“My Dear Wife”: Abishai Dickson’s Last Letter Home on His Way to Texas
One of the treasures in the library’s archival collections is an 1835 letter written by Abishai Dickson to his wife. Like Alamo defender Daniel William Cloud, Dickson wrote his letter in late December 1835 while in Louisiana on his way to Texas to join the struggle for independence.
Dickson was a member of the Alabama Red Rovers, a unit organized by Jack Shackelford and named for the red uniforms of its members. Joining James Fannin‘s regiment in Texas and participating in several engagements of the Texas Revolution, the Red Rovers surrendered to the Mexican army with the rest of Fannin’s force following the Battle of Coleto. Dickson, along with more than 300 others, was executed in the Goliad Massacre on March 27, 1836.
A transcription of the letter is included below. Please note that original punctuation and spelling has been maintained and remains uncorrected.
New Orleans 29th Decr 1835
My Dear Wife
We arrived here yesterday morning and having a good oppertunity of writing by Mr Sevier who goes up shortly: – We had a tedious time coming down. the Capt of the Steam Boat was sulkey & unaccomodating — but we had to bare with him — We are all still on board his boat and will remain until the vesel is ready to start — which will be day after to morrow — We have just heard from Texas the Americans have whiped the Spaniards and taken St Antonio & killed Genl. Coss & at this time there is not an armed Spaniard in Texas — The first 2 or 3 days after I started I was very sick Dr Shackleford gave me some medicine which operated very well Since that time I have fattened every day and I have now a better apetite than I have had for the last 12 months, the doctor is & has been like a Father to me ever since I started, the company agrees very well Francis has been quite sick for the last few days but is mending — I have met with several of my acquaintances here Mr Roper – Sevier – Gist. Cooper. B. McKernan & several others I have nothing more to write you at this time – I will write you again when I land in Texas – I am in hopes that we will all return Soon – I want you to write as soon as you get this and direct your letter to me at this place to the care of K & Roper who will take it out and send it me as also all letters that I may write they will forward them to you — Kiss all the dear children for me & tell Puss to kiss you 10 times for Pa — My Dear my lips have not been wet with spirits of any description since I left you & I do hope they never will again — & I think this trip will not only wean me entirely from it but will give me a new constitution
I have some hopes yet of making a little fortune I feell more anxious than I ever did — dont fail to write and direct your as I have written it below — Give my love to all
I am Dear Wife your
We sail this morning on board of an armed schooner
Mr. Abishai Dickson
Care of Kirkman & Roper
According to genealogical materials in the library’s Dickson family papers, Abishai Mercer Dickson was born on January 19, 1803 at or near Reynoldsburg, Tennessee. He and his family – his father Michael Dickson (1777-1859), mother Sene Williams Dickson, and eleven siblings – were the first Anglo-American settlers in Tuscumbia, Alabama, a town in the northwestern part of the state near its borders with Mississippi and Tennessee.
Abishai Dickson married Ann Margaret Lucas (1809-1862) in 1825 in Franklin County, Alabama. The couple had four children: Louisa McIntosh (1826-1898), Eliza Josephine (1829-1843), Richard Hoge (1831-1931), and Ellen Edwards (1834-1840). In the twentieth century, descendants recorded Richard Hoge Dickson’s recollections, which he documented in 1911 at the age of eighty years old:
The first thing I can recall was riding in my Father’s lap down the Cumberland Mountains, going from Russellville to Tuscumbia, Alabama, where we lived. I must have been about fours years of age. I well remember when my Father joined the Red Rovers, under Dr. Shackelford, and started for Texas, to aid her in getting her independence. They were all dressed in red suits and were called Red Rovers. When Mother made Father’s suit I recollect how she cried. When they started to Texas they were all dressed in their red uniforms and passed close by the house where he bid us all Goodbye. It was a crying time for us all. My mother took her children and went to Grandpa Lucas’s to live, till Father came back – but he never came. One morning I was awakened by my mother crying over me in my bed, and calling me her ‘orphan boy.’ She told me my Father was killed.
Ironically, it was in death that Abishai Dickson found the “little fortune” he sought in Texas, as his widow received a 640-acre donation land grant due to his execution at Goliad. Ann Margaret later married John Sutherland, who claimed to have been at the Alamo garrison before its fall.
For Further Reading:
The San Jacinto Monument and Museum near Houston, Texas, has several items relating to Abishai Dickson and his family. The site’s Herzstein Library has a collection of archival materials relating to the Dickson family; a finding aid, or guide to the collection, is available online. The museum also has a portrait of Abishai Dickson, which can be viewed on its website.
The Sons of DeWitt Colony Texas provide detailed information about the Goliad Massacre, which is published on the website of Texas A & M University. Included is an account of the event written by Jack Shackelford, who was spared due to his skills as a doctor.
The John W. Lilly Family Papers at the DRT Library also contain archival materials relating to the Dickson family; an online finding aid to the collection is available.