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Below is a family biography included in the Biographical Review Volume of Biographical Sketches of The Leading Citizens of Hampshire County, Massachusetts published by Biographical Review Publishing Company in 1896.  These biographies are valuable for genealogy research in discovering missing ancestors or filling in the details of a family tree. Family biographies often include far more information than can be found in a census record or obituary.  Details will vary with each biography but will often include the date and place of birth, parent names including mothers' maiden name, name of wife including maiden name, her parents' names, name of children (including spouses if married), former places of residence, occupation details, military service, church and social organization affiliations, and more.  There are often ancestry details included that cannot be found in any other type of genealogical record.

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WILLIAM AUSTIN DICKINSON, Treasurer of Amherst College since 1873, was born in Amherst, April 11, 1829. His parents were the Hon. Edward and Emily (Norcross) Dickinson, his mother being the daughter of Joel Norcross, of Monson, Mass.

The earliest known ancestor of this family was Nathan Dickinson, who came to Amherst from Hatfield in 1742. His son, Nathan Dickinson, Jr., was the great-grandfather of William Austin Dickinson. Samuel Fowler Dickinson, son of Nathan Dickinson and grandfather of William Austin, was in his time the leading lawyer in Western Massachusetts. After he was graduated from Dartmouth College, he studied law in the office of Judge Simeon Strong. Subsequently, while engaged in the practice of his profession, he filled many positions of trust and responsibility. For fifteen years he was Town Clerk, and for twelve years he represented the town in the legislature. He was one of a half-dozen men to whose exertions was due the founding of Amherst Academy. Later he took a prominent part in establishing Amherst College.

Edward Dickinson, born in Amherst in 1803, graduated from Yale College in 1823. He subsequently studied law, was admitted to the bar, began practice in his native town, and became one of the leading lawyers in Hampshire County. In 1835 he was chosen Treasurer of Amherst College, which office he held for thirty-eight consecutive years. He was also prominent in public affairs, serving three years as member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, two years as State Senator, two years in the Governor’s Council; and in 1853 and 1855 he represented his district in Congress. He largely helped in securing the building of the New London Northern Railway and later the Massachusetts Central Road. The late Emily Dickinson, the literary recluse, whose remarkable writings were not known until after her death, was one of Mr. Edward Dickinson’s daughters. Miss Lavinia Dickinson survives him, and occupies the Edward Dickinson homestead.

William Austin Dickinson was fitted for college in his native town and at Williston Seminary, Easthampton. In 1850 he was graduated from Amherst College, and afterward studied law in his father’s office and at Harvard Law School. He took his degree at Cambridge in 1854, being admitted to the bar in Boston the same year. He then joined in practice with his father at Amherst, a partnership that lasted nearly twenty years, when it was dissolved by his father’s death in 1873. Mr. Dickinson rather avoided the trial of cases. Hence he never attained prominence before the courts; but he was a singularly clear-headed and conscientious counsellor, whose advice and assistance were much sought in the community. He often rendered his services gratuitously. He was in partnership with James I. Cooper in the Palmer Block in the winter of 1888, when their office was burned, together with many valuable papers of historical value to the town and college. He became treasurer of the college in 1873; and thereafter he devoted himself with enthusiasm to the various concerns of the institution, not confining himself to the care of its funds, but looking carefully after all its material interests. By his fine tact and excellent judgment he was able to do much for the improvement of the college. He exerted a purely beneficent influence with the faculty and the trustees in the administration of its internal affairs, and by both bodies he is greatly missed. The town was also an object of his care. In the First Congregational Church, of which he was a member, in the town government, in school matters, banks, and business matters generally, he was an honored and trusted counsellor. Mr. Dickinson was active in the formation of the Cemetery Association, and the grounds in Wildwood Cemetery were laid out under his supervision. He was also connected with the gas company and Village Improvement Society, and no man has done more to beautify the town he loved so well. He was for many years President of the Amherst Water Company, and was one of the first to take an interest in supplying water to the town. He served as moderator of town meetings for nearly twenty years, always presiding with dignity and fairness. In politics he was a Republican; but he would not support nominations that he regarded as unfit. Had he cared for political honors, he might easily have attained them. He was not specially gifted as a speaker, but he had the faculty of communicating much in few words.

Mr. Dickinson’s was a strong, forceful personality, public-spirited in the larger meaning of the term, and so outspoken that there was no misunderstanding his attitude on any subject. He disliked mere show and hypocrisy, and never sought to cloak disagreeable matters in diplomatic language. Though loyal in his friendships, it was not easy to gain his confidence. Those, however, who once won his regard were welcome to the best of his heart and life. He had a wide acquaintance with prominent men, many of whom enjoyed the hospitality of his home. He was exceedingly fond of fine pictures, a most appreciative reader of the best literature; and he was optimistic in faith, thoroughly believing that “Evil is only the slave of God, sorrow the servant of Joy.”

On July 1, 1856, he married Susan Huntington Gilbert, daughter of Thomas Gilbert, then living in Greenfield, Mass. Mrs. Dickinson survives her husband with two children. These are: Edward, assistant librarian of Amherst College; and Miss Martha G. Dickinson. A younger son, Gilbert, died twelve years ago. Mr. Dickinson died of heart failure, August 16, 1895. There is no doubt that his end was hastened by overwork. Rarely has any community been called upon to mourn the death of a man who was so thoroughly representative of its best citizenship.

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This family biography is one of the numerous biographies included in the Biographical Review Volume of Biographical Sketches of The Leading Citizens of Hampshire County, Massachusetts published in 1896. 

View additional Hampshire County, Massachusetts family biographies here: Hampshire County, Massachusetts Biographies

View a map of 1901 Hampshire County, Massachusetts here: Hampshire County Massachusetts Map

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