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Johnson (William T. and Family) Papers

(Mss 529, 561, 597, 770, 926, 1093)



Biographical/Historical Note
Scope and Content Note
Series Descriptions
Index Terms
Container List


Size: 6 linear feet (including 54 volumes).

Geographic locations: Mississippi, Louisiana.

Inclusive Dates: 1793-1937.

Bulk Dates: 1830-1870.

Languages: English, French, Spanish.

Summary: Personal and business correspondence, legal and financial documents, diaries, daybooks, and other manuscript volumes pertaining to William T. Johnson (1809?-1851), a free black barber in Natchez, Mississippi, and to his wife, mother-in-law, and descendants. The diaries (1835-1851) kept by Johnson give details of contemporary life in Natchez. A collection of sheet music (1839-1909) belonging to the family is included.

Citation: William T. Johnson and Family Memorial Papers, Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, LSU Libraries, Baton Rouge.

Biographical and Historical Note

William T. Johnson (1809?-1851) and his sister, Adelia, were the children of Amy Johnson, a slave freed in 1814 by a white planter of Adams County, Mississippi William Johnson. William T. and Adelia were freed in 1820 and 1818, respectively. In 1820, Adelia married James Miller, a free black from Philadelphia. Miller was a barber and a respected businessman in Natchez, Mississippi, and he trained his brother-in-law, William T. Johnson to be a barber. In 1830, William T. Johnson moved from Port Gibson to Natchez to pursue the trade, having purchased Miller's unexpired lease. Five years later William married a former slave, Ann Battles (1815?-1866). In 1822, she and her mother, Harriet Battles, had been freed by Gabriel Tichenor of Natchez. William T. and Ann Johnson had ten children: William (b. 1836), Richard (b. 1837), Byron (1839-1872), Anna (1841-1922), Katharine (1842-1901), Phillip (1844), Eugenia (b. 1845), Alice (b. ca. 1846), Josephine (b. 1849), Clarence (b. 1851). Between 1835 and 1850, Johnson acquired three barber shops, a bath house in Natchez, and a plantation; he also maintained business connections in New Orleans.

In the late 1840's, Johnson became involved in a dispute with Baylor Winn and Benjamin Wade, regarding a property line on his plantation. In May, 1851, after the circuit court ordered a survey, the dispute was settled out of court. However, on June 16, 1851, Johnson was fatally wounded in an ambush, and before his death on the morning of June 17, he named Winn as his assassin. At the time of his death he owned more than 2,000 acres of land in Adams County.

On Johnson's death, his son Byron became head of the family. William Johnson, Jr., suffered from mental illness, and by 1866 he was confined in a New Orleans asylum. In 1865, Byron enlisted in the Mississippi Federal Colored Militia. Other male members of the family were exempted from service due to health problems. Following the war, Byron leased St. Genevieve Plantation (Concordia Parish, La.) from Ayers P. Merrill, Jr.; subscribed in the survey of the proposed Natchez-Jackson Railroad in 1869; rented Carthage Plantation (Adams Co., Miss.) from John and Katherine Minor in the same year; and leased Black Lake Plantation (Concordia Parish, La.) from Lucien Malus for three years in 1870. Anna L. Johnson, Juanito Garrus, Carlito Garrus, and Byron Johnson contracted with freedmen to work Carthage Plantation. Black Lake Plantation was worked by freedmen in accordance with an agreement signed by the Garruses, Anna L. and Katharine G. Johnson. In 1871, Byron received a judgment for $2,000 in a suit against Stephen Duncan involving a mortgage of Magnolia Plantation, a case begun in 1862.

After the death of Byron Johnson in 1872, Anna L. Johnson was the most prominent figure in the family. Anna, Alice, Josephine, and Katharine taught in the Natchez primary schools. Richard Johnson worked his family's Peachland Plantation (Adams County) in the 1890s. Anna lived at Peachland during the period 1912 through 1920. Their nephew William R. Johnston (d. 1938) received his undergraduate degree from Wilberforce University (Ohio) in 1897 and earned a medical degree from Howard University . While studying at Howard, he boarded with Dr. & Mrs. Henry Lewis Bailey. Johnston practiced medicine in Natchez until his death in 1938.

William T. Johnson's diaries were edited for publication by William Ransom Hogan and Edwin Adams Davis, and appeared under the title William Johnson's Natchez: The Ante-Bellum Diary of a Free Negro (LSU Press, 1951). This work provides additional information about the family.

Scope and Content Note

The manuscript group consists of diaries, personal and business papers, account books, bound and sheet music, and newspapers and other printed items of a Natchez family of free blacks. The diaries of William Johnson cover the period 1835 to 1851, and the early volumes are illustrated with small drawings of incidents mentioned in the diary. The entries concern both blacks and whites, and describe a wide range of events, from theatrical performances, political campaigns, and horse races, to steamboat explosions, yellow fever epidemics, and the effects of the Panic of 1837. Entries reflect Johnson's role as a confidant for many prominent persons who frequented his barber shop.

