Waterloo Region Generations
A record of the people of Waterloo Region, Ontario.
Hon. William Dickson

Hon. William Dickson

Male 1769 - 1846  (77 years)

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  • Name William Dickson 
    Prefix Hon. 
    Born 1769  , Dumfrieshire, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location  [1
    Gender Male 
    Land 1811 
    reported to have purchased South and North Dumfries Township 
    Residence 1826  Galt (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Died 19 Feb 1846  Niagara-On-The-Lake, Welland Co., Ontario Find all individuals with events at this location  [1
    Hall of Fame - Waterloo Region Bef 2012  , Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  [2
    Interesting life story, land, 
    Eby ID Number Waterloo-53628 
    Buried St. Marks Church Cemetery, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Welland Co., Ontario Find all individuals with events at this location  [1
    Person ID I53628  Generations
    Last Modified 12 Jun 2019 

    Family Charlotte Adlam,   b. 1771, London, England Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 1823, Niagara-On-The-Lake, Welland Co., Ontario Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 52 years) 
     1. William Dickson, Jr.,   b. 1799, , Welland Co., Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 1 Jan 1877, Galt (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 78 years)
     2. Walter Hamilton Dickson,   b. 4 Jan 1806, Niagara, Welland Co., Ontario Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 30 Jul 1885, Niagara-On-The-Lake, Welland Co., Ontario Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 79 years)
    Last Modified 14 Jun 2019 
    Family ID F6737  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Event Map
    Link to Google MapsBorn - 1769 - , Dumfrieshire, Scotland Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsResidence - 1826 - Galt (Cambridge), Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsDied - 19 Feb 1846 - Niagara-On-The-Lake, Welland Co., Ontario Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsHall of Fame - Waterloo Region - Bef 2012 - , Waterloo Region, Ontario, Canada Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsBuried - - St. Marks Church Cemetery, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Welland Co., Ontario Link to Google Earth
     = Link to Google Earth 

  • Photos
    Founder of Galt
    Founder of Galt

  • Notes 
    • DICKSON, WILLIAM, businessman, lawyer, jp, office holder, colonizer, and politician; b. 13 July 1769 in Dumfries, Scotland, second of six sons of John Dickson, a merchant, and Helen Wight, daughter of a Presbyterian clergyman; m. 12 April 1794 Charlotte Adlam in Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake), Upper Canada, and they had three sons; d. 19 Feb. 1846 in Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake).

      Dickson spent his later years developing his lands in Dumfries Township. During his trip to Scotland in 1809 he had assessed attitudes there regarding emigration to Upper Canada and had also made some preliminary arrangements concerning agents. Once the initial settlement was established, he sent his Scottish agents printed prospectuses concerning his township, wrote articles to the Scottish press, and contacted leading Scots, concentrating his efforts on Dumfries and Roxburgh and Selkirk counties. In all he treated his settlers paternally. They were moved immediately to their land and provided with stock, implements, and provisions. He was noted for making large advances of money and for not requiring substantial down payments. By 1825 his settlement was doing well and Dickson moved his entire family to Galt. He retired to Niagara in 1837, leaving the administration of his lands to his sons.


      First View of River

      "After a very pleasant ride, we came, rather suddenly, at an opening in the forest, upon the Ouse, or Grand River, where it made a beautiful sweep and a fine appearance. A little farther down, some straggling houses and extensive mills announced our arrival at Galt. A wooden bridge led us to a commodious stone-building in the cottage style, the residence of Mr. Dickson, delightfully placed upon a rising ground, and commanding fine views of the river. I found with Mr. Dickson a kind and cordial welcome and enjoyed the comforts of such a family not a little, after the somewhat rough work of the last two days; Mr. Dickson is a very extensive landowner, having purchased a large township, which he named Dumfries, and, in the present full tide of emigration, I doubt not that it will rapidly fill up. The system of dealing with settlers here is particularly favorable for those who are compelled to rely chiefly upon their personal labour. Mr. Dickson opens an account with each individual, receiving instalments in money or produce, and frequently where character warrants such confidence, even supplying the means of purchasing oxen, implements, or seed. At an early period of the settlement he formed a connection with Mr. Shade, an intelligent, enterprising American, who devotes his attention principally to the mills, where he carries forward an extensive concern in the various departments of flour and saw mills, with a cooperage similar to the one at Gananoque, and from which he turns out uncommonly neat and reasonable articles. A son of Mr. Dickson resides with him, giving his aid in the general management, and was at this time just returned from an experimental voyage, in company with Mr. Shade, by which the important fact was ascertained, that the Ouse affords a safe communication with the Welland Canal, a distance by water of 100 miles. A barrel of flour, which now costs 3s. to reach Ontario, will thus be conveyed for 1s. and all other produce, of course, in like proportion. a difference of incalculable value to the district.

