Dickey's Diary


Editor's Note: Readers of The Kentucky Explorer have been introduced to the Rev. John J. Dickey in past issues. Remember that he was a traveling preacher throughout the eastern part of the state during the years between 1880 and 1925. He helped to establish numerous churches and at least two colleges. He was also a teacher and a newspaper editor. However, his most enduring gift to us today may well be his diary that he kept faithfully during some 50 years of his later life beginning in the 1880s. In all, over 6,000 pages written in his own hand make up this interesting digest.
In this journal of his, Dickey often wrote down accounts of events daily. Much of the material concerns his day to day life. However, during the late 1890s he began to gather family history on various families he met in his travels. We are offering these interviews to our readers in the hope that they will be appreciated in the sense that Rev. Dickey intended. These interviews were written word for word as they were given to Rev. Dickey. Nothing has been changed.

James Gilbert
Manchester, Kentucky
February 23, 1898
I belonged as a slave to John Gilbert, grandson of Rev. John Gilbert. I was much with the old man when I was a boy. He used to take me with him to his meetings. We would leave home and return Sunday. At the close of the services on Sunday, I have often heard him say, "If any of you have any bull yearlings to sell come around and tell me what you will take for them." As we journeyed homeward Sunday afternoon, it was his custom to call at the houses we would pass and ask if they had any bull yearlings for sale. By the time we would get home, we would frequently have anywhere from five to ten. He always wore a hunting shirt, summer or winter. In winter, he would have a large cape over it. In the bosom of it, he would carry his lunch and other things. He had a great fashion of saying "Dear me." He injected this into everything he said. He was old when I knew him and his slaves had become disobedient. His sight had partially failed. He would lay plans to get hold of the boys or get near enough to them to strike them as punishment for their rudeness. I have seen him lay down the fence and then call these boys to lay it in order to get them close to him. They would catch on; they would lay up a rail keeping an eye on him and then stand aside out of his reach. He has often told me that he was a spy in the Revolutionary War. He said the Indians would disguise themselves in every possible way to get to kill the whites. He discovered one wrapt in a hog skin grunting and trying to make believe that he was a hog. He saw the (disguise) deception and sent a rifle ball through him, killing him. In stature, he was medium or a little above, would weigh 180 pounds. His wife was a Sizemore, I think. During the war, the rebels took 18 horses and mules from our folks, Mrs. Felix Gilbert and her son, John, my master. We had herded them into the woods for weeks, but thinking all danger had passed we brought them in from the range and the very next day the rebels came and took the last one of them. They left a poor sore backed mare which we nourished up and managed to finish the crop of corn with her. Then the Federals came along and took her. As spring approached the next year we were casting about to know what to do that we might raise a crop. The Federals came along and left a tired horse in good flesh, and we made a crop with him. He was never taken from us. During the Christmas holidays, immediately preceding freedom, my master gave me $75. He had always treated me with great kindness. I worked for him then at $14 per month. I was always treated well as a slave. I was 17 years old when I was set free. The colored people of Clay County did not belong to the churches, at least very few of them. Old man Findley has a Baptist church at Newberry Gap and John Gilbert lived near his home. I forgot to tell you how old Mr. John Gilbert fell out with me. Returning from a preaching trip I said to him, "Old Master, you preach the gospel and know what is right better then I do, but why don't you buy those bull yearlings Friday and Saturday as you go to meeting, and then set a day and then come back and take them home?" "You little villain, I'll not take you with me anymore," was his reply. It was usually after night when we would reach home when we had cattle to drive. There were no wagon roads beyond Red Bird then; we followed bridle paths. We used to go to where Hyden now stands. He had a log church just above Hyden at Rock House. We always got home Sunday night. He always rode a good horse.

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