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Dickinson Family Papers(1778–1845)

  • MS 2001.9
  • 28 items

The Dickinson Collection contains a total of 28 pieces, including one letter from Edmund B. Dickinson (?–1778) and several letters from his collateral descendants that document their attempts to obtain land grants and pensions for Dickinson’s military service in the Revolutionary War. The letter from Dickinson was written to his sister Lucy while at Valley Forge, and he makes reference to the newly established alliance with France. The collection contains a letter from Senator Henry Tazewell, a famous Virginia politician. Transcripts are available for many of the documents in the collection. Colonial Williamsburg also has a portrait of Edmund Dickinson, which was probably drawn in the 1770s. The portrait is housed in the Department of Collections.

Edmund Dickinson was a cabinetmaker in Williamsburg, Virginia. He was born in Norfolk, and although it is unclear when he moved to Williamsburg, he was listed as an employee of Anthony Hay in 1764. Hay operated a shop on Nicholson Street [Block 28, Building 72] that passed into the hands of Dickinson in 1771. Dickinson made furniture for prominent Virginians such as Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, and he advertised in The Virginia Gazette on several occasions. He was elected captain of recruits from the District of York on February 4, 1776. He served in the 1st Virginia Regiment, reaching the rank of major in October 1777. He camped with the army at Valley Forge and died at the Battle of Monmouth in 1778. George Washington specifically mentioned Dickinson’s death in his personal correspondence. In a letter to Governor Patrick Henry on July 4, 1778, General Washington stated that the loss of Major Dickinson “ought much to be regretted by his friends and Countrymen as he possessed every qualification to render him eminent in the Military line.” Although Dickinson was a bachelor at the time of his death, he was survived by his five sisters: Agnes Dickinson, Lucy Dickinson, Judith Farrer, Elizabeth Warren, and Mary.

Lucy married Robert Gibbons after her brother had died. Louisa Gibbons, the daughter of Lucy and Robert, married William Smart. William Robert Smart (b. 1827) was their son. It appears that Lucy and Robert Gibbons were responsible for initiating the claim to Dickinson’s military pension and land grants. In 1798 Senator Tazewell regretfully informed the Gibbons family that only the direct descendants of soldiers (wives and children) were entitled to military benefits from the Revolution. William Smart continued the claim in 1832. The governor of Virginia eventually awarded Dickinson’s heirs land in addition to the land bounty that had been granted in the early 1780s.

Although it has been over two hundred years since Major Dickinson died, the Smart family continues to memorialize him. Miss Althea Smart, the granddaughter of William R. Smart, donated the Dickinson Collection to the Mary Ball Washington Museum in Lancaster, Virginia in 1991, and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation subsequently acquired it in 2000.

Articles based on the collection have appeared in Colonial Williamsburg: The Journal of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Spring 2001, “Portrait of an Artisan ” by Harold B. Gill, Jr. (pp. 15–20) and in the Colonial Williamsburg Interpreter, Summer 2006, “Uncommon Merit”: Edmund Dickinson in the American Revolution" by Ed Wright (pp. 3–9).


Date Description
Folder 1
9 May 1778 Letter. Camp Valley Forge, Edmund Dickinson to Lucy Dickinson, Williamsburg. Dickinson makes reference to the newly established alliance with France. He thanks his sister for sending him shirts.
Folder 2
28 March 1778 Edmund Dickinson’s Will. After all of his debts were paid, Dickinson indicated that Lucy and Agnes would each get half of his estate. He also gave money to his married sisters, Elizabeth Warren and Judith Farrer, and he set aside sixty pounds for his nephew’s education.
n.d. [probably 1770s] Letter. Williamsburg, Camilla Warrington to Lucy Dickinson. The letter was written on a Sunday morning before church. Camilla complains that she has not been able to spend more time with a woman named Nancy.
n.d. [probably 1770s] Unsigned poem.
n.d. [probably 1770s] Unsigned poem. This poem appears to be a rough draft.
n.d. [probably 1770s] Unsigned poem. The poem has the name “EDMUND DICKINSON” written vertically in the right hand column. The name is also written vertically in the left hand column in such a way that the letters begin each line of the poem.

7 July 1783 Piece of paper. This note contains information about Dickinson’s military salary.
Folder 3
19 June 1785 Official Statement. Agnes Dickinson authorized Robert Gibbons to handle the estate of Edmund Dickinson.
n.d. [probably 1798] Letter. Washington, Mr. Nourse to Senator Henry Tazewell. Dickinson’s descendants are not entitled to commutation. The writer of the letter appears to be a government official.
12 June 1798 Letter. Philadelphia, Henry Tazewell to Robert Gibbons, Gloucester. Senator Tazewell regretfully informs Robert Gibbons that only the direct descendants of soldiers are entitled to commutation.
23 October 1800 Piece of paper. This document records Lucy’s marriage to Robert Gibbons.
Folder 4
n.d. Piece of paper. Julia Gibbons notes that Edmund Dickinson was her mother’s only brother.
21 September 1801 John Dickeson’s Will.
22 February 1817 Letter. Washington, Burwell Bassett to Robert Gibbons.
Folder 5
31 March 1832 Letter. Gloucester, William Smart to Representative Coke, Washington. William Smart requests assistance with the family’s claim to Dickinson’s pension and land grants.
5 April 1832 Letter. Representative Coke to William Smart, Gloucester. Coke acknowledges the receipt of Smart’s letter.

19 April 1832 Letter. Gloucester, William Smart to Thomas Nelson. William Smart requests legal assistance from Nelson in his attempt to get compensation for Dickinson’s military service in the American Revolution.

19 May 1832 Letter. Gloucester, William Smart to Representative Coke. Smart makes reference to his March letter. He explains that he has been unable to figure out the specific details of Major Dickinson’s participation in the Revolution.
31 May 1832 Official Records. This document contains important background information about the Dickinson claim.
8 June 1832 Letter. Washington, Representative Coke to William Smart, Gloucester.
9 August 1832 Letter. Gloucester, William Smart to Senator John Tyler. He requests assistance from Senator Tyler in regards to the Dickinson claim.
27 August 1832 Letter. Washington, Heath [?] to William Smart, Gloucester. He apologizes for not responding more quickly. He explains that repairs at the Capitol have prevented access to necessary documents.
Folder 6
n.d. [probably 1830s] Elizabeth Nicholson’s Statement. Nicholson testified that Edmund Dickinson participated in the Revolutionary War and that he died at the Battle of Monmouth.
n.d. [probably 1830s] Gloucester Superior Court. The court is satisfied with the Elizabeth Nicholson’s testimony.
n.d. [probably 1830s] Gloucester Superior Court. This appears to be a copy of the previous document
6 April 1838 Letter. Richardson [?] to [?]. The governor believes that Dickinson’s heirs should be entitled to additional land.
15 June 1840 Letter. Williamsburg, Richard Randolph to [?]. Dickinson’s heirs are owed money.
Folder 7 (1X Oversize)
25 October 1845 Newspaper article. Neal’s Saturday Gazette. This article briefly discusses Major “Dickerson’s” participation in the Battle of Monmouth.