Lee County Illinois
Part of American History and Genealogy Project

Children of John and Rebecca Dixon

John and Rebecca Dixon were the parents of twelve children. The names of but five of these twelve are now known and a most diligent investigation fails to disclose the names of the remaining seven, or anything of historical value concerning them.

The oldest child was James Purdy Dixon, He was born at New York City on March 6, 1811, and came to Illinois with his parents and continued to reside in this state until his death, which occurred at Dixon on April 5, 1853. He was married to Fannie Reed at Buffalo Grove, Jo Daviess County, Illinois, Dec. 7, 1834. Fannie Reed, who was the daughter of Samuel Reed, was born at Middleton, Delaware County, New York, July 23, 1815, and died at Chicago, Illinois, Feb. 15, 1898. They were the parents of eight children.

Another son was John W. Dixon, who was born in New York City in 1816 and died at Dixon, Illinois, March 19, 1847. He married Elizabeth A. Sherwood at Dixon in 1839. She was born in New York City on Jan. 12, 1819, and died at Dixon, Jan. 27, 1895. They were the parents of three children.

Elijah Dixon was the third son of John Dixon and was born at New York City in 1817 and died at Janesville, Wisconsin, of pneumonia, on March 15, 1843. He had never married.

Franklin Dixon died at the age of sixteen at his parents' home in Dixon. Both the dates of his birth and death are unknown.

Mary L. Dixon, a daughter, the date of whose birth cannot be ascertained, married Isaac S. Boardman at Dixon in 1840, and died in 1850. They were the parents of three children.

Two children, whose names or ages cannot be ascertained, died at Galena during the Black Hawk war.

A girl whose name cannot be learned died of scarlet fever at the age of three and one-half years while the family were living on what was afterwards known as the "Doctor Everett Farm'' on the north side of the river, a short distance west of the city of Dixon.

In addition to the foregoing, four other children were born of this marriage whose names or places of birth or death have long ago been forgotten and of whom no record now remains.

In addition to the foregoing, practically nothing is now known or can be learned as to the life of John Dixon prior to the time when he and his family settled at Dixon's Ferry. Subsequent to that time for many years he was a historic character in Illinois. His log cabin home on the banks of Rock River was an open house for all kinds of people, Indian and white, pioneers, settlers, adventurers, indeed for all of the persons whom business, pleasure or love of the wilderness brought to the frontier. He operated the ferry, kept a tavern, acted as postmaster, was a guide, Indian trader, and in general was the leading character and first citizen of this part of Illinois.

During the early years of his life here there were no neighbors but the Indians, and the strangers passing through the country were principally en route to the lead mines in the vicinity of Galena. During this period he traded extensively with the Indians, exchanging guns, ammunition, cloth, knives, axes, and other necessaries of life, for furs. This continued until after the Black Hawk war. Prior to the outbreak of this war he had established himself in the confidence of his Indian neighbors to such an extent that there was but little or no danger of harm to himself or his family even though the Indians might have been disposed to do violence to the whites in general. When Black Hawk and his followers went up the river immediately before the battle at Stillman's creek, they stopped at Dixon's Ferry and Black Hawk with others of his followers had dinner at Dixon's home, under the following circumstances:

Mr. Dixon was at Galena, having gone there before he knew that there was any probability of their leaving the vicinity of Rock Island. Mrs. Dixon was at home alone with their children. The Indians crowded in, filling the house. She sent for Old Crane, a Winnebago chief. He immediately came to her assistance and with the aid of Wischick, one of the chiefs of the Sacs and Foxes, got the intruders out of the house. At the suggestion of Old Crane, Mrs. Dixon prepared a meal for the chiefs of the Sacs and Foxes and he, Black Hawk, Wischick and Kaapapi had their dinner while the remainder of the band went into camp at the large spring on the south bank of the river nearly opposite the present site of the Dixon waterworks.

Afterwards it was thought desirable for Mrs. Dixon and her children to go to Galena and remain until peace had been restored, and she did so. John Dixon remained at the ferry for a time and later on went with the army into Wisconsin and acted as commissary, scout and otherwise until the close of hostilities. During this campaign he was in the personal service of Lieutenant-Colonel Taylor and messed with him and his officers. During this period two of the small children of Mr. and Mrs. Dixon, whose names cannot now be learned, died at Galena.

