Steuben County, New York
The Roloson Family
Mary Abigail Roloson
by George Rogers, 2004
Photographs from the collection of
Carolyn (Martin) Winters
Mary Abigail, the fifth child of Peter and Judah (Kirby) Roloson, was born 23 October 1832; their first after settling in Hornby the year before. In the early 1850s she married John G. Ganung, Jr., son of John G. and Ann (Akley) Ganung. John Jr.’s sister Susan had married Mary’s brother Albert. That marriage was short-lived however, as the twenty-four year old John died 17 June 1855. Two years and one day later she married Andrew Bray Dickinson who was thirty-one years her senior.
John G., Jr. and Mary Abigail (Roloson) Ganung
Andrew Bray Dickinson, son of Gamalial and Elizabeth (Jennings) Dickerson, was born 29 August 1801 Mendham, NJ and his family moved to Covert, Seneca County, NY when he was a young boy. When he was nineteen he married Hannah Hopkins and soon after settled in what would become Hornby. Hannah died 9 July 1849 leaving five of seven children between twenty-nine and ten years old. Bray was a wealthy and ambitious man, the first elected supervisor of the newly formed Hornby in 1826, a large landowner, and in 1854 elected to the New York State Senate. It was in Albany that he became a friend of William Seward who later became Lincoln’s Secretary of State. Bray asked Seward for a diplomatic appointment and on 28 Mar 1861 was commissioned Minister Resident to Nicaragua. He and his second family set sail from New York City on 1 June 1861 for the ten-day trip to Panama, then overland to the Pacific side for the final leg north to Granada, where he presented his papers 11 July 1861. It should be noted that between the times he received his commission and when he sailed for Nicaragua, Civil War hostilities had begun when the Confederacy fired on Fort Sumter.And by this time Mary Abigail was pregnant with their second child Jose Leon born 23 January 1862. The Bishop of Nicaragua, José Bernardo Piñol y Aycinena, baptized him in the massive and elaborately ornamented cathedral in Leon and the President of Nicaragua, Tomás Martínez, was his godfather. While Minister Resident, Bray acquired a sugar plantation in Nicaragua and after his term was complete was obliged to stay in Nicaragua to avoid financial losses from selling his assets during an ongoing revolution. He died in Leon 21 April 1873 of complications resulting from a fall from a mule while attempting to cross a ditch. Within a year his partner John Simmons became Mary’s third husband.
Mary Abigail’s first child Hannah was born 23 July 1859 and named in honor of Andrew Bray’s first wife, a common custom in those days. She died 18 September 1874 of complications from chicken pox while staying in a convent school in Los Angeles.
Leon married 2 July 1886 Zilla Louise Ables, daughter of Thomas Jefferson and Mary Elizabeth (Martin) Ables, a cousin of his half sister Ellen’s future husband Harold Martin.
Zilla Louise (Ables) Dickinson (circa 1886) Jose Leon Dickinson
John Russell "Bobby" Simmons, son of Horace and Lucy (Smith) Simmons, was born 23 November 1837 in Litchfield, CT. His family moved to Clinton County, NY when he was a young boy and they lived near the Canadian border in the Town of Mooers. When he was about fourteen he got “gold fever” and followed the 49ers west to California and began a life of adventure that continued until he died in 1932. He met Samuel Clemens in Virginia City, NV when Clemens was a newspaper reporter there for the Territorial Enterprise and also possibly met the most picturesque character in our western history, Jim Bridger, premier Indian fighter, beaver trapper, fur trader, guide to the Wild West, storekeeper, scout, explorer and discoverer. In about 1866 he went to San Francisco and joined a mining operation bound for Nicaragua. It was there that he met Bray Dickinson and became a business partner in his sugar plantation operation.
After the death of her second husband in Nicaragua, I believe Mary spent several months there selling her property and then returned to Hornby. There is a stone in Woodlawn Cemetery, Elmira, NY for Andrew Bray Dickinson but I don’t know whether his remains are there or in Nicaragua. Witin a year after his death she married John Simmons and the family headed west to California. Hannah was left in the convent school while Mary, Leon and John ran a herd of sheep in Arizona. John was familiar with Arizona as he had spent time there with a government detachment sent to find a suitable location for the capitol and as a militia captain subduing an Apache uprising. By 1875 they were in California and Mary had given birth to two more children, Ellen F. Simmons born July 1875 and Andrew Angus Simmons born 5 July 1877. Ellen and Zilla each had her own grand piano and would practice many hours a day on them. Both were very accomplished pianists.
Ellen T. Simmons circa 1887 Andrew Angus Simmons circa 1886
Mary died 3 June 1904 in Petaluma, Sonoma County, CA. Her third husband John, who outlived her by twenty-eight years, spent his remaining time “officially” living with his children but actually out prospecting.
A final interesting story about Mary was related to me by Carolyn Winters concerning her relationship with Agoston Haraszthy who is credited with being the creator of the California wine industry. “Mary was given two beautiful, large vases by Count Agoston Haraszthy for nursing his wife and daughters in Nicaragua. They are ornate porcelain, each with a Roman eagle seated upright with wings outstretched on the base. They were sitting on the mantle of the newly finished fireplace of my grandparent’s (Harold and Ellen (Simmons) Martin) house. Leon’s son, Bray Dickinson, was visiting and sleeping on the living room couch. In the early morning the great 1906 earthquake hit. Bray was thrown out of bed and the vases hit the floor. Bray was bruised, the fireplace had to be rebuilt but the vases came through unscathed except for a quarter inch tip of one wing on each eagle breaking off.” The Count, by the way, while on a trip alone into the Nicaraguan interior, was eaten by a crocodile.