Alfred Elijah Dickinson

Published in the Virginia Historical Society’s Dictionary of Virginian Biographies

Dickinson, Alfred Elijah (3 December 1830-20 November 1906) was born in Orange County and reared in Louisa County Virginia.[1] His parents were Ralph and Frances A.S. Quisenberry Dickenson, a “prosperous” farming family.[2] A. E. Dickinson was the second of six children.[3] Baptized at seventeen by Rev. Edward G. Shipp at Foster Creek Baptist Church, Dickinson was licensed and ordained by Forest Hill Baptist Church shortly thereafter.  Dickinson taught school near his father’s home.[4]

Recruited by Richmond College President Robert Ryland, Dickinson matriculated in 1849, and graduated in 1852. Dickinson spent his summers as a colporter in the Goshen Baptist Association, which included Louisa and Orange counties.[5] Dickinson’s early ministry experience combined pastoral ministries, itinerant evangelism, denominational representation, and tract distribution. Accounts described Dickinson as an impressive figure, “of massive form, towering like Saul” above a gathering and possessing a great sense of humor and irrepressible spirit.[6] After graduation he returned to Louisa County as a school teacher and pastor. Dickinson pastored Upper and Lower Gold Mine Baptist Churches.[7]

Dickinson entered the Master of Arts program at the University of Virginia in 1852 (graduated 1854).[8] During John Albert Broadus’s service as university chaplain Dickinson filled the pulpit at Charlottesville Baptist Church. Various records are ambiguous concerning Dickinson’s status at Charlottesville Baptist Church. The church history referred to Dickinson as Associate Minister of the church.[9] Broadus retained his position, but for all practical purposes Dickinson was the pastor from 1855-1857. Broadus and Dickinson shared a deep interest in the development of Sunday Schools.[10] Dickinson and Broadus maintained a close relationship the rest of their lives.

Dickinson’s talents, Broadus’s sponsorship, and the pulpit of Charlottesville Baptist Church contributed to Dickinson’s advancement in denominational life. Dickinson was appointed to be a manager of the state Foreign Mission Board in 1855. He was also elected to the Board of Colportage.[11] The 1858 Baptist General Association convention approved Dickinson as the first General Superintendent of Colportage and Sunday School.[12]

A. E. Dickinson married Frances Ellen Taylor in 28 September 1857 (died 22 September 1879). She was the daughter of James B. Taylor, first secretary-treasurer of the South Baptist Foreign Mission Board. They had four children who reached adulthood: James Taylor, Fannie, Nellie, and Janie. Alfred, Mary, and Minnie died in childhood. Dickinson had a daughter Hallie with his second wife, Mary Louise Craddock, Halifax County (married 8 November 1880)[13]. At the time of his death he was survived by his third wife, Bessie Fleet Bagby, King and Queen County (married 3 January 1899). [14]

The Civil War increased the importance of Dickinson’s colportage ministry. In the 1861 state convention, Dickinson urged Virginia Baptists to study the implementation of a colporter ministry among the soldiers.[15] Dickinson also foresaw the need of increasing the South’s publishing abilities. He voiced concern that southern churches would be unable to seize the increased opportunities for tract distribution afforded by the large numbers of troops in the state.[16] The Virginia colportage effort led by Dickinson fielded two-thirds of all colporters in the South at the beginning of the war.[17] His 1862 state convention report stated that he and his colporters had raised $24,000, printed forty different tracts, and distributed 6,187,000 printed pages including 6,095 New Testaments and 13,845 “Camp Hymnals.”[18] Dickinson reported eighty colporters and evangelists in 1863.[19]

Dickinson left the colportage ministry at the end of the war, serving as pastor of Leigh Street Baptist Church, Richmond from 1865 to 1870. Leigh Street was one of the largest Baptist churches in the state. Several notable revivals occurred during Dickinson’s tenure.[20]

Dickinson and James Bell Jeter purchased the Religious Herald in 1865.[21] Dickinson was the junior editor of the Religious Herald until the death of Jeter in 1880 and then senior editor until his death.[22] Dickinson spent little time in the office, instead he traveled throughout Virginia soliciting subscribers.[23] Fund raising for southern institutions and destitute churches occupied Dickinson’s post-war energy[24] He raised over $100,000 to rebuild and expand Richmond College serving as a trustee for thirty-five years. Furman University bestowed upon Dickinson a Doctor of Divinity degree.[25]

The Virginia Baptist Historical Society considered Dickinson the most influential man in the Southern Baptist Convention during his prime.[26] His best known publication, What Baptist Principles Are Worth To The World was published in tract form with millions of copies sold in several languages.[27] Dickinson spent his entire life ministering within Virginia. His funeral was held in Richmond College chapel with burial in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, among the Confederate soldiers he had served as a colporter.[28]


[1]“Facts Desired Concerning Former Students of the University of Virginia Who Have Been Ministers of the Gospel.” University of Virginia Archives, Charlottesville, Va. The information sheet was filled out by Dickinson’s third wife, Bessie Bagby Dickinson. She listed his place of birth as Spotsylvania County.

[2]1850 Census, State of Virginia, Louisa County, Handwritten Page Number 787, line 11, Dwelling 501: Copy on File at National Archives. Also see Register of Marriages, 1899, King and Queen County, line 3, Names of Parents Column, January 3, 1899.

