Clio Logo
Moses Dickson (1824-1901) was an American abolitionist, reverend, and the founder of the Knights of Liberty, a secretive organization that attempted to free slaves through a planned uprising and the Underground Railroad. During his lifetime, Dickson and his wife aided in the passage to freedom of hundreds of runaway slaves through the Underground Railroad. While the goal of the Knights of Liberty to abolish slavery through armed confrontation was ultimately unsuccessful, Moses Dickson was a successful abolitionist through his time as a Union soldier and the creation of the International Order of Twelve, the Knights of Tabor, and the Daughters of Tabor.

Rev. Moses Dickson

Rev. Moses Dickson

Moses Dickson Free Negro Bond

Moses Dickson Free Negro Bond

Moses Dickson was born a free man in Cincinnati, Ohio on April 5, 1824. While he initially worked as a barber on steamboats on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers during his early adult life, Dickson changed his course in life after witnessing the atrocities faced by slaves along the rivers. While there are no written accounts as to what Dickson saw along the Mississippi, we do know that these experiences led him to not only fight for the Union during the Civil War and become directly involved with the underground railroad, but also become a reverend for the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which promoted human rights for African Americans.

On August 12, 1846, Moses Dickson established the Knights of Liberty, an African American fraternal organization that was directly involved providing social and financial support to the African American community and organizing slaves with the goal of ridding the country of slavery through planned armed rebellion. Perhaps the crowning achievement of Rev. Dickson was his involvement with the creation of the underground railroad, beginning in 1850. Alongside his wife Mary Elisabeth Butcher Peters, whom he wed in 1848, Moses Dickson helped hundreds of slaves gain their freedom. In order to protect the vast majority of members of the Knights of Liberty from being prosecuted or attacked for the organization's involvement with the underground railroad, Dickson created the Order of Twelve in Galena, Illinois to act as the official organization in charge of helping slaves to freedom.

Even before the Knights of Liberty dissolved around the onset of the Civil War and many of its 47,000 members fought for the Union, the organization and many of its leaders, such as Moses Dickson, had turned against the idea of an armed revolution. On October 16, 1859, Moses Dickson and sixteen others even attempted to discourage abolitionist John Brown from going forward with his infamous raid on Harper's Ferry. While they were unsuccessful in changing Brown's mind, it has been said that the actions taken by the Knights of Liberty to assure freedom for all enslaved people attracted the attention of many wealthy benefactors, who took it upon themselves to secretly donate money towards Dickson's efforts with the underground railroad. On one occasion, a group of Englishmen were so impressed with the Knights of Liberty that, upon the outbreak of the Civil War, they sent arms and ammunition directly to Dickson to aid him and the Union.

Following the war, Moses Dickson became a minister for the African Methodist Episcopal Church in St. Louis, helped establish Lincoln University in Jefferson City, founded multiple Black self-help organizations like the Knights of Tabor and Daughters of Tabor, became a Freemason, and even served as the president of the Refugee Relief Board in St. Louis, where he helped organize the migration of almost 16,000 African Americans to Kansas. Dickson's efforts mainly focused on improving the economic situations and personal education of thousands of African-Americans throughout the Midwest during Reconstruction. His involvement with these organizations led to many social and government reforms, both during and after his lifetime. Moses Dickson died of typhoid fever on November 28, 1901 and was buried in St. Louis.

Doyle, Amanda E.. Three local civil rights giants you should know. St. Louis Magazine. January 29th 2018.

Early, Gerald Lyn. Ain't But a Place: An Anthology of African American Writings about St. Louis. St. Louis, Missouri. Missouri History Museum, 1998.

Hudson, J Blaine. Encyclopedia of the Underground Railroad. McFarland & Company, 2015.

Jones, Jae. Moses Dickson: Founder of the Secret Organization "Knights of Liberty" to Help Fight Slavery, Black Then. January 21st 2019. Accessed March 30th 2020.

Mjagkij, Nina. Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations. Routledge, 2003.

O'Brien, W.. Moses Dickson (1824-1901), Blackpast. January 18th 2007. Accessed March 30th 2020.

Schwalm, Leslie Ann. Emancipation's Diaspora: Race and Reconstruction in the Upper Midwest. Chapel Hill, North Carolina. University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

Wright, John Aaron. Discovering African American St. Louis: A Guide to Historic Sites. St. Louis, MO. Missouri History Museum, 2002.

Image Sources(Click to expand)