Moses Dickson (1824-1901)

Moses Dickson (Public Domain)
Moses Dickson
Photo in Public Domain (CC0)

Radical abolitionist Moses Dickson was born free in Cincinnati, Ohio, on April 5, 1824. Orphaned by the age of 13, he became a barber to support himself, finding work on steamboats moving through the South and Midwest.

Dickson helped organize two secret abolitionist organizations with like-minded Black men he met while working on the rivers. The Knights of Liberty, founded in St. Louis in 1846, sought to organize enslaved people throughout the South, train them in military tactics and by 1857, lead them in a massive uprising that never came to fruition. The Order of Twelve, another abolitionist organization, founded in Galena, Illinois, in 1848, included future politicians Alfred H. Richardson and Richard Harvey Cain.

Dickson married his first wife, Mary Elizabeth Butcher, a widow and free woman of color, in 1848. He continued to work on steamships like the Oronoco and the Nominee and the couple moved from Galena to Saint Paul, Minnesota Territory.

Dickson was likely the first Black business owner in St. Paul, operating Nonpareil Restaurant and Dickson’s Eating Saloon in the early 1850s, followed by barbershops in the Fuller House and Winslow House hotels later in the decade. He was also the first teacher of African American students in town.

Dickson left Minnesota and moved to St. Louis, Missouri in 1860. Before leaving Minnesota, he wrote an impassioned letter to the Minnesota Weekly Times condemning the US Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott Decision. Mary gave birth to their only child, Mamie Augusta Dickson, in December 1860. The following year, Dickson signed a required free negro bond with former St. Louis mayor John How acting as his guarantor.

After the Civil War Dickson co-founded Lincoln University with a group of USCT Veterans. He also became an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and opened schools and churches in St. Louis.

Dickson was a delegate at every Republican State Convention in Missouri between 1864 and 1878 and in 1865 he cofounded the Missouri Equal Rights League. In 1872, he was an elector-at-large for President Ulysses S. Grant. The following year he was named consul at the Port of Victoria in the Seychelles. He also held a leadership role with the Refugee Relief Board that aided the Exodusters in 1879 as they moved from Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas to Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado.

Like many civil rights leaders of the era, he was active with the Prince Hall Masons, helping found lodges throughout the Midwest including the Pioneer Lodge in St. Paul. The Order of Twelve, which Dickson founded in 1848, eventually became the International Order of Twelve Knights and Daughters of Tabor. The Order, which eventually counted over 100,000 members, promoted race advancement through moral action, education, wealth attainment, temperance, and religious commitment.

Following the death of his wife Mary in 1891, Moses briefly remarried a woman named Ina, but the two divorced a few years later. Moses Dickson died in St. Louis on November 28, 1901, at the age of 77 and is buried in what would become the Father Dickson Cemetery.