[3] 1850 Census.

[4]James Taylor Dickinson, 167; Religious Herald, 22 July 1965, 10. The article gives the place of Dickinson’s baptism as Berea Baptist Church.

[5]Minutes of the Goshen Baptist Association held at Zion Meeting-House Orange County, Va. September 9-11, 1851 (Richmond: H. K. Ellyson’s Power Press, 1851), 6.

[6] “A. E. Dickinson,” Richmond Times Dispatch, 21 November 1906, 8.

[7]James Taylor Dickinson, 168. Also see Goshen Minutes, 1854, 6,7.

[8] “Alfred E. Dickinson,” in “Dickinson, Alfred Elijah,” File, Religious Herald Archives.

[9] Lucille Carr, “Historical Sketch, 150th Anniversary First Baptist Church Charlottesville, Va.” First Baptist Church, Charlottesville, Records.

[10] Dickinson to J. A. Broadus, 26 June 1854, SBTS.

[11]Taylor, 27.

[12]Minutes of the Baptist General Association of Virginia Held in the Town of Hampton, June, 1858. Richmond: H. K. Ellyson, 1858.

[13]Register of Marriages, Halifax County, Virginia, 1880, Line 156.

[14] Religious Herald, November 29, 1906. Richmond, VA.”Sketch of Dr. Dickinson’s Life and Labors, 3. Register of Marriages, King and Queen County, Virginia, 1899. Line 3.

[15]Minutes of the Baptist General Association of Virginia Held in the City of Petersburg, June, 1861 (Richmond: MacFarlane & Furgusson, 1863), 14.

[16]Ibid., 24.

[17]Minutes of the Baptist General Association Thirty-ninth Session, Held in the City of Richmond, June, 1862 (Richmond: MacFarlane & Furgusson, 1863), 46.

[18]Ibid., 45-46.

[19]“Dickinson, Alfred Elijah,” File.

[20]Taylor, Virginia Baptist, 169.

[21] Dickinson, Alfred Elijah,” File.

[22]“Dickinson, Alfred Elijah,” File.

[23]“Alfred Elijah Dickinson,” Religious Herald.

[24]Ibid.

[25]Religious Herald, 22 July 1965, 11.

[26]“Alfred Elijah Dickinson,” Baptist Distinctives (Richmond: Virginia Baptist Historical Society, 1995).

[27]Dickinson, What Baptist.

[28]Boatwright, “Blow,” 8.

Bibliography

“A. E. Dickinson.” Richmond Times Dispatch. 21 November 1906.

“Alfred Elijah Dickinson.” In Baptist Distinctives. Richmond: Virginia Baptist Historical Society, 1995.

“Alfred E. Dickinson,” A. E. Dickinson File, Religious Herald Archives; Religious Herald, 22 July 1965, 10.

Boatwright, F. W. “Blow to College.” Richmond Times Dispatch. 21 November 1906.

Dickinson, Alfred E. What Baptist Principles Are Worth to the World. Chatham, Virginia: Roanoke Association, 1889.

Dickinson, James Taylor. “Alfred Elijah Dickinson,” Virginia Baptist Ministers, Fifth Series, ed. George Braxton Taylor (Lynchburg: J. P. Bell, 1915), 166.

“Facts Desired Concerning Former Students of the University of Virginia Who Have Been Ministers of the Gospel.” University of Virginia Archives, Charlottesville, VA.

1850 Census, State of Virginia, Louisa County, Handwritten Page Number 787, line 11, Dwelling 501:

Register of Marriages, Halifax County, Virginia, 1880.

Register of Marriages, King and Queen County, Virginia, 1899.

James Taylor Dickinson, 167; Religious Herald, 22 July 1965, 10.

Minutes of the Goshen Baptist Association held at Zion Meeting-House Orange County, Va. September 9-11, 1851 (Richmond: H. K. Ellyson’s Power Press, 1851), 6.

Minutes of the Albemarle Baptist Association Held with the Mt. Shiloh Baptist Church, Nelson County, Va. Charlottesville: James Alexander, 1855.

Minutes of the Baptist General Association of Virginia Held in the Town of Charlottesville, June, 1855. Richmond: H. K. Ellyson’s Steam Press, 1855.

Minutes of the Baptist General Association of Virginia Held in the City of Lynchburg, June, 1856. Richmond: H. K. Ellyson’s Steam Press, 1856.

Minutes of the Baptist General Association of Virginia Held in the City of Richmond, June, 1857. Richmond: H. K. Ellyson, 1857.

Minutes of the Baptist General Association of Virginia Held in the Town of Hampton, June, 1858. Richmond: H. K. Ellyson, 1858.

Minutes of the Baptist General Association of Virginia Held in the City of Petersburg, June, 1861. Richmond: MacFarlane & Furgusson, 1863.

Minutes of the Baptist General Association Thirty-ninth Session, Held in the City of Richmond, June, 1862. Richmond: MacFarlane & Furgusson, 1863.

Minutes of the Goshen Baptist Association held at Zion Meeting-House Orange County, Va. September 9-11, 1851. Richmond: H. K. Ellyson’s Power Press, 1851.

Advertisements