      "Mr. Dickson has a very neat garden tastefully laid out behind his mansion, and adjoining to it a large extent of improved land. The rocks at the river side are of limestone, which in fact forms the sub-stratum of the whole, or most part, of Upper Canada.

      As my time would not admit of a long sojourn, where I should otherwise have enjoyed myself so much Mr. Dickson kindly offered me his horses; and his son, though still an invalid from cold caught in his aquatic excursion, insisted upon accompanying me to Hamilton, where I could again rejoin the high road to Niagara.

      F. Douglas Reville, Brantford, Ontario, 1920 History of Brant County pg 268


      On the 5th February, 1798, Colonel Brant, on behalf of the Six Nations, and acting as their legal attorney, sold to one Philip Stedman of the Niagara district, that portion of their lands known as Block number one, comprising 94,305 acres, and which, by an Act of the Legislature of the Province, became known as the Township of Dumfries. The stipulated price was £8,841.

      Reminiscences of the Early History of Galt and the Settlement of Dumfries in the Province of Ontario, by James Young, 1880 Toronto: Hunter, Rose Pg. 12

      As the fee simple of the Indian lands remained in the Crown, some time elapsed before the transaction with Stedman could be completed. The Indians surrendered their rights, and petitioned His Majesty George III. To issue Letters Patent conveying to Stedman the block of lands which he had purchased from them. This was finally assented to, and in the Crown Patent it was re-cited that the purchaser had given security to the Hon. David William Smith, Captain William Clause, and Alex-ander Stewart Esq., Trustees for the Indians, for the payment of the purchase money or the annual interest thereof.

      It does not appear what efforts Stedman made to turn his purchase to account. Indeed, little could be done with it at that time. Upper Canada was then (1798) little better than a wilderness. When separated from Lower Canada in 1792, and given a separate government, the total population was estimated at 20,000 souls, most of whom were settled around Kingston, the Bay of Quintè the Village of Newark (now Niagara) and at Amherstburg. Kingston and Newark were the only places of any size. Toronto was in its infancy, having just been founded by Governor Simcoe, and the progress of settle-ment was extremely slow. All the interior of the Pro-vince, now cleared and cultivated, dotted over with cities, towns, and villages, and the abode of nearly two millions of people enjoying all the blessings of civilization, was then an almost unbroken solitude. It is difficult to re-alize that eighty-seven years can have wrought such a wondrous transformation!

      Stedman died within a few years after obtaining the Patent from the Crown, and left neither direct heirs nor any devise of his estate. His property was, consequently, inherited by his sister, Mrs. John Sparkman, of, the Niagara district, who subsequently, on the 26th July, 1811, in conjunction with her husband, sold and conveyed to the Hon. Thomas Clarke, of Stamford, in the County of Lincoln, the block of lands obtained from the Six Nation Indians. No part of the principal money agreed upon with Philip Stedman had at this time been paid, for Clarke, on taking possession, executed a mortgage on the lands to the Indian Trustees for the payment of the £8,841 and interest.

      There was at this time living in Niagara a gentleman, whose name was destined to become permanently associated with this block of valuable lands, and who found in them an ample fortune for himself and family. This gentleman was the Hon. William Dickson.

