William Dickson Allison

by Edmund Starling, 1886


WILLIAM DICKSON ALLISON, son of Samuel Allison and Margaret Dickson, his wife, pioneers from North Carolina, was born in Logan county, on the fifteenth day of February, 1798.

     When quite young his father removed to Muhlenburg County and settled upon a piece of land near Greenville. He lived with his father, working upon the farm during the summer months and studying at odd times during the winter months, until he had grown to be a good sized lad, when he entered as clerk in a dry goods store owned by Judge Alney McLean, in the town of Greenville. He remained in this store but a short time, when he was placed in the County and Circuit Court Clerk's office, of Muhlenburg County, under Charles F. Wing, then not only an officer of superior business qualifications, but a gentleman of high, social culture. The boyhood of Mr. Allison was furnished with few of those facilities for obtaining a literary education which are now accessable to almost all.

     His great, natural mind was left to develop its powers as best it could without the aid of books or competent elements taught in a country school of the most humble pretentions. Even these slender advantages were but sparingly enjoyed, for, as before said, he was compelled to devote a great portion of his time to manuel[sic] labor in the field. It is more than probable that this early familiarity with the sternest realities of life, contributed to give to his mind that strong, practical bias which subsequently distinguished his career as an official of matchless qualification and citizen of unsurpassed social grandeur. While in the office of Mr. Wing, he attracted the attention of Judge McLean, who, being most favorably impressed by his amiable deportment, honored him with his friendship and unrestrained interest. It was through the advice of Judge McLean that he came to Henderson County in the year 1822 and accepted a deputyship under Horace Grigsby, then Clerk of the Circuit and County Courts of this County. He remained faithful to his post, until the death of Mr. Grigbsy, in the year 1824. At his death, Mr. Allison was appointed Clerk of the two Courts, which two offices he held from that time to the time of his death, March 5th, 1860, thirty-six years. In December, 1823, he married Miss Elizabeth Hamilton, daughter of Dr. James M. Hamilton, one of the earliest settlers and one of the first physicians of the new county. The mother of Mrs. Allison was Mary Hopkins Davis, a niece of General Samuel Hopkins, who established and settled the town of Henderson. A short time after his marriage, Mr. Allison purchased the old Ambrose Barbour homestead, on the corner of Third and Water streets, where he lived to the day of his death. The fruits of this marriage was eight children, only two of whom are now living-Mrs. Mary H. Starling, widow of Lyne Starling, deceased, and Miss Lucy H. Allison. In November, 1843, Mr. Allison was sorely bereaved in the death of his wife, to whom he was devotedly attached, and hardly had he recovered from the irreparable loss, when he was called upon to mourn the loss of his only son, Alney, a young man of brilliant intellect and promise, and in whom his whole life had centered. This son was lost in the unfortunate collision of the steamers Major Barbour and Paul Jones, in the Ohio, near Cannelton, on the morning of the third of February, 1848. Only a short time after this, he was again called upon to give up a daughter, whose personal and social qualities had won for her the esteem of the entire community. All of these sad and heartrending bereavements, coming one after the other, and in such close proximity of time, unnerved his naturally joyous spirit, yet he bore them all with heroic, yet terribly wounded courage. In 1845, the old log house in which he had lived for twenty years, was caused to be torn away and the large two-story frame yet standing, was erected in its stead. Mr. Allison, ever after his marriage, was a great student, his broad and comprehensive mind, quick as thought and accurate in its convictions, readily grasped every subject he undertook and easily and quickly mastered it. He was a great believer in the thorough study of English grammar, and studied it for years after his marriage, attending at one time for several months, a night school, taught by a professor, in whose ability for explaining and imparting information, he had confidence. He was the eldest of five sons, all of whom were noted for the originality of their jokes and great fondness for perpetrating them. The subject of this sketch, while a great believer in this pleasantry, was never a perpetrator of practical jokes, yet it is more than probable that his master mind furnished the detail by which his brothers and others were guided. In early times, the Allisons were noted throughout Kentucky for their spirit and humor, for at times they were unmerciful in the application of their jokes; in this, though, Mr. William Allison was not known as a leading spirit. He was a man, while full of wit and humor and as fond of a joke as any living man, was yet dignified and never permitted that graceful characteristic to forsake him. This ungovernable disposition attaching to each one of the five boys, was inherited from the father, for it is told of the old man, that the last act of his life was to frighten a timid old neighbor, who was sitting up with him at the time, and then surrender up his spirit to Him who gave it. Mr. Allison held many offices of trust, by appointment. He was Clerk of the Board of Trustees of the town for years, Master Commissioner in Chancery, Trustee of the Jury Fund, Agent by the State in the settlement of old land Taxes, and for the sale of land under the internal improvement act, and other offices of honor, the duties of all which he performed to the entire satisfaction of all parties concerned.