The Dixon home at the ferry was not closed during all of this period, however. Mrs. Dixon was there during a portion of the time and their sons, James and Elijah, were there or in the vicinity, so that the doors were constantly open for the entertainment and care of those who came. Many men of note during that period and others whose names are found on the pages of subsequent history spent days and sometimes weeks at this frontier cabin. Gov. John Reynolds, General Atkinson and Lieut.-Col. Zachary Taylor were the leaders at that time, and among the many others of later note were the then Lieut. Jefferson Davis, Capt. and Private Abraham Lincoln, Lieut. Robert Anderson, Edward D. Baker, Albert Sidney Johnston, Gen. Winfield Scott and his aid, Lieut. Joseph E. Johnston. In later years many of those whose names are mentioned in telling of their experiences in those days have related their kindly feeling and gratitude towards Father Dixon for his kindness to them while they were at his home.

John K. Robison in an article entitled "Early Times at Dixon's Ferry,'' published in 1880, has to say:

"While Father Dixon carried the United States mail from Springfield to Galena the streams were unbridged, not even "corduroyed; ' swamps undrained; roads almost impassable; houses few and far between. Snow storms were more severe and the cold more intense than in later years. In the winter of 1830 and '31 (the winter of the deep snow) the snow averaged three feet deep from New Year's Day to the 15th of March. No track was kept open from one settlement to another, and it was with great difficulty that roads were kept open even in densely settled districts. Fifteen and eighteen to twenty-seven miles were the usual distances between the homes along the route. On one of the longer routes during tins memorable winter, Father Dixon and some of the stage passengers were so benumbed with cold and nearly frozen, as to be unable to get out of the conveyance. After a good warming and hot coffee, however, all were able to resume their journey.

"During the Black Hawk war Father Dixon had the contract for supplying the army with beef to the time of the final battle of the Bax Axe River. His place on the march was in the rear of the army, and from the time Wisconsin River was crossed many times he was left so far behind as to be out of supporting distance. It so happened on the march, that at one time midnight was passed before he came to camp. He was hailed by the sentinel with the snap of the lock of the gun in the sentinel's hands, and these words: "Who comes there?' Father Dixon replied: "Major of the Steer Battalion.' The soldier gave the order: "Major of the Steer Battalion, march in. 'This sally of wit on both sides was the foundation of Father Dixon's military title. Another time he had been off the trail hunting one of his beeves, and on again returning to the trail he suddenly found himself face to face with two Indians, who were as much astonished at the meeting as he was. It was no time for ceremony. All were armed; Father Dixon lowered his gun, and walking about five rods, gave his hand to the nearest savage, saluting him in Winnebago. The Indian replied in Winnebago. Father Dixon and both the Indians were alike overjoyed at this unexpected good fortune, Father Dixon, that he was per-mitted to save his scalp for another day; the Indians that they had found someone understanding their own language, under whose influence they could safely be introduced to General Atkinson, for whom they had important dispatches. Their life was in danger if seen by a soldier, and they felt their peril and were in serious embarrassment about how to approach the army.

"Father Dixon's age, and experience with all classes of men, should have qualified him to safely criticize and distrust humanity, but he had no apprehension of imposition; he took human nature as it fell from the hands of the infinite God. His estimate never tallied with the evil; never tired of being wronged, and as a consequence he was often disappointed in men. Obliging to all, hospitable and kind to the needy and helpless in every condition, he often trusted strangers and travelers from whom he never received anything in return. It was no unusual thing, when the circumstances of travelers were told Father Dixon, for him to allow his ferry and hotel bills to remain unpaid, and to give them provisions and funds necessary to complete the journey, many dollars were given away in this manner. His unselfishness manifested itself in good will to all men; the Indian or the child looked to him for favors and kindness and was not turned away empty.

"Mrs. Dixon was one of the few women, who could and did adorn any position in life in which she was placed. Her person was rather under size, exhibiting no marked peculiarity. She was intelligent far above the age and circumstances surrounding her, and had a warm heart and ready hand for every good word and work alike. Devout and fervent in all the holy exercises of religion and morality; ardently attached to the church to which she belonged, she gave her hand to all who bore the name and character of that great Christian body. Her moral worth, talents, virtue and her whole life, was one of devotion to Christianity. She was Solomon's ideal of glorious womanhood before he was corrupted by the false glare and glitter of a false religion and an impure life. I record her life as the one to whom I owe more than any other, except mother and wife. As an early reminiscence of Mrs. Dixon's rare tact and knowledge of character, shall I venture to write that in the dead of winter, preceding the Black Hawk war, the Prophet from Prophetstown, Black Hawk, and a chief from Rock Island whose name I have forgotten, held a council at Dixon's Ferry, and then and there negotiated with the Pottawatomies for the occupancy of the Spotted Arms' town near the present site of Rockford. Meal time came three times a day, to which the chiefs at the Council fire were invited as guests of Mrs. Dixon. She presided as waiter, and to allay any fears of her guests, sat down and ate and drank with them. The perfect lady was reminded by Black Hawk as spokesman, of her goodness, and he called the attention of the other chiefs to her care and politeness to them."