      Mr. Dickson was born in Dumfries, Scotland, in the year 1769. He came to Canada in 1792, and, having settled in Niagara, began the practice of the profession of the law He took an active part during the war of 1812; was taken prisoner, and sent to Greenbush, New York State but was subsequently released on parole. An effort, it is said, was made to retain him a prisoner in consequence of a duel fought with a gentleman named Weeks, also a barrister in Niagara, which took place on American territory. The judge before whom the case came, however, would not allow Mr. Dickson to be detained, on the ground that he was a military prisoner, and had not come voluntarily upon United States territory. As they serve to throw some light upon the "good old times," as some consider them, when duelling was the recognized mode of settling disputes between gentlemen, the circumstances of the duel, as obtained from the most trustworthy authority, may be briefly narrated, as follows:-

      "Mr. Weeks, an Irish gentleman, and Mr. Dickson, were banisters practicing law in Niagara, in 1808 (I think), and at the Assizes held at Niagara in that year, they were acting as Counsel in the same cause. In the course of the trial, the conduct of Governor Simcoe (then dead) came into question, and was very coarsely and pro-fanely commented upon by Mr. Weeks in his address to the jury.

      "At the conclusion of his address, Mr. Dickson rose, and addressing himself to the Court said: As he was en-gaged in the suit on the same side as his learned friend, it might be supposed that he concurred in all he had said to the jury, whereas he disapproved and condemned the manner in which his learned friend had spoken of Gover-nor Simcoe, and considered the remarks as unjustifiable, and he wished it to be distinctly understood that they did not meet with his approval.

      "Mr. Weeks and Mr. Dickson met the same evening, and there was no apparent interruption to the good under-standing between them. During the night, however, some friends of Mr. Weeks impressed upon his mind that Mr. Dickson had insulted him in open court, and that he must challenge him, which he did. Mr. Dickson accepted it, and the duel was fought opposite the Town of Niagara exchange behind the American fort. At the first exchange of shots, Mr. Weeks fell mortally wounded, only living three hours."

      Possessed of much force of character and well educated,. Mr. Dickson during his period of active life, was a prom-inent and influential public man. He was called to the. Legislative Council of Upper Canada about the year 1816, and was widely known and respected. As an evi-dence of his energetic character, it may be mentioned that on the outbreak of the Rebellion in 1837, although then in his 68th year, he rallied what men he could at Niagara, went by steamer to Toronto, took an active part through-out the battle of Gallows Hill, and, afterwards, in restoring. public order.

      Shortly after the close of the war of 1812, Mr. Dick-son, having full confidence in the future progress and pros-perity of Upper Canada, determined to become possessed of some of the large tracts of agricultural lands which were in the market, and open them up for settlement. With this object in view, he placed himself in communica-tion with the Hon. Thomas Clark, who had five years previously, as we have already seen, become possessed of the Stedman Indian lands. The final result of the negotiation was, that on the 3rd July, 1816, Mr. Dickson purchased the entire block comprising the Township of Dumfries The consideration money was £15,000, and the assumption of the mortgage of £8,841, making altogether about £24,000, or a little over one dollar per acre. Mr. Dickson shortly afterwards paid off the mortgage, to the Hon. William Clause, Trustee for the Indians, entered into possession of the township, and, as the next chapter will disclose, promptly began arrangements to open it up for settlement.

      Reminiscences of the Early History of Galt and the Settlement of Dumfries in the Province of Ontario, by James Young, 1880 Toronto: Hunter, Rose Pg. 15-18

      "THERE'S a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will." So at least it is said, and so it appeared, at all events, in connection with Mr. Dickson's new enterprize. He occupied at that time the position of chairman of the Quarter Sessions of the Niagara district, and, in conjunction with two other Commissioners, was empowered to take steps to secure the erection of a courthouse and gaol in the village of Niagara. They advertised for tenders, and among those who applied for the contract was a young carpenter named Absalom Shade. His residence at this time was the town of Buffalo, where he was engaged in following his calling as a builder, but he was a Pennsylvanian by birth, having been born in Wyoming county in that State, in the year 1793. His father was a farmer, and Ab-salom was the youngest son of a numerous family.

