The More You Look, the More You Find
Surprising stories about Hopkinton history pop up on a regular basis. This week we were very interested to learn that a Revolutionary War soldier from Hopkinton also very likely participated in the Boston Tea Party. We were contacted by the Boston Tea Party Museum folks who are commemorating the 250th anniversary of that auspicious first step on America’s road to freedom from British colonization about one of our own whom they wish to honor.
Who was this patriotic Hopkinton citizen? His name was John Dickman, and he was born here in 1749 or 1750 (dates on historical records conflict) to John and Elizabeth Kimball Dickman. He died in 1833 and is buried at the Evergreen Cemetery on Wood Street.
A convincing case has been made for the possibility that he took part in the Tea Party on December 16, 1773. It is difficult to ascertain exactly who was on the Boston Harbor that day as they were duty-bound to keep silent about who participated until such time as an individual died. John Dickman never wrote of his experience and only shared a few names with others, keeping his vow to wait until after they passed. However, his son-in-law, Colonel Artemas Fay did share his father-in-law’s recollections about events in the years following Dickman’s death. In response to a Harvard scholar’s request, Fay wrote to Professor John Gorham Palfrey in 1849 and below is an excerpt from the original letter.* Professor Palfrey was gathering information for what would eventually become his five volume work on New England in the Revolutionary War. Fay writes:
John Dickman of Hopkinton, Mass
According to my recollections
When the massacre in Boston by the British soldiers he stood in Wilson’s lane when five men were killed. When the British had possession of Boston he carried sauce to market from Roxbury from Mr. White and being a sauce man the guards let him pass. He had a one-horse cart with several baskets that he managed to get 14 stand of arms out of Boston by being a sauce man under the baskets. Also his uncle living in Boston he got a barrel of powder and his uncle’s Negro* in a boat scull to Cambridge. That on the outbreak of the war he went to Bunker Hill from Hopkinton as he was married and lived there. I ought to have mentioned his being present after throwing overboard of the tea in Boston. He said he perfectly well recollected how the great long chests went splash into the sea and he related to me the names of those of them who were dead who threw it overboard; that it was agreed not to disclose any name of the party while they were still alive. (I supposed he was one of the party as he would not have known the agreement). He was one of the Mob who destroyed the King’s Commission House in Roxbury and said how they knocked the head off the Hogshead in Brandywine &c. He helped make the fash chines ** in Natick which were used as breastwork on Dorchester Heights. He was for three months off Point Judith in Rhode Island kicking (?) of the British foraging parties. He was a teamster from Boston to Springfield.
After his service, Dickman returned to Hopkinton, and with his wife Phoebe Gibson raised their ten children on the family farm. He died in 1833 at the age of 82 and as mentioned is buried in Evergreen.
Researchers from the Boston Tea Party Museum conclude that “In his letter to Palfrey, Fay makes the assumption that his father-in-law, John Dickman, may have been aboard the ships, as the seriousness of their conversation and the facts that were apparent to him seemed to indicate that the details related to Fay were too detailed for a mere spectator.” Combining this with his other activism and harassment of British soldiers in Boston before the war started it would make sense that he was at the Boston Tea Party.
Now for the Big News: on Sunday, August 27 at 11:00 am, the folks from the Museum will be coming to Evergreen to place a marker on John Dickman’s grave during a short proceeding. We encourage everyone to attend if they are able, especially families with school-age kids as it will connect the very far-off events of 1773 to our community of 250 years later.
The ceremony will be held at John Dickman’s grave which is located in Section A of the cemetery, close to the driveway directly across from 28 Fruit Street. The main entrance to the cemetery is located on Wood Street, however there is limited parking along the interior lanes. Entering from the Fruit Street end makes access more manageable for all. We hope you can make it!
Anne Mattina, PhD, is a professor of Communications at Stonehill College in Easton, MA. She is also on the Board of Directors of the Hopkinton Historical Society.
* There is not an official transcription of the letter so there are occasionally missed words or garbled syntax in the excerpt. Also, the term “Negro” was widely used in the North during this time and the person to whom Fay is referring was quite likely enslaved.
** The proper term is “fascine” According to his pension record, John Dickman was at Dorchester Heights during the British engagement. General Washington was able to fortify his position with increasing numbers of troops and the cannons brought down from Ticonderoga from General Knox, brought in under cover of night. The British were amassed in ships below. As fate would have it a snowstorm lasting several days interrupted the planned assault by the British troops. By the time it was over, General Howe offered to leave the city and would not burn it to the ground if the British were allowed to leave “unmolested.” On March 17 (Evacuation Day!!) the British troops sailed out of Boston accompanied by 1,000 Loyalists civilians. This information was culled from the Wikipedia entry “The Fortification of Dorchester Heights.”