Nickerson is sometimes confused with his father, a sea captain whose name was also Edward.
Age nine, family finances forced Edward the younger to go to work in a cotton factory. In 1858, he married Jennie Crossman, sister of Deacon Andrew J. Crossman of the Brown Street Baptist Church in Providence, Rhode Island. Jennie died in 1873.
Around 1874, Nickerson bought half interest in the Church Union. From 1875–76, he served as a police officer in Providence.
In 1884, he joined the Salvation Army (SA), following an SA meeting in Salem, Massachusetts. He rose to the rank of SA captain, serving on the staff of General Commissioner Thomas E. Moore.
With the SA, he traveled in over ten American states, visiting large towns from Maine to New Jersey.
By 1891 he had become an itinerant preacher and evangelist. He had a fine baritone voice, and often accompanied himself on piano, organ, guitar, or banjo. As of 1895, he was serving in Patchogue, New York. Of his stay there, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle said,
The nightly collections have been large, the church is well free from debt, the treasury is well stocked with money, but the evangelist does not receive anything. He travels around in all in summer clothing.