Among the early papers are records of land sales and transfers, including one in Spanish signed by Manual Gayoso de Lemos (1793), manumission documents for Ann and Harriet Battles (Johnson's wife and mother-in-law), attestations of free status, records of land and slave purchases and sales, property tax receipts, sales receipts, promissory notes, a marriage license (1835), insurance policies issued by the Natchez Insurance Company (1837, 1839), a stock certificate for the Mississippi Rail Road Company (1839). The papers of the later antebellum period include tax receipts, indentures, detailed specifications for a house to be built for Mrs. Anna Johnson, and other business records. A deposition, surveyor's certificate, and other papers document the law suit of Winn and Wade versus Johnson. Official copies of baptismal records (1842, 1856) are present for eight of Johnson's children. Correspondents during the antebellum period include members of the Johnson family, James and Adelia Miller, their son William and their daughters Lavinia Miller McCrary and Octavia Miller, William and Emma Hoggatt, Victoir Brustie, Richard Johnson, William Moseby, and Lawrence Minor. From 1852 to 1855, almost all the correspondence is addressed to Mrs. Anna Johnson.

After 1855, Byron and his sister Anna received most of the correspondence, chiefly from friends and relatives in New Orleans. Correspondents include A. L. Bingaman, who wrote concerning William Jr.'s insanity; Alphonse Garrus, writing in French to Juanito and Carlito Garrus, care of Byron Johnson; Lavinia Miller, who sent her aunt calico cloth samples preserved with the letter; and Wetherell & McDowell, with regard to shipping supplies via the "Mollie Able." Letters of the early Reconstruction period contain material on the social relationships of blacks and whites in New Orleans society. Indentures document the lease and working of Black Lake Plantation.

After the death of Byron Johnson in 1872, Anna L. Johnson was the recipient of most of the family correspondence. Teacher's certificates, lesson plans, contracts, and other manuscripts relating to her and her sisters' teaching careers are present, in addition to legal and financial documents relating to property owned by Anna and her sisters, including Peachland Plantation.

There are also stock certificates for the Black Rock Gold Mining Company (1896) and the Iron Hope Mining and Milling Company (1896). Later papers include some correspondence of Dr. William R. Johnson: a letter from him while at Howard, and letters to him from Major John R. Lynch of Chicago, and Dr. Henry Lewis Bailey, for whom a printed eulogy is also preserved.

In addition to William T. Johnson's fourteen-volume diary, bound volumes include six bank books (1869-1871, 1906-1909), three cash books (1928-1858), seven daybooks (1822-1854), a diary kept by Katharine Johnson (1864-1874), six ledgers (1808-1859); sixteen notebooks (1844-1900); and Thomas P. Dolbear's Chirographic Atlas (New Orleans, 1850). Two volumes of bound newspapers have been transferred to the Louisiana Collection: the Orleans Gazette and Commercial Advertiser, 1816-1819; and the Mississippi Free Trader and Natchez Daily Gazette, 1838-1841. In addition, the group contains clippings and sections or complete issues:

Demorest's Monthly Magazine, month, 1869, incomplete issue.

Fireside Gem, Waterside Maine, Oct. 1898, Vol. 8, No. 6.

Harper's Weekly, Sept., 1860, Vol. IV, No. 192, incomplete issue.

Home & Farmer, Louisville, Ky., Aug. 15, 1895, incomplete issue.

The Home Treasury, Oct., 1897, Vol. IV, No. 12; June, 1898, Vol. V., No. 8.

Memphis News-Scimitar, July 23, 1905, comics.

The Preacher and Teacher, Kosciusko, Miss., Feb. 15, 1896, Vol. III, No. ? (torn).

St. Louis Globe-Democrat, July 23, 1905, Vol. 31, No. 65, comics printed in color.  

St. Louis Republic, July 30, 1899.

Weekly Brotherhood, Natchez, Miss., Oct. 5, 1895, Vol. V, No. 11.
A collection of music, consisting of short pieces for piano and for piano and voice, dates mostly from the period 1850 to 1900, and includes music published in Louisiana, New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, and elsewhere. There are also two incomplete copies of Bertini's Piano Method (n.d.), with text in English and French.

Three photographs are found in the group: one identified as Dr. Bailey, one unidentified portrait of a man in uniform, and a group portrait of three men and a woman, with "John L. Johnson, William R. Johnson" written on the back.

Series Descriptions

  1. Correspondence and manuscript materials, 1829-1937 (.3 linear ft.).

  2. Includes personal and business correspondence. Manuscript materials include recipes, essays, a speech, lesson plans, an undated property map, miscellaneous manuscript notes.