Many years afterwards a bill was pending in the Senate to award Mr. Dixon a quarter section of land for services rendered during this war. Some opposition was encountered and Senator Jefferson Davis taking part in the debate did much towards securing the passage of the measure. The following extract from the debate in the Senate indicates very clearly that Senator Davis and Senator Trumbull felt well acquainted with the services rendered by Mr. Dixon in the early days:

"Mr. Lyman Trumbull: I ask that that bill may be put on its passage. I will remark that the chairman of the committee on public lands, with whom I had a conversation, stated that he reported adversely on this bill to grant a land warrant to Mr. Dixon, for the reason that the testimony before the committee did not seem to be sufficient of his having rendered any service. He was not enlisted in the service, but he performed valuable service in the Black Hawk war, furnished supplies, and acted as a guide and interpreter. He is an old man over eighty years of age, and is now in very reduced circumstances. Some of his friends have made this application to get the old man a land warrant; and he comes, I think, within the spirit of the law. The Senator from Mississippi (Mr. Jefferson Davis) who served in that war knows him personally, and perhaps he would make a statement to the Senate of his knowledge of the services for which it is proposed to grant a land warrant to this poor old man.

"Mr. Jefferson Davis: As stated by the Senator from Illinois, I do know this individual personally, and believe him to be a very honest man, and I should have great confidence in his statements. He was one of the first pioneers in the country near what is now the town of Dixon, formerly known as Dixon's Ferry. He lived there in an isolated position when I first knew him. His house was reached by crossing a wide prairie country inhabited only by Indians. He was of great service in the first settlement of the country. He was of service to the troops when they ascended the Rock River in the Black Hawk War. For some time a post was established at or near his house. He was of service at that time furnishing supplies and giving information in regard to the country, and afterwards taking care of the sick. In a liberal spirit towards camp followers, we have since that time provided for packmen, for teamsters, and for clerks, giving them bounty land warrants equally with the soldiers who were serving in the same campaign. I think the only objection in this case is the want of testimony; but I have such confidence in the individual together with my recollection of the circumstances, that I would say that he was within the spirit of the law, and I should be glad because of his many services in the first settlement of that country, to see him thus rewarded."

In 1834 a Government survey was made of the present township of Dixon and shortly thereafter Mr. Dixon entered from the Government and afterwards acquired patents to the lands now comprising the ''original town'' of Dixon and the ''original town" of North Dixon.

In 1835 at his request, a survey and plat of the town of Dixon was made by a man by the name of Bennett, of Galena, and the original plat filed at Galena which was the county seat, Dixon then being a part of Jo Daviess County. This survey included about forty acres of land extending from Rock River to one-half block south of Third street and from one-half block east of Ottawa avenue to one-half block west of Peoria avenue.

Afterwards, in the year 1840, a new survey and plat of the "original town'' of Dixon was made by Joseph Crawford at the request of John Dixon, Smith Gilbraith, and S. M. Bowman and Lane, who owned the land which was thus subdivided, and this plat is the one that was subsequently used in the conveyance of town lots. In 1842 Mr. Dixon had Joseph Crawford survey and lay out the town of North Dixon on land belonging to him on the north side of the river.

The tracts now occupied by the courthouse square, market square and John Dixon Park were dedicated by him to public use and many lots now of great value were given away by him to settlers. When the first courthouse was built in Dixon, in addition to furnishing the site, he donated eighty acres of land which was sold and the proceeds used in helping to erect the building. Other lots were sold at small prices so as to induce settlement and building until finally he had disposed of practically all that he owned without any particular profit to himself.

In 1838 after a general system of internal improvements was adopted by the state, Mr. Dixon was appointed by Governor Duncan as one of the board of commissioners to fill a vacancy'' caused by the death of Colonel Stephenson and subsequently he was elected by the Legislature as a member of the board.

