Dickson, Moses

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Dickson, Moses

April 5, 1824
November 28, 1901

The political and fraternal leader Moses Dickson was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and supported himself as a barber from an early age. He took a position on a steamboat in 1840, and his travels through the South over the next three years gave him the opportunity to witness slavery first-hand.

Dickson was profoundly affected by what he saw, and determined to do whatever he could to abolish the slave system. He later claimed to have met with eleven other black men in Saint Louis in August 1846 to found a secret organization known as the Twelve Knights of Tabor, or the Knights of Liberty. According to Dickson, this organization claimed 47,000 members at its peak and was actively preparing to do battle against slavery when its work was suspended in 1856 in anticipation of an impending war between the North and the South. Dickson also claimed that the organization helped as many as 70,000 slaves escape to freedom through the Underground Railroad. In the absence of any other evidence for the order's existence, however, Dickson's account is regarded with skepticism.

Dickson fought in the Civil War, returning in 1864 to Missouri, where he became active in local politics. He was a delegate to every Republican State Convention in Missouri from 1864 to 1878, and served as an elector for Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. He was also a leading member of the Equal Rights League, an organization that worked to secure the franchise and equality before the law for African Americans in the state. Dickson lobbied for improved education for ex-slaves and their children, and he was one of the founders of the Lincoln Institute (now Lincoln University) in Jefferson City, Missouri, serving as the institution's vice president and as a trustee. In 1866 he joined the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, in which he was licensed to preach the following year. In 1878, he became president of the Refugee Relief Board of Saint Louis, which provided food and clothing to thousands of people on their way to resettlement in Kansas and elsewhere.

A prominent fraternalist, Dickson served as Grand Master of the Missouri lodge of the Prince Hall Masons. In 1871 he founded a new fraternal order, the International Order of the Twelve Knights and Daughters of Tabor. He wrote an elaborate ritual for this order, combining elements drawn from Masonry and Methodism, and he encouraged members to practice Christianity, education, temperance, self-reliance, and economic self-improvement. The organization also provided its members and their families with material assistance in cases of illness or death. In 1907, six years after Dickson's death, the order claimed 100,000 members in thirty states and several foreign countries. Moses Dickson died in St. Louis, where he had lived for many years.

See also African Methodist Episcopal Church; Fraternal Orders


Aptheker, Herbert. A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States. New York, 1951.

Greene, Lorenzo John, Gary R. Kremer, and Anthony F. Holland. Missouri's Black Heritage. St. Louis, 1980.

Pipkin, J. J. The Story of a Rising Race: The Negro in Revelation, in History and in Citizenship. St. Louis, 1902.

Walton, Lester. "Moses Dickson: The Great Negro Organizer and Fraternal Leader." The Colored American Magazine (April 1902): 354356.

lydia mcneill (1996)

daniel soyer (1996)