Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Whitman Hill Dyson (1836-1914): The Man Who Had Three Wives

Whitman Hill Dyson (1836-1914) In the possession of Pat Raney.

When I was a child, this large photograph of our great-great grandfather, Whitman Hill Dyson, intimidated me.  It hung on a dim wall across from the fireplace in the large entry of our grandparents' house. The old man glared at me as I came through the front door. It first appeared in 1953 with other large framed photographs when Great-Grandpa James Raney came to live with our grandparents..  Now I realize the photograph was taken when Whitman Dyson was much younger than I am now.  The beard isn't as thick or as long as I remembered, and he isn't really frowning, but appears solemn and dignified. Not a wrinkle appears on his face. Who was this man?

He was a farmer and the father of eleven children who survived infancy. Most lived into advanced age, but not so two of his three wives. The only story I recall Grandpa telling me was that when the Civil War was heating up in 1862 and recruiters came to his farm, he met them at the door holding his shotgun. "I'm not going," he told them and they didn't bother him again. He would have been about 26-years-old then. Pat Raney remembers his dad Paul saying that Whitman "was regarded by the neighbors and beyond as an honest and law-abiding citizen.  People would often bring their disputes to him and he would listen and then render Solomonic decisions that everyone abided by.  Looking due west from his place in Pike County, Indiana, a higher ground was called “Dyson’s Mountain” and to the northwest past the church in Spurgeon, a high rise was called “Dyson’s Knob”.

Pike County, Indiana
His father William Hill Dyson (1801-1870) had brought his young family from Union County, Kentucky, in the late 1820s, accompanying his father-in-law, Samuel Denton Julian (1780-1851), a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and his family. The Reverend Julian had married his daughter Alice Julian (1806-1860) to William Hill Dyson in April 1826.

Union County, Kentucky
They settled in Hart Township, Warrick County, and appeared in the 1830 census.

Warrick County, Indiana
Looking at these maps of Kentucky and Indiana, you realize that the families simply pushed up the Ohio River (the state line dividing Kentucky from Indiana) on a keel-boat with their household goods and livestock to find new land a few miles northeast. Indiana, still wooded, was being rapidly settled after being admitted to the Union in 1816.

Theodore Clement Steele - Indiana Landscape artist
Whitman Hill Dyson was born on October 29, 1836 in Warrick County, the fourth of seven children.  He and an older brother Samuel were the only boys. Has anyone in the family wondered where the name Whitman came from that Frank Whitman and Paul Whitman were given?  I'd assumed it was a surname of a mother or grandmother and spent many hours trying to find this Whitman family on But no, it was the name of his uncle, Alice Julian Dyson's beloved brother Whitman Julian (1809-1842), who'd also settled in Warrick County and married in January of 1836, only to die four years later.

On May 15, 1858, Whitman Dyson married his first wife, Elizabeth J. "Ella" Turpin (1 Sept. 1837 - dead by 1870) . What is curious is that Ella had a baby girl (Mary) the previous year, probably on what may have been her uncle's farm near where Whitman Dyson lived. Her parents had lived in Indiana, but were now resettled in Decatur County, Iowa. Had she been sent up to Indiana because she was pregnant? Had she been married to a Turpin cousin and was widowed? Whatever her story, Whitman married her and they had children, including our great-grandmother Nancy Dyson in 1867. But after giving birth to six daughters: Mary J. (1856-), Louann (1865-1943), Alice A. (1859-), Margaret Ellen (1861-1944), Sarah Elizabeth (1865-1940), Nancy Ann (1867-1938), the poor woman died before her 30th birthday and does not appear in the 1870 census. Daughter Mary was the oldest female listed in that census, trying to care for the family at age 14. The census taker wrote "Housekeeper" after her name, but then crossed it out. She was just the daughter.

Covered bridge in Pike County, Indiana
Whitman Dyson owned his 65-acre farm in Pike County (and 20 more acres a short distance away), had owned it since before the 1860 census. Now he looked around for a woman to mother his girls. He settled on the recently widowed Sarah J. (Combest) Roy (1837-1886), who lived nearby with her children.  Known as Sally, she and her husband Gideon and family had emigrated after 1860 but before 1863 from Russell County in southern Kentucky (next to Pulaski County, where the Raineys had come to Indiana from about ten years earlier). Other Roy family members had come, too. We don't know when her husband Gideon Roy died (he's listed in the Pike County 1863 Civil War draft list). But Sarah, called Sally, was a widow in the 1870 census. And so she and Whitman married in January 1871. They were in their 30s. She had four children from her earlier marriage, including daughter Sarah Ellen Roy, age 6.  Sarah Ellen was born deaf or became deaf as a small child. In the 1880 census, Whitman and Sally had a new son, Willard, age 1.  The number of daughters still at home was reduced to four. Our great-grandmother Nancy was still there, just 13.  Sarah Roy, the deaf step-daughter, now 15 or 16, was described as "at school." She must have been up in Indianapolis at the Deaf and Dumb School. Tuition, and perhaps boarding, was free. She learned to read and write, read lips and perhaps speak (she was enrolled during a period when speaking was being taught there). She also learned domestic skills.

And then on September 30, 1886, Sally died at age 49. Her daughter Sarah Ellen was 25 and at home.  According to family lore, her presence put Whitman Dyson in a dilemma. Would having this unmarried step-daughter in his house give scandal? He decided what was to him the right course of action. He married her on April 28, 1887. He was 51 and she was 23. The service was conducted by Whitman's brother-in-law, George T. Hutchinson, Minister of the Gospel, married to Whitman's sister Susan. Whitman and Sarah Ellen had sons Grover (1890), Joseph (1891), John (1898), and Leonard (1901).  Should you find this pairing slightly off-setting, take a look at Whitman and his wife at a Dyson family gathering in the summer of 1902.  He was a stately-looking gentleman, standing tall and broad-shouldered; they make a handsome couple.

Whitman Hill Dyson, dappled with sunlight, and probably Sarah Ellen Dyson next to him. 1902
Dyson Family Gathering 1902. Thee of their young sons must be in the front row. Nancy Dyson Raney and James with mustache middle right (refer to their blog for closeup).
Whitman Dyson died in 1914, age 78. Sarah Ellen Dyson died in 1934. On her death certificate, the doctor stated she'd had colon cancer for three years. They're buried together at Log Creek Cemetery, Stendal, Pike County, Indiana.

Who were Whitman Dyson's forebears?  We'll discover in forthcoming blogs. Here's a hint. The surname Dyson appears to have originated in Yorkshire, England. The surname Julian is French.


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