Susannah Dickinson, woman at The Alamo
  • Print
  • Cite

Introduction

In February 1836, Susannah Dickinson’s husband, Captain Almaron Dickinson, was one of a group of soldiers defending the former Franciscan mission known as the Alamo, located near present-day San Antonio, Texas. Under siege from the Mexican Army under General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the Alamo’s defenders held out for 13 days before they were overwhelmed by the Mexican invaders. Santa Anna spared only a small number of the fort’s inhabitants from death; these included Susannah and her infant daughter, Angelina.

Susannah (or Susanna) Wilkerson was born in Tennessee around 1814; she married Almaron Dickinson at the age of 15 and the young couple soon settled in the DeWitt colony in Texas, then under Mexican control. (Mexico had won its own independence from Spain in 1821.) Almaron received a plot of land on the east bank of the San Marcos River. The couple’s daughter, Angelina Elizabeth, was born in December 1834.

The initial skirmishes in what would become the Texas Revolution began in the fall of 1835, when a small group of DeWitt colonists (including Almaron Dickinson) banded together to prevent the removal by Mexican forces of a cannon that had been given to the town of Gonzales for protection from attacks by Native Americans. Almaron joined a volunteer force that traveled to San Antonio de Bexar and secured the town for the Texans in early December, and Susannah soon joined him with Angelina.

Located near San Antonio, the fort known as the Alamo was built in the early 1700s as a Franciscan mission. Later abandoned, the mission was occupied by Spanish troops at various times after 1800; as it stood in a cottonwood grove, the fort was called “El Alamo” after the Spanish word for that tree. In December 1835, the Texan volunteers who captured San Antonio occupied the Alamo. Though Sam Houston, the newly appointed commander of the Texan forces, argued that San Antonio should be abandoned due to the lack of sufficient troops to defend it, the Alamo’s defenders dug in nonetheless, prepared to defend the fort to the last.

When Mexican troops arrived in San Antonio in February 1836, Almaron Dickinson moved his wife and daughter into the Alamo. On February 23, a Mexican force numbering somewhere between 1,800 and 6,000 men (according to various estimates) commanded by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna began a siege of the fort. In the days that followed, the Alamo’s defenders received reinforcements, but still numbered less than 200 men. Commanded by Colonels James Bowie and William B. Travis, the Texans–including the famous frontiersman and folk hero Davy Crockett–held out for 13 days, but on the morning of March 6 Mexican forces broke through a breach in the outer wall of the courtyard and overpowered them. Santa Anna ordered his men to take no prisoners, and all of the defenders, including Almaron Dickinson, were killed. The Mexican forces suffered heavy casualties as well, losing between 600 and 1,600 men.

The small handful of survivors consisted mostly of women and children, including Susannah and Angelina Dickinson. General Santa Anna sent Susannah and Angelina to the Texan camp in Gonzales, accompanied by Colonel Travis’ freed slave and another black servant and carrying a letter of warning intended for Sam Houston. For the Texans, the Battle of the Alamo became a symbol of their heroic resistance and their struggle for independence. On April 21, 1836, Houston and some 800 men defeated a numerically superior Mexican force under Santa Anna at San Jacinto, shouting “Remember the Alamo!” as they attacked. (A decade later, U.S. soldiers would use the same battle cry in the Mexican-American War of 1846-48.)

After Texas won its independence that fall, Susannah Dickinson applied to the new government for aid, including back pay and compensation for her husband’s land; she was refused and was left in poverty. Dickinson led a tumultuous life, marrying four more times, and was outspoken about her experiences at the Alamo; hers remains one of the most widely quoted eyewitness accounts of the historic battle. She died in 1883 in Austin, Texas.