The State of Illinois entered into an extensive scheme of public improvement, consisting largely in the construction of railroad and of river improvements in aid of navigation. A railroad through the state was projected which, among other places, was to run via Dixon, Elkhorn Grove, and Savanna to Galena. A vast amount of work was laid out and but little completed, although a debt of over ten million dollars was incurred by the state.

From Galena to Savanna much of the grading for the proposed railroad was completed. Mr. Dixon as commissioner had charge of the payment of the wages of the men engaged on this work in northern Illinois and it was his duty to get the money at Springfield and bring it or cause it to be brought to the place where the men were employed.

He drew a draft for $11,500 on the Treasurer at Springfield and entrusted it to a man by the name of Hamlin for collection. Hamlin made the collection and immediately absconded. Hamlin was pursued for weeks by James P. Dixon, Elijah Dixon and Smith Gilbraith and finally captured at Baltimore, Maryland, but when arrested had disposed of the money. John Dixon in the meantime had made up the loss with his own funds and was never reimbursed for the loss.

In 1840 Mr. Dixon went to Washington to make application for the removal of the United States land office from Galena to Dixon and through the influence of his friends there with whom he had become acquainted in the Black Hawk war times he was presented to President Van Buren and secured the order for the removal of the office.

An instance of his courage and self-possession is told in connection with the early history of Ogle County. In 1838 in what is now the town of Pine Creek, in Ogle County, a claim had been "jumped" by some men who had no right of possession of the property. Courts were scarce, the law did not always afford a prompt and certain remedy for wrongs suffered, and, as a consequence, the well disposed and honest people of the frontier as it then was were obliged to enforce the law themselves without the aid of the processes of the courts.

The claim had been taken possession of by a party of men with a known reputation as lawbreakers and whose names are familiar to those acquainted with the annals of the "Banditti of the Prairie." They were notorious characters and had built a log house with loopholes for their rifles and had laid in a supply of provisions and numbered ten or twelve of the worst characters of the country.

It was thought necessary for the peace and security of the neighborhood that they be captured and their rendezvous destroyed.

Under Mr. Dixon's leadership a force was organized. The body met at Washington Grove, about two miles distant from the cabin. The men in the party gathered from Dixon, Grand Detour and Oregon, among those from Dixon being John Dixon, his son, James P. Dixon, Smith Gilbraith and others. They were armed with guns and axes and when they approached the fortified cabin were warned by the inmates that if they advanced beyond a certain limit they would be shot.

At this challenge John Dixon and Hugh Moore of Grand Detour volunteered to break in the door and they ran past the dead line up to the cabin itself, reaching it without injury. Dixon and Moore battered down the door of the cabin and the other members of their party coming up attacked the walls and roof, pulling them down. The men inside seeing that it would be useless to continue the fight, surrendered, the building was torn to pieces and burned and its inmates escorted out of the county.

On another occasion a few years afterwards four men took possession of a log cabin standing upon a preemption claim belonging to another person near the place where the Chicago and North-western Railway Company station at Dixon now stands. A party armed with rifles went to dispossess them. Mr. Dixon went with the party but was armed only with his pipe. The men inside of the cabin were armed and threatened violence. Mr. Dixon alone walked up to the door of the cabin and was told to leave or he would be shot. However, he held his ground and through much patience and persuasion and long pipe smoking finally induced the inmates to surrender.

Immediately after coming to Ogee's Ferry Mr. Dixon found that the Indians were drinking whiskey to excess and he interested himself in their behalf by attempting to discourage that practice. He had ardent supporters among some of the Indian leaders and equally as determined enemies. One of the latter named Dah-Shun-Egra, while drunk, attacked and attempted to kill him with a muskrat spear. Dixon stood his ground and after a struggle disarmed the Indian, although for a time in great peril. His coolness at this time of danger and his evident willingness to fight when necessary gave him a high standing for courage with the Indians.

Mr. Dixon in his early life was a Whig but became a republican when that party was formed. He attended the first republican convention at Bloomington in 1856 and made a speech at the convention at the time of the organization of the party.

The last public office held by him was that of president of the board of trustees of the town of Dixon. On March 7, 1853, he was elected as one of the trustees of the town and was by the trustees chosen as president of the board, and served as such for one year.

Mrs. Dixon died on Feb. 11, 1847 and their son John W. Dixon died but a few days thereafter, on March 19, 1847. The oldest son, James P. Dixon, died on April 5, 1853. His decease left John Dixon childless. The father of twelve children he had outlived all of them. The remainder of his life he made his home with Elizabeth A. Dixon, who was the widow of the deceased son, John W. Dixon, in North Dixon, at a house belonging to her, at the intersection of North Jefferson Avenue and Bradshaw Street.