     It is a remarkable fact that, after having held the two offices of Circuit and County Clerk for twenty-severn years consecutively, by appointment, he was elected at the first election in 1851, after the adoption of the new constitution, and continued to hold both offices up to his death, in 1860, without ever having been opposed by any man of either political party. He never studied law with a view to its practice, but it is a positive fact that he gave more legal advice than all of the lawyers practicing at the bar, and settled hundreds of what were evidently sure to be vexations lawsuits by his good Counsel.

     No man has ever enjoyed to a greater extent the unlimited confidence of the whole people who knew him; on the contrary, men seemed to regard to a privilege to serve him, and in political matters it was impossible to draw the party lines so as to proscribe him. He was scrupulously particular in all of his dealings, and in his official capacity was as systemic and conservative as it was possible for human to be. He was the very life of the social circle and was a most welcomed guest in any household. He was a person of commanding figure and peculiarly graceful in all the phases of life. He was remarkably fond of children and took delight in teaching his own in their youthful days. He was passionately fond of music, and in his younger days occasionally played the violin for the amusement of his own houshol[sic]. This he continued to do, until (as he said himself) he read in a Boston paper where a man had been hung for being a common fiddler, when he laid his cremona down and never afterwards picked it up. Mr. Allison was rather diffident than otherwise, and for years was known to travel a comparatively unused street in going from his residence to his office. Punctuality was a characteristic of his, and it is a fact that for many years prior to his death he did not vary five minutes any day in going to and returning from his office. He disliked street conversations and was seldom seen on Main or any other much traveled thoroughfare. His disease, though a heart trouble, took a very remarkable course in manifesting itself. Five or six months anterior to his death, he was annoyed with a dull neuralgic pain in his right wrist. Applications were used, but to no good purpose. The pain increased, gradually extending its way to his shoulder, until he was forced to take his room and bed, where he remained, under the best medical treatment, until his earthly life succombed to the inevitable.

     During his illness, and while crazed from fever, he arose from his bed and approached a table which had sat for years in the center of his room, and busied himself re arranging his books and papers. he appeared to be worried, until, recognizing Judge Wm. Rankin, who was attending him at the time, said to him, he wanted a marriage blank filled out. The Judge, knowing his condition, and in order to gratify him, procured a slip of paper and seated himself to write.

     Mr. Allison then gave him two ficticious names and general directions as to how the blank should be filled out. Having completed it as directed, Judge Rankin arose, and said, "Now, all that is needed  to make this legal, is your signature." "No! No!" replied the crazed man, "I can't do that; I can't sign my official signature to that paper," showing conclusively that, while he was disposed to indulge a humor, he was too particular to affix his signature to any paper not legally authorized. One of the prettiest incidents in his whole life, and one in which there is a grand lesson taught all mankind, is told by Col. John T. Bunch, who had called to see him for the last time. He was now beyond recovery; he knew it, and had consented to see a clergyman. As Col. Bunch entered the front door of the residence, he was met by Miss Lucie and was told of this fact.

     A few moments after being ushered into the room, the Rev. D. H. Deacon, of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, came in. Mr. Allison looked at him, and then spoke to him: "Well, Mr. Deacon, I am like a badly managed lawsuit-have had ample time for preparation, and now the case is called and I am not ready for trial." What a grand lesson indeed, there is in this wonderful thought. A few days thereafter, on the fifth day of March, 1860, this great and good man died. He had never, during his life, attached himself to any religious denomination, nevertheless, he was a great student of the Bible and a firm believer in the faith once delivered to the saints.

     His remains were buried on the 6th, from St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Rev. D. H. Deacon officiating. The occasion was a sad and solemn one, and was attended by a great number of county, as well as city people.

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