The life of William Dickson

William Dickson was born on July 13, 1769 in Dumfries, Scotland to John Dickson and Helen Wight. He married Charlotte Adlam in Newark, Upper Canada on April 12, 1794.

At age 16, he arrived in western Quebec and started working for his cousin, Robert Hamilton, at Carleton Island, New York. Later, he managed the mills and store owned by Hamilton on the Twelve Mile Creek. About 1790, the 21-year-old Dickson settled in Niagara across from the fort where he traded goods to the farmers for grain, which he would sell, among other things, to the garrison. This proved extremely profitable, and in 1790 he built the first brick house on the peninsula.

Dickson began working with large-scale land speculation. In 1792, he petitioned Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe for 48,000 acres in the Mississauga Tract, but Simcoe refused. The following year, Dickson and Samuel Street realized the Six Nations peoples wanted to sell part of their Grand River lands. At first, Simcoe was opposed, believing that the land was for the use of the native peoples only; his view was opposed by Joseph Brant.

In 1797, it was agreed that native peoples may dispose of some of their land and 350,000 acres was divided and offered for sale.

From 1798 on, Dickson acted as a land agent for the native peoples and after 1803 he acted as a lawyer in many of the transactions of Grand River land. On March 13, 1809, the Six Nations peoples gave Dickson 4,000 acres of land at the mouth of the Grand River, as thanks.

Dickson attempted multiple times to purchase block one of the Grand River land and mortgaged more than 15,000 acres of land to Isaac Todd, a considerable amount of which came from Flamborough. It was not until 1811 that Dickson finally purchased block one with his cousin Thomas Clark.

During the 1806 Niagara assizes, lawyer William Weekes made insulting remarks about the deceased Lieutenant Governor Peter Hunter. Dickson protested against what he said. Weekes demanded an apology or satisfaction and a duel was fought on the American side of the Niagara River. Dickson escaped unscathed, but Weekes was wounded and died the following day. No legal action was taken against Dickson.

Dickson was taken captive along with a number of other citizens in June 1813 when the Americans seized control of Niagara. He was released in January 1814.

In 1815, Dickson was appointed to the Legislative Council. Two years later, he supported Robert Gourlay’s plan to publish a statistical account of the provinces. Gourlay’s plan met with strong opposition from York;  Dickson became opposed to Gourlay and was part of the team of magistrates that expelled him from the province.

Dickson next focused on developing Dumfries Township. He travelled to Scotland and made efforts to assure a large number of immigrants. By 1825 he moved his family to Galt.

William Dickson left his lands to his sons and retired to Niagara in 1837 where he died, February 19, 1846.

Sylvia Wray is the former archivist with the Flamborough Archives. She can be reached through the Archives at

This article was originally published in the Flamborough Review, 12 December 2013.


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