For many years after the Indians left Illinois some of them came each year to visit him. This continued for years after he moved to the home in North Dixon. A delegation would come nearly every summer from their home in Wisconsin, by canoe down the Rock River. They would go from the river to his house, make a camp in his yard and remain there smoking their pipes and visiting for a few days and then take their canoes back up the river to their homes. It was on one of these visits that Father Dixon presented one of the Indians with what was said to have been the only over-coat that he ever had. He never wore an overcoat, so it is said, but in his old age someone presented him with one, but he declined to use it, claiming that he never had used and had no need for such things and as he felt that it was useless to him he presented it to his Indian friend.

Mr. Dixon was to the end of his life in excellent bodily and mental health. As late as in 1873, when eighty-nine years of age, he served on a grand jury in the United States District Court at Chicago.

Shortly before the death of Mrs. Dixon and when nearly sixty years of age he divided the greater portion of the real estate which remained in his possession between his two surviving sons and during the remainder of his life was not particularly active in business affairs. His physical and mental vigor, however, were in a great measure retained until his decease.

In May, 1876, he was taken ill with what was to be his last sickness and in July 6, 1876, he died, at the age of ninety-one years, eight months and twenty-eight days. His body was taken to the courthouse in Dixon, where it lay in state until the funeral. In the newspapers published at that time it is stated that upwards of ten thousand persons attended the funeral, the courthouse square and the streets adjoining being crowded to such an extent that the voices of the speakers at the ceremony could not reach the outskirts of the crowd.

The Dixon Sun in reviewing his career and paying tribute to his memory, in its issue of July 12, 1876, among other things, said:

"John Dixon is dead. On the 11th of May, nature with a sudden stroke disengaged the cord that bound him; the old ferryman softly drifted away from the shore of time over the rippling waters and on last Thursday morning at half-past seven he landed on the other side, never to return. John Dixon. His name is memory. For mental gifts, mild disposition and performing purpose there will cluster around it the same recollections that now enshrine and hallow the name of Washington. Some great men may be honored for their success, others may be praised for their achievements; but this humble man gained that which transcends all honor and exceeds all praise, that which wealth cannot command or position bestow; that which is due only to virtue and honest worth, our affection and esteem.

"We will not attempt his eulogy, it is inscribed in every heart that knew him, his deeds are a portion of the country.
"To live in hearts we leave behind Is not to die.

"His name need not be inscribed in the Pantheon of history; as long as the waters of the Rock River continue to flow; as long as its valley blooms or this city lasts; as long as there is a pen to write or a tongue to utter; and when towering monuments with which grandeur now mourns over departed pride have lost their marble pomp and are crumbled into ruin and decay; when men now great for their wealth are forgotten and their earthly labors and deeds have perished John Dixon will live in memory, cherished and revered."

On the day succeeding his death a public meeting was held and the following resolutions, drafted by Judge John V. Eustace, were passed and were subsequently passed and adopted at a meeting of the city council and recorded in the minutes of the proceedings of the council:

"We, the people of Dixon, called upon to mourn the departure of him who gave our city its existence and its name, desire to place among its records this testimonial of our appreciation of his virtues. His neighbors, many of us who have known him for a third of a century and who, during all that time, have looked up to him and loved him as a father, with one accord have assembled to pay this tribute to his memory.

"John Dixon, after a life extended far beyond the limit ordinarily assigned to man, at the ripe age of nearly ninety-two years, one-half of which had been passed in this town, so loved by him, whom he had made, has departed from this scene of his earthly labors. He outlived all that were by the ties of blood nearest and dearest to him, his weary pilgrimage at last is ended. He has gone to them in the summer land.

"A man of great strength of mind, force of character and determination of purpose, yet he has lived and died without an enemy. Forgetful of himself he lived for others, a pure and unselfish life. He was the noblest work of God, an honest man, and he.

So lived, that when the summons came to join
The innumerable caravan that moves
To that mysterious realm where each shall take
His chambers in the silent halls of death.
He went, not like the quarry slave, at night
Scourged to his dungeon, but sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approached the grave
Like one that wraps the drapery of his couch
About him and lies down to pleasant dreams.".
Pure and simple-minded, faithful and true in all the relations of life,
he has gone to his rest and his works do follow him.'

John Dixon, Lee County, Illinois
Account books of John Dixon

Lee County History

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