Mahlon Dickerson, an American judge and politician, and one of America's earliest mineral collectors, was born in Hanover, New Jersey on April 17, 1770. In his youth he was educated by private tutors and later graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1789. He then studied the law and was admitted to the bar in 1793. During the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 he served as a private in the Second Regiment Cavalry, New Jersey Detached Militia. Following his discharge he settled in Philadelphia where he began practicing lawin 1797. He was named state commissioner of bankruptcy in 1802, served as adjutant general of Pennsylvania from 1805 to 1808, and as Philadelphia city recorder from 1808 to 1810.
Dickerson returned to New Jersey and settled in Morris County in 1810, where he managed the family's iron mine at Mine Hill, which exploited one of the richest iron deposits in the East. The Dickerson mine deposit had been discovered in 1715 by John Reading and was later acquired by Jonathan Dickerson (1747-1805) and Minard Lefevre in 1779. Jonathan's son Silas took over the property in 1805 but died two years later, at which tiime his other son, Mahlon Dickerson, assumed control. The mine was very rich, with a vein over 25 feet wide which was worked by eight to 40 men; by 1882 it had yielded over 800,000 tons of iron.
The huge profits enabled Dickerson to build a mansion, which he named Ferromonte ("Mountain of Iron"). He remained unmarried, but shared Ferromonte with the family of his nephew, Frederick Canfield (Sr.), who helped manage the mining operations. Dickerson was elected to the New Jersey General Assembly in 1811, and served one term. He then worked as a law reporter for the New Jersey Supreme Court from 1813 to 1814, and served as a justice of the Supreme Court from 1813 to 1815. He was elected Governor of New Jersey in 1815, but was then elected to the United States Senatem where he served1817 to 1829, when he resigned, but he was immediately reelected to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Ephraim Bateman and thus continued tro serve as a senator until 1833, for a total of 16 years of service. He was chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Library during the 15th Congress, chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce and Manufactures for the 16th through 18th Congresses and the U.S. Senate Committee on Manufactures from the 19th through 22nd Congresses.
Finally leaving the senate in 1834, he was appointed Secretary of the Navy by President Andrew Jackson and was reappointed by President Martin Van Buren, serving until June 1838. The destroyer USS Dickerson was named in his honor. In 1840 Dickerson was appointed judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, and he was also a delegate to the New Jersey constitutional convention of 1844. He died October 5, 1853 in Succasunna, New Jersey. He bequeathed his mineral collection to his nephew, Frederick Canfield (Sr.) who, with his son Frederick A. Canfield (q.v.), expanded the collection considerably. It was eventually donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1926, where Dickerson's original specimen catalog is also preserved. It is doubtful that he utilized formal specimen labels, but if he did they were probably discarded by the Canfields when they recataloged his collection.
Dickerson bequeathed his mining properties to a group of his relatives who then created the Dickerson Suckasunny Mining Company, incorporated on February 24, 1854. The company owned the Dickerson, King, Black Hills, and Canfield Mines in Morris County, which they leased out for profit.
BECKWITH, Robert Russell (1964) Mahlon Dickerson of New Jersey, 1770-1853. Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University.
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1771 to present
Dictionary of American Biography
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