"LITTLE JEMMY" DICKSON, AND OTHERS
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.
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.
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.
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.