Known among cotton planters as “The Prince of Southern Farmers”, David Dickson was a very progressive agriculturalist whose plantation, known as “The Modern Mecca”, comprised nearly 17,000 acres at its peak.
In The Houses of Hancock 1785-1865, John Rozier notes that though Dickson was one of the wealthiest men in the state, he lived in the simple Plantation Plain house his father built in the 1790s [it was destroyed by fire in 1946]. Rozier gives a hint as to the source of his success: He trained his slaves to pick twice the cotton those on other plantations gathered. Planters came from all over the South to see how Dickson farmed. A man of little formal education, he wrote for and was widely quoted in agricultural journals, and his book on farming, A Practical Treatise on Agriculture: to Which is Added the Author’s Published Letters (1870), was still in print 25 years after his death.
Dickson didn’t marry until he was 62, but his daughter, Amanda America Dickson, was born in 1849. She was the product of the rape of a woman he enslaved named Julia Frances Lewis Dickson, who was just 13 years old when she gave birth to Amanda. Dickson claimed paternity and brought her into his home to be raised by his mother, Elizabeth Sholars Dickson. Amanda left the plantation after emancipation and began a domestic relationship with Charles Eubanks, a white first cousin, in Rome, Georgia. Because Eubanks was white, Georgia’s anti-miscegenation laws at the time prevented a legal marriage, but the union produced two sons, Julian Henry Eubanks and Charles Green Eubanks. Soon after Charles Green’s birth, Amanda returned to her father’s plantation.
During the same year he was married, David Dickson built the house pictured here for Julia and Amanda, just up the hill from his own home [the columns are a 20th century addition]. The idea of two former slaves being afforded such a prominent gesture was not well-received by his new bride, Clara Harris Dickson. Just two years later, in 1873, Clara went home to her parents and died soon thereafter.
Amanda left Hancock County in 1876 and spent two years at Atlanta University.
Upon David Dickson’s death in 1885, Amanda inherited the majority of his estate, worth well over 8 million dollars in today’s dollars. This made her the wealthiest black woman in Georgia and among the wealthiest in the nation. 79 relatives of David Dickson challenged the will, but it was affirmed in the local courts and again when it landed at the Georgia Supreme Court. Essentially, the state court asserted that the rights of a mixed-race child born out of wedlock were no different than the rights of a white child born out of wedlock. This was quite unusual for the time.
To protect herself from her white relatives, Amanda moved to Augusta soon after David’s death and bought a home in the city’s most fashionable neighborhood, where she was generally accepted. She married Nathan Toomer in July 1892, and died on 11 June 1893. Nathan remarried upon Amanda’s death and was the father of Harlem Renaissance author Jean Toomer.
Woman of Color, Daughter of Privilege: Amanda America Dickson 1849-1893, by Kent Anderson Leslie, is the standard source for her life story, which has also been the subject of a movie, A House Divided.