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John Dickinson: "Penman of the Revolution"

This article was written by Dora W. Mitchell as part of a series called Eastern Shore Families and appeared in News and Farmer, Preston, Maryland, on 21 April 1966. Obviously, the article is written from an American point of view.

I am grateful to Joe Dickerson for sending me this material. Should it be found to contravene copyright, I will remove the page.

The home of John DickinsonSamuel Dickinson's son, John, who wrote or helped write so many of our historic papers, was born at Crosiadore in 1732. He studied law at the Middle Temple in London and was admitted to the Bar in Philadelphia in 1755.

His interest in politics led to his election to the Delaware General Assembly and then to the Pennsylvania Assembly and he began expressing his political views in articles and pamphlets. One series of articles called Letters of a Pennsylvania Farmer tells the grievances that the colonists had with their English rulers.

In 1768 he wrote the first patriotic song in America and called it The Liberty Song. It was published in the Boston Gazette on July 18, 1768 and roused the people of Boston when the British sent soldiers in to overpower opposition to the Stamp Act [see below1]

John DickinsonThe Liberty Song

Come join hand in hand
Brave Americans all
And rouse your bold hearts at fair Liberty's call;
No tyrannous acts shall suppress your just claim,
Or stain with dishonour America's name.


In freedom we're born and in Freedom we'll live
Our purses are ready
Steady friends, steady
Not as slaves, but as Free men
Our Money we'll give.

Mr Dickinson was chairman of the Committee of Correspondence which called the First Continental Congress in 1774. He also attended the Second Continental Congress and drafted the Petitions to the King from each. He soon became known as the "Penman of the Revolution".

In 1776, John Dickinson was appointed chairman of a committee to draw up the Articles of Federation which were adopted in 1777.

Dickinson's signatureHowever, when the resolution was introduced to make America completely independent from England, Mr Dickinson opposed it. He felt we should be governed properly but were not ready to make a complete break with England and he would not sign the Declaration of Independence.

But when the fighting came, John Dickinson joined in and was a colonel of the First Battalion, fought at the Battle of Brandywine, in Caesar Rodney's Brigade and later became a Brigadier General. He was, in fact, the only member of the Continental Congress which adopted the Declaration of Independence who fought in the war.

In 1785 John Dickinson resigned as governor of Pennsylvania to lead the Delaware delegation to the Annapolis Convention, of which he was elected chairman. In 1787he was a member of the commission which drew up the Constitution of the United States. He helped preserve the rights of the smaller states by insisting on equal representation for all states in the senate.

John DickinsonDickinson College at Carlisle, Penna. was named for him by its founder, Dr Benjamin Rush, famous physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence. Mr Dickinson gave the first endowment funds and served as president of the Board of Trustees from 1783 until his death.

John Dickinson married Miss Mary Norris, daughter of the Hon. Isaac Norris, speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly and they had two daughters. He died in 1808.

Samuel Dickinson's brother, James, married Hannah Coale and they had four children, William, Ann, Mary and Elizabeth.

In his will made in 1738, James leaves Dickinson's Plains in Queen Anne County to his three daughters. His daughter, Elizabeth, married Anthony Richardson, Sr. and they had two sons, Anthony Richardson, Jr. and Thomas Dickinson Richardson. These boys lived in England when they were grown. Anthony Sr. died in 1741 and Elizabeth married the Rev. Philip Walker of Caroline County. Their daughter, Elizabeth Walker in 1774 married her cousin, Henry Dickinson (who was also a descendent of Walter Dickinson). [2] They were the parents of Charles Dickinson who was killed in a duel [3] by Andrew Jackson.

[1] This cannot be correct. The Stamp Act was repealed in 1766. The legislation referred to must be the Townshend Duties of 1767. [back]
[2] Joe Dickerson has provided the following correction:

Henry was the son of Charles (c.1695-1779) & Sophia (Richardson) Dickinson; Charles was the son of John & Rebecca (Wynne, from Wales) Dickinson; this John was the son of John & Sarah (Holmes) Dickinson and this later John was BROTHER to Walter Dickinson. [back]

[3]Andrew Jackson duels Caroline County man

This report is a short synopsis of the events leading up to the fatal duel between the man who was to become the 74th president of the United States of America, Andrew Jackson, and the Caroline County-born Charles Dickinson, son of Henry Dickinson and Elizabeth Walker and also relates the finding of the grave of Charles Dickinson. The circumstances o f these events Mare been extracted lions many apparently reliable sources. As with many genealogical/historical events, there are different versions and opinions. What I relate herein appears to be the best accepted version.

- Research by Joe Dickerson, descendant of Carles Dickinson. (Note: 'Dickerson" spelling reflects recorded change from "Dickinson."

Carles Dickinson, as spelled on the above-ground brick tomb, was born at Wiltshire Manor in Caroline County, Maryland, on 20 December 1780. He remained there until about 15 years of age when, after his father died, his stepmother, Deborah Perry, moved to her new home, "Foxley Hall," in Easton, Maryland (Talbot County). Charles received his formal schooling there, reading law under Judge Marshall, preparing him for the life of an attorney.

To quote from an article by Joe Valiant in the Caroline County (MD.) Biography: "In 1806 Andrew Jackson, frontier soldier, lawyer and judge, had retired from public life to farm his plantation and take up his chief hobby, horse breeding. At that time some of the finest horses in this country were bred and reared by the landowners of the Eastern Shore, and Jackson found his way here on several occasions in search of stock to improve his herd. It is said that he was a guest at Daffin House, near Hillsboro, and he met Charles Dickinson on one of these trips, or perhaps in Tennessee where Dickinson's in-laws lived."

In any event, they met and liked each other, with Jackson persuading Dickinson to visit Nashville, Tennessee. In Nashville, Charles Dickinson fell in love and married Jane Erwin, the beautiful daughter of Col. Joseph Erwin. To digress for a moment, it is said that not only did Jackson like Caroline County horses, but also Caroline lasses. It has been reported in other articles that Jackson may have given undue attention to Rebecca Dickinson, sister of Charles, and Charles felt it his duty to speak to Jackson. Apparently, Jackson long remembered this confrontation by Charles. Col. Erwin was a political power in Tennessee, and opposed to Jackson's views. Charles Dickinson was the favourite of Col. Erwin, who was priming him for a political career.

At this point, the events leading to the duel begin to unfold. Col. Erwin was a neighbour of Jackson and was losing business to Jackson's horse-breeding business. The colonel's horse was named Plowboy and Jackson's

The duel took place in the state of Kentucky (duelling was illegal in Tennessee) in 1806. Dickinson fired first, Jackson had decided he would fire second. Jackson was wounded due to a clever move on his part-he pulled his military jacket over, so the button that Dickinson had boasted he would drive thru his heart would be off target-sure enough Dickinson hit the button, but only wounded Jackson. He carried the bullet in his body for the rest of his life. Jackson then fired and hit Dickinson in the stomach area; he bled to death in 14 hours. [back]

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