      There are some men upon whom nature has left such an imprint that once seen they are seldom forgotten. Sometimes we are attracted, at other times repelled, but a man of unusual energy and force of character generally carries some of their insignia about him, and seldom es-capes the notice, and even memory, of close observers.

      Absalom Shade was a man of this description. His appearance was striking. He was tall and wiry, straight as an arrow, with regular and sharp features-more par-ticularly the nose-the whole face being lit up with the sharpest of bluish-grey eyes; in short, he possessed a temperament and formation of body and head rarely disassociated with mental and physical strength and acuteness. He was then in the full flush of early manhood, and looked every inch of him the typical "live" Yankee, minus the dyspepsia, slang, and tobacco.

      Young Shade failed to get the court-house contract, but it proved a fortunate failure. The chief Commissioner, Mr. Dickson, whose mind was then full of schemes for the opening up of his Indian lands, was so attracted by the appearance and enterprising spirit of the young contractor, that he determined to make an effort to in-duce him to expatriate himself to the wilderness of Dumfries, in the hope of carving out a fortune as settlement advanced.

      The only settlement in the neighbourhood of Dumfries at that early period, was in the adjoining Township of Waterloo. Some years, previously a few families had come in from the State of Pennsylvania. Amongst the earliest of these were, Messrs. Samuel Betzner, Joseph Sherk, the Bechtels, John Bear, Benjamin Rosenberger, the Reicharts, and George Clemens, the two first-named of whom arrived in the summer of 1800. (A correspondent writes us that, " In 1799 Samuel Betzner and Joseph Sherk came from Pennsylvania to Ancaster. In the spring (1800), they came up to Waterloo Township, and settled on the Grand River, opposite Doon. The farm is still in possession of the family. The same year (1800), Christian and John Reichart, and their families, settled near the old toll-bridge. In 1801, seven families were added to the number, George Bechtel, wife and seven children, Abram Bechtel and wife, Jacob Bechtel, wife and four children, Dilman Kinsey, wife and one child, Ben. Rosenber ger, wife and four children, John Bear and family, and George Clemens, unmarried. These families settled in the neighbourhood of Blair and Preston. In 1802, there came in Jacob Bechtel, first Mennonite preacher, the Sararas, Livergoods, Salyerds, Cornelis, Ruylers, &c., &c.) The foregoing families, with the Shontzs, Bowmans, Erbs, Sararas, Cressmans, and other early Pennsylvanian settlers, must forever remain associated with Waterloo and Wilmot, for they were the Pioneers of these fine townships, and their names have ever been synonymous, except in rare cases, with all that is industrious, honest, and law-abiding. Not a few of these early Pioneers came all the way from Pennsylvania in their own waggons. The trials and difficulties of such an undertaking can only be fully understood by those who were acquainted with the wilds of Upper Canada at that early period. Their first clearances were on the Grand River, opposite where the village of Doon now stands, and in the neighbourhood of the old toll-bridge.

      With the exception of the lands settled upon by these Pennsylvania settlers, the entire surrounding country, including the Township of Dumfries, was unbroken forest. A few persons had, indeed, squatted here and there along the banks of the Grand River, but their attention was chiefly given to hunting and trapping. The work of settlement had, consequently, to be begun ab initio. The plan resolved upon by Mr. Dickson was, to found a village at some suitable and convenient point, by the erection of grist and saw-mills, and make this the centre of operations for populating and utilizing his lands. And it was this difficult task, as well as the duty of acting as his general agent, which Mr. Dickson asked young Shade, after a few days acquaintance, to undertake.

