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Miss Mordecai has given an interesting account of this dwarf in her writing of Hastings (Warrenton) in its early life. He made a lasting impression on her interest and sympathies, for as late as February, 1846, she wrote to Mrs. R. J. Person, then living near Warrenton, to know what had become of Little Jemmy Dickson.

The reply was "That he had died several years before, at the home of Mrs. James Somerville, in Granville County, the mother of James Somerville, who married Katherine Volkes, where he had lived for years." Miss Mordecai says:

I shall never forget the last time I saw Jemmy. It was at the funeral of a young lady. The congregation were all assembled in the new church, her coffin was placed in the chancel and the house was as still as death, when there was a stir in the aisle, and on turning to see, it was poor little Jemmy Dickson—that little old man with his large hump, a florid face and long silver hair, his hat with the pipe in the band. He wore a clean suit of white homespun cloth (cotton of course). He Iooked all around then placed his chair in the middle aisle then sat down. His appearance was so picturesque that I recollect thinking that he would be a figure worthy of Sir Walter Scott, and the idea of his having always been a welcome, though humble inmate, at the paternal home of the deceased, made his attendance at the funeral affecting. Miss Mordecai writes this description of Jemmy Dickson when he came to Hastings to the election:

This person who has been long enough seated the other side of our episode to conjugate the verb "to rest" through-out all its moods and tenses, is a little dwarfish man, with a large hump on his back. His characteristics are purely original. His independent spirit is quite out of proportion to the size of the possessor, yet it is his by nature's gift, and little funny Jemmy Dickson, though a mite in size, is a man in will. His home was at the residence of a lady in one of the neighboring counties. He occasionally visited Hastings, walking for the most part on foot, but there, or wherever inclination directed his course, he rested when he pleased, for he carried his little chair slung on his back, and when he was tired of walking he sat in it, no matter where, whether in the woods, the public roads, in the street, or a meeting house, for there was but one church in the county, and that was an old vestige of a ruin which then marked a rallying place for camp meetings. Even at such places when Jemmy appeared he sat in no seat but his own little rush-bottom chair, the rude frame of which was stout and strong, yet light enough to be portable. In summer he always wore a short coat and pantaloons of light colored or white homespun. His pipe was twisted in the band of his broad brimmed hat, and his lighting it with a sun glass was a great cause of interest and admiration which he excited among the little boys. He always carried about with him for sale, when he went from place to place, some large long darning needles. His address to man, woman, child was "my little coozen," "and how do you do my pretty little coozen, my name is Jemmy Dickson." This he spoke in a squeaking sort of a cracked whining voice. As soon as the little man appeared the school boys of the village crowded about him, for it was quite an era among them when he came. He amused them as a puppet would who could speak, and crack jokes, and heads too, perhaps, when the boys worried him beyond endurance. Here on the morning of the election sat Jemmy Dickson on the side of the street nearly apposite Heberdeen's tavern. He came to see and to hear, and to be seen and heard, and small as he was, there was little fear of his being neglected. When he visited Hastings he always found a room and a bed ready for him at Squire Penrose's, where Jemmy was welcomed by the amiable mistress of the house, who treated the little dwarf, on his chair, as kindly as if he had been a king on his throne.
Jemmy has made up his mind to vote for the popular candidate, and when he has rested himself, he will go to the courthouse and make his decision known.

I was told by my mother that she attended a neighborhood wedding in 1838, at which Little Jemmy Dickson was present, and that she heard the kind-hearted mother of the bride say to those who were waiting on the guests, "give Jemmy all he wants to eat, but don't give him anything to drink."
The following well drawn sketch of this eccentric old man appeared in a paper soon after his death :
Died on Saturday night, in the 72d year of his age, little Jemmy Dickson; who saw as much pleasure, created as much mirth, drank as much liquor, worked less than any white person in the county ever did, who had the free use of his limbs, and who was no foal., Jemmy had his clothes burnt off him in fun, was committed often to jail in fun, was drawn in a freshet across Hyco, at the end of a horse's tail, in fun, had his hip put out of place and his thigh broke, by a waggish fellow in a tavern, in fun, and yet preserved his humor, his mirth, his independence, his spirit, his love of good eating and drinking, and his confident hope of a hereafter to the last. He died as he lived in fun; giving his pipe to one, his glass to another, his tobacco to a third, his bottle to a fourth; to another his Testament, which he had got by heart, Cornaro to another, and liberally dividing his garments and his substance equally among his friends. His maxim was that he should die seized, in fee simple, of as much land as he should need; that all the good people loved to work for him and that he never would work for the wicked. Jemmy was a laughing and drinking philosopher; visited in the best families, and was never known to make mischief by carrying news.


In the early days of my school life, at the Female College, then taught by Edwin Parham, there was never an examination, or concert or closing exercise of the school, but you were sure to see on the grounds the cart and old white horse of "Aunt" Katie, called by the children "Aunt Cakey," because she baked and sold cakes. These were ginger cakes, made after a certain shape and thickness. They were very popular, gentlemen from a distance would always buy and take home some to the children. She would also be on the Court Square on all sessions of the Court, or any public occasion. I recall seeing a gentleman from Petersburg having her pile as many as his large red hankerchief would hold to take back home with him. Aunt Katie was a free negro, "old issue," as the slaves called them. She lived on her own small tract of land. One day when she was feeding her old white horse, she pushed her hand up too far in the bundle of fodder, and when the horse gave a very vigorous bite he bit off her thumb. She carefully wrapped it up and came to town to have the doctor to sew it on for her, and was much disappointed when he told her that the dismembered thumb had lost all life and could not be restored.

In the History of Hastings (Warrenton), Miss Mordecai describes a similar vendor of cakes in the early days of the town : A bright red cart, somewhat resembling a miniature house, with a division in the middle, separating the soft from the hard cakes. They were made only by one person in the State, for aught we know to the contrary, they of course, bore his name.

Roast beef is not more familiar to an English ear, than Burnet cakes to all persons within fifty miles of Warrenton. The hard ones' were a hard ginger bread, minus the ginger, or only "scared by it" as an old woman once said, yet when public cakes were scarce, and a confectioner unheard of, these cakes, when freshened up, were quite palatable. These cakes were about a foot long, proportionably broad in the middle, and terminating at each end in a round point. There was never any variation in the shape. Old Joe Burnet would as soon have thought of changing his name, or the color of his cart, as the form of his cakes. The soft ones were of a sweetish sour rusk, about the size of a pint loaf of bread, these were round and flat, and all the children knew they could purchase either for six and a quarter cents. This old man doubtless made a good living by his Burnet cakes, since if he was a monopolist, he was for many years without a rival, and his cart was seen wherever there was a public meeting of any sort in Warrenton, or within miles of it.

Of course the annual visit of the circus dates very far back in the history of the town. Not many may know that Phineas T. Barnum came with a circus company to Warrenton in October, 1835, and made his first exhibition, on his own hook, in the town. I had been told that there was a disagreement between the company, and that Barnum split off from the company, but in reading his life of himself I find that he says: "My engagement with Turner having expired with a clear profit' to myself of twelve hundred dollars, I parted with the circus company, and taking Vivilla, and a negro singer, and a dancer, named Sandford, started off with an exhibition on my own account."


Montgomery, Lizzie Wilson; Sketches of old Warrenton, North Carolina; traditions and reminiscences of the town and people who made it, Raleigh, Edwards & Broughton printing company, 1924.

©2004 by Nola Duffy & Ginger L. Christmas-Beattie

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