John Dickerson is indeed the John Dickinson in Hood’s will, a younger brother to Isaac and Withel Dickinson, and the son of David and Anne Hood Dickinson.

It is unclear why John did not deed over the entire 300 acres: perhaps Simms decided to leave him his house and a small tract with it. But it was not enough to keep him in Wayne County. By 1839, John had moved to Benton County, Tennessee.

Some final notes

The Dickinsons were slave holders, and John’s economic decline can be seen in that history as well. He inherited one slave, Isaac, from his wealthy grandfather in 1807. In 1820, he is found with Isaac (aged 26-44), a woman, and a young boy, who are likely Isaac’s family.

By 1830, Isaac and his family are no longer in the household, as John holds no slaves on that census. John then lost nearly all his farm in the 1835 lawsuit, and is found on the 1839 tax list for Benton County with no property or slaves at all.

There are no land or property records for John Dickerson in Benton or Carroll counties that I can find. Lacking farmland, John may have turned to carpentry for his living. This was a family trade: David Dickinson’s estate inventory included many carpentry tools, as well as a “parcel of hoops,” presumably for making barrels or wagaon wheels. Later, John’s son Isaac, was known to be a carpenter and coffin maker.

John Dickerson moved to adjacent Carroll County by 1860, and died in 1867. His wife, Charity (last name possibly Dempsey) predeceased him. His estate file states that he had “no debts against him” and that he owned one 67-acre tract of land. His children, Dempsey, Thomas, Isaac and Mary (all of whom were completely illiterate, signing their names with an “X”), petitioned that it be sold because it “could not be divided without greatly impairing the value.” John’s son, Thomas Dickerson, bought the tract at auction for $175.

From Carroll County, Tennessee court records at Family Search.

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