      Ready for any enterprise which promised success, Shade promptly offered to visit the township and "prospect," in other words to judge for himself. It was consequently arranged that they should make a joint visit of inspec-tion, Mr. Dickson himself knowing very little of the quality of his lands, except what had been learned from published reports, or from the statements of other per-sons. Shortly afterwards, during the month of July, they set out together upon what proved to be an im-portant journey for both of them.

      They proceeded westwards by way of the Governor's road, which was the only leading thoroughfare to the western part of the Province in those days. They reached the Grand River, near where the pleasantly situated Town of Paris now stands. Here an Indian guide became necessary. Under this escort they proceeded up the east side of the river by the regular Indian trail, which in many places a single pony and rider had difficulty in making their way along. As they proceeded leisurely northwards, they examined the country from various elevations, and especially the points where streams inter-sected the river, and which promised to be suitable for commencing operations.

      Where Galt now stands was then a forest solitude. Huge pines, cedars, and elms, intermingled freely with oaks, and occasionally with beeches and maples, studded the valley and surrounding hills. Close to the river's banks, cedar predominated. This was particularly the case where the waters of Millcreek join the river, the cedar being very dense and the ground swampy for a considerable distance up the former stream.

      When the travellers reached this point they dismounted, tied their horses, and Mr. Shade proceeded to examine the creek, sufficient water-power for a grist mill being always borne in mind as a necessity to the embryo vil-lage. Near where Mr. James Scott's planing mill now stands, he encountered a small, dilapidated frame build-ing, the only semblance of civilization to be found. This ruin has sometimes been spoken of mysteriously, and apochryphal stories of an old grey-haired trapper, his mysterious disappearance, and the aversion of the Indians to visit the ruin, especially at the full of the moon, have at times had a fitful and misty currency. Careful inves-tigation, however, has taken the romance out of this promising legend. There is no longer reason to doubt that, years before, one Alexander Miller, of the Niagara district, had bargained with the Indians for several hundred acres of their land, composed of the site of Galt and its immediate neighbourhood. He erected the little frame building, the remains of which were found by Mr. Shade, with a view to do rough gristing, and part of a shaft which remained adjoining the structure, indicated that a rude saw mill was either in operation a short time, or had been contemplated. (It was currently rumoured when the first settlers came in, that the In-dians had, whilst fishing with torch lights on the river, either wilfully or negligently set fire to the woods near the mouth of Mill-creek, and that the proposed or actual saw-mill, and some timber, were in consequence destroyed. There is no reason to doubt that a fire occurred, and in all probability it originated in the manner stated.) The weight of evidence favours the idea that neither of them were ever completed, and that Miller, finding out that his Indian title was worthless, abandoned the enterprise shortly after it was begun.

      Passing on from this point, Mr. Shade followed up the stream as far as the present stone bridge at the bead of Main Street, and no doubt was tempted to ascend the adjoining eastern bluff, the better to observe the surrounding landscape.

      The natural beauty of Galt and its surroundings, has been much admired, and seldom fails to arrest the atten-tion of strangers. It can boast little, perhaps, of the grand, or sublime in Nature, but its scenery may be described, nevertheless, as strikingly picturesque and pleasing. As Mr. Shade surveyed the scene stretched out before him during that July afternoon in 1810, it must have ap-peared infinitely grander than at the present time. The gently-sloping, oval-shaped valley at his feet, the waters of the Grand River (* The Grand river, spanned as it now is by three handsome bridges, with massive stone piers, is one of the most attractive features of the Galt land-scape, the stream itself, as it flows over its rocky bottom, being one of the prettiest in Canada. The beauties of the river have excited the muse of local Poets on various occasions. The following verses from the pen of " Jeanie Bell," a well-known native of Galt but now resident in Scotland, are deemed worth preserving ) passing-like a broad band of silver - straight through its centre, the graceful hills encircling around, and the luxuriant profusion of summer foliage rising from the centre, tier above tier, until the highest peaks of the sombre pines upon the bluffs were reached -these peculiarities of the landscape, so suggestive of a vast natural amphitheater, must have made up a striking and beautiful picture. It must have looked like an immense Colisseum in leaves

      Shade evidently lingered over the scene, for, before he returned to Mr. Dickson and the guide, they began to wonder, and even to express some concern, at his prolonged absence. The emphasis with which he declared, however, that this was the place suitable above all others he had yet seen for a village, soon put his companion in good humour, but the practical difficulties in the way of their enterprise were too many to induce fanciful pictures of the future, even if the gentlemen had been more poetic and less matter of fact than they were.

