For nearly the entire nineteenth century Rhode Island was represented in either state or federal legislature by a Nathan Fellows Dixon. The first Nathan Dixon (1774-1842) was born to William and Priscilla (Denison) Dixon in Plainfield, Connecticut, on the eve of the American Revolution. He graduated in 1799 from Brown University (then called Rhode Island College), was admitted to the Rhode Island state bar in 1801, and from 1813 until 1842 (with an eight-year hiatus) held elected office, serving for a time as president of a U.S. Senate that included fellow Whigs Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. He also served as president of the Washington Bank in Westerly, Rhode Island, from 1829 until his death in 1842 and was instrumental in the creation of the New York, Providence & Boston Railroad in the early 1830’s.
He married Elizabeth Palmer in 1804 and had eight children, among them his second-eldest son and namesake Nathan (1812-1881). Like his father, Nathan graduated from Brown University in 1833 and after studying law was admitted to the state bar in 1837. From 1841 until 1877 he served alternate terms as a state representative or a U.S. representative, running first as a Whig and then a Republican. At the outset of the Dorr War in 1842, he was named by the Rhode Island General Assembly to the Governor’s Council, an advisory body of prominent legislators. Nathan married Harriet Swan in 1843, and they raised their five surviving children at the Dixon Homestead in Westerly, Rhode Island.
The eldest of their children, Nathan Fellows Dixon (1847-1897)-also a graduate of Brown University and a lawyer-was appointed U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island in 1877 and held the position until 1885. He was elected in 1885 to serve the remainder of Jonathan Chace’s U.S. Congressional term after Chace was elected to the Senate, a period of only about 3 weeks. Upon completion of the term he was elected to the Rhode Island Senate; in 1889 he was again elected to serve the remainder of Jonathan Chace’s term, this time in the United States Senate, a position he held until 1895, two years before his death.
Nathan Fellows Dixon (1847-1897) and his younger sister Phebe "Annie" Dixon married a sister and brother, Grace and James McClure of Albany, New York. Annie and James McClure’s daughter, Harriet McClure Stuart, preserved the Nathan Fellows Dixon Family Papers and passed them on to her daughter, Margaret Hart, of Lake Forest, Illinois.
From the guide to the Nathan Fellows Dixon Family papers, Dixon (Nathan Fellows) Family papers, (bulk 1825-1900), 1721-1938, (John Hay Library Special Collections)