Robert Dickson (fur trader)

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Robert Dickson (c.1765 – 20 June 1823) was a fur trader, and later an agent for the Indian Department in Upper Canada, who played a prominent part in the War of 1812.

He was born in Dumfries, Scotland where his father was a merchant. When his father's business failed, Robert and his brothers, William and Thomas, travelled to Canada to work for their cousin Robert Hamilton. While Robert's brothers made careers for themselves in Newark and the Niagara peninsula, Robert found routine office work tedious, and was sent to Mackinac Island in 1786 to trade on his own.

He spent many years trading among Indian tribes to the west. In 1797, he married Ista Towin or Totowin (Helen Elizabeth), the daughter of chief Wakinyanduta (Red Thunder) of the Cuthead band of the Yanktonai Dakota.[1]

During the years preceding the War of 1812, Dickson and other British and Canadian traders were angered by American encroachments into the area where they previously enjoyed a monopoly. As war appeared imminent, Dickson recruited over 100 warriors from the "Western Indians" (from the present-day states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois) and gathered them at the British military outpost at Fort St. Joseph.

When news of the outbreak of war arrived, Dickson led a total of 400 Indians in an expedition led by Captain Charles Roberts, which captured Mackinac Island from its unwary American garrison. He subsequently led the Western Indians south to join the British army at Amherstburg, where they took part in the Siege of Detroit, which caused the surrender of an American army. In the autumn following these victories, Dickson travelled to Montreal, where he was appointed to the Indian Department as Agent and Superintendent for the Western Indian tribes.

During 1813, he led contingents of Indians at the unsuccessful Siege of Fort Meigs and Battle of Fort Stephenson. In 1814, he recruited fresh contingents of the Western Indians and led them at the successful defence of Mackinac Island and the Engagement on Lake Huron. He ended the war at the captured post of Prairie du Chien, where he quarreled with Andrew Bulger, the post's commandant.

After the war, he retired from the Indian Department although, while on a visit to Scotland in 1816, he applied unsuccessfully to be the Indian Department agent at Amherstburg.

The war had ruined Dickson's fur trading business. He nevertheless resumed trading, but died unexpectedly at Drummond Island in 1823.


  1. ^ David Reed Miller; Joseph R. McGeshick; Dennis Smith (2008). The History of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Montana, 1800-2000. Montana Historical Society. pp. 43–45. ISBN 978-0-9759196-5-1.