      They were soon mounted and on their way again, following the Indian trail up the same side of the river. As sunset drew near, they sighted a clearing about three miles up the stream, the curling smoke arising from which gave them a thrill of pleasure. It indicated the existence of some human habitation, however humble, and helped to solve what was fast becoming a perplexing question-how they were going to find shelter for the night.

      After some difficulty they succeeded in fording the river, when they found the clearance belonged to an adventurous settler named Nathaniel Dodge , a Pennsylvanian by birth, who had located on the flats forming part of what is now known as Cruickston Park. He heartily welcomed them, and "old Dodge," as he was long afterwards called, found in future years that he had lost nothing by keeping the tired travellers, and treating them to the best of the humble fare which he possessed.

      The next day they returned to the junction of Millcreek with the river, and reexamined the location. Their first impressions were strengthened, more especially after ascertaining the water-power which could be obtained from the river, with a moderate outlay of capital and skill. Both felt satisfied that the selection would be a good one, but Shade desired to prospect further, and so they parted for a few days at this point, Mr. Dickson to make his way as best he could to Flamboro' by what was known as the Dutch trail, and his companion to visit the more eastern and western parts of the township.

      Shade first struck out in the direction of what is now the pretty Village of St. George, and from thence south-west until he reached the Grand River again. This he followed until a small tavern and ferry were sighted in the neighbourhood of what is now the City of Brantford. Assisted still by a guide, he next proceeded through the woods to Smith's creek, in the neighbourhood of Ayr - which was the westerly limit of Mr. Dickson's lands-ex-amining the country as much as possible as he went along. After satisfying himself as to its character, he determined, aided by his compass, to take a straight course eastwards to the river, hoping to come out opposite Millcreek, more than ever satisfied with his first impressions of this particular locality.

      At sundown the river was sighted, but three miles farther down than was expected. Shelter was obtained for the night in a solitary little log shanty, on the east-side of the stream, traces of which could be seen on the Campbell farm, near the road-side, until a few years ago. The occupants were one Ephraim Munson and his wife. They had sailed down the river from Waterloo in a boat some time before, and, attracted by the fine spring entering the river at this point, determined to erect a shanty and locate. They had very little to offer their unexpected visitors for supper but seine suckers which Munson had caught during the afternoon. These fish were, however, fresh and abundant, and Mr. Shade frequently declared afterwards that he had seldom relished anything better in his life.

      Taking a last look at the site of the proposed village, Shade rejoined Mr. Dickson at Flamboro', fully prepared to make the venture pressed upon him. Satisfac-tory terms were soon, agreed upon between them, and after visiting Niagara and Buffalo, and making as com-plete arrangements as were possible under the circumstances, Absalom Shade returned to make his home in the wilderness, (When Mr. Shade made this venture, he possessed only $100 and a chest of carpenter's tools. At least, such was the common report throughout the settlement for many years afterwards.) and begin what was destined to become an important town, in the centre of one of the richest agri-cultural districts of Ontario. And thus Galt was founded!

      Reminiscences of the Early History of Galt and the Settlement of Dumfries in the Province of Ontario, by James Young, 1880 Toronto: Hunter, Rose Pg. 19-28

  • Sources 
    1. [S2662] Cemetery - ON, Welland, Niagara-On-The-Lake - Saint Marks, "In Memory of the Hon. William Dickson, of Woodlawn, Niagara, born in Dumfries, Scotland, 1769, died At Niagara, Jan. 1st, 1846".

    2. [S220] Waterloo Region Hall of Fame Waterloo Region Hall of Fame.