Ben Augustus Dickens’ rests in Wilmington, North Carolina’s Oakdale Cemetery alongside one of his wives, Belle Augusta Johnston.
Lichen on the base of his marker when I took these photos last year prevented me from seeing the rest of the epitaph, but after finding a clearer version it reads:
“He Fell Asleep In Marianna, Florida
January 28, 1857
Aged 32 YRS.
Jesus lives by this we know
Thou O grave canst not enthrall us!“
Information about Ben was sparse and unfortunately most of what I found pertained to his 1854 divorce from Ella Reeves Eaton Dickens. The couple had only been married since October 28, 1847. Three years after the wedding the census reports that Ben (age 26) and Ella (19) lived in North Carolina where he farmed for a living.
The following is directly from the Records of Estates, Warren County, North Carolina, 1852-1868.
“#947 – ELLA R. DICKENS petitioned BENJAMIN A. DICKENS for a divorce, Mar. Ct. 1854, noting that in 1848, while on a boat from Wilmington to Charleston, he had attacked her with a knife and threatened to kill her. He also beat her in June 1848, and in 1851 he had lived in “lewd and adulterous intercourse” with EMMA TAYLOR, alias EMMA MORTIMER, in Petersburg and Richmond, and on his plantation in Northampton County. He also had relations with ELIZABETH MILLS, a free woman of color, on the plantation of JAMES W. ALSTON in Halifax County. Divorce granted, Mar. Ct. 1854. ELLA DICKENS petitioned to change her name to ELLA RIVES EATON, Apr. Ct. 1854.”
Whether or not any of the claims in the divorce petition were substantiated is unclear.
Ella eventually remarried a former Texas governor and Ben married Belle. I couldn’t find any evidence that Ben fathered any children.
Nothing in the newspapers hinted at what happened to cause his demise at such an early age.