  3. Legal and financial documents, 1793-1935 (.3 linear ft.).

  4. Includes baptismal records, records of land sales and transfers, manumission documents, tax receipts, promissory notes, indentures, receipts for goods and services, dog and marriage licenses, and documentation pertaining to various law suits.

  5. Manuscript volumes, 1808-1909 (53 volumes).

  6. Includes six bank books (1869-1871, 1906-1909), three cash books (1928-1858), seven daybooks (1822-1854), fifteen diaries (1835-1874), six ledgers (1808-1859); sixteen notebooks (1844-1900).

  7. Printed materials, 1862-1934 (72 items and 1 volume).

  8. Printed ephemera includes business cards, advertising and religious materials. Two copies of a prospectus for the Iron Hope Mining and Milling Company (1896) are included, as well as the Prospectus of the Cotton Seed Oil Mill ... Mound Bayou, Miss. fostered by Mississippi Negro Business League (1907). The volume is Thomas P. Dolbear's Chirographic Atlas (New Orleans, 1850). Also included are a few newspaper issues, some incomplete, 1860-1905, and clippings.

  9. Printed music, 1839-1909 (2 linear feet).

  10. Sheet music includes primarily short pieces for piano forte or piano and voice. Some pieces are clipped from periodicals. There are three made-up volumes of sheet music and two copies, both incomplete, of Bertini's Piano Method (n.d.) in English and French.

  11. Photographs, n.d. (3 items).

  12. Three photographs: one identified as Dr. Bailey, one unidentified portrait of a man in uniform, and a group portrait of Johnson family members.

Index Terms
Johnson, William, 1809-1851
Johnson, William, 1809-1851--Diaries
Afro-Americans--Louisiana--New Orleans
Natchez (Miss.)--Social life and customs
New Orleans (La.)--Social life and customs
Race Relations
Johnson, Byron
Johnson, Anna
Miller, James
Miller, Adelia
Miller, William
Miller, Octavia
Hoggatt, William
Hoggatt, Emma
Brustie, Victoir
Johnson, Moseby
Minor, Lawrence
Peachland Plantation (Miss.)
Black Lake Plantation (Miss.)
Iron Hope Mining and Milling Company
Natchez Insurance Company
Black Rock Gold Mining and Milling Company
Container List
Location      Box   Folder      

U:161          1    1-6       Correspondence, 1829-1937, n.d. (Series I)

U:161          1    7         Envelopes (empty) with manuscript notes. (Series I)

U:161          1    8         Manuscript notes & recipes, 1921, 1924, n.d. (Series I)

U:161          1    9         Literary manuscripts, 1903, n.d. (Series I)

U:161          1    10        Manuscript map, n.d. (Series I)

U:161          1    11-12     School lesson plans, n.d. (Series I)

U:161          1    13        Baptismal records, 1842, 1856. (Series II)

U:161          1    14-16     Legal and financial papers, 1793-1839.  (Series II)

U:161          1    17-27     Legal & financial papers, 1840-1935, n.d.  (Series II)

OS:J      1     ----          Indenture conveying land, 1802.  (Series II)
OS:J      1    ----           Land sale & transfer documents, 1805-
                              1866; manumission document, 1824; teacher's
                              certificates, 1873-1875.  (Series II)

U:161          1    28        Vol. 1, Bank book, Jan. 1869 - Oct. 1871. (Series III)

U:161          1    28        Vol. 2, Bank book, May 1906. (Series III)

U:161          1    28        Vol. 3, Bank book, Nov. 1906. (Series III)

U:161          1    28        Vol. 4, Bank book, Dec. 1906 - July 1907. (Series III)

U:161          1    28        Vol. 5, Bank book, Dec. 1906 - July 1907. (Series III)

U:161          1    28        Vol. 6, Bank book, Dec. 1906 - Nov. 1909. (Series III)

     N.B.  For cash book entries, see also volumes 23 and 36.

O:24      --   Vol. 7         Cash book, Nov. 1828 - Sept. 1834. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 8         Cash book, Oct. 1830 - Oct. 1837. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 9         Cash book, Nov. 1844 - July 1858. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 10        Daybook, Feb. - June, 1822. (Series III)

U:161          1    29-31     Vol. 11, Daybook, May 1830 - April 1835. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 12        Daybook, October 1830 - October 1840. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 13        Daybook, October 1830 - October 1844. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 14        Daybook, 1849-1854. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 15        Daybook, Jan. 1851 - Sept. 1867. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 16        Daybook, Oct. 1900 - Dec. 1921. (Series III)

     N.B.  For additional diary entries, see also volumes 46-47.

U:161          1    32-35     Vol. 17, Diary, 1835-1837. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 18        Diary, 1837. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 19        Diary, 1837-1841. (Series III)

U:161          1    36-38     Vol. 20, Diary, 1841-1843. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 21        Diary, 1843-1844. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 22        Diary, 1844-1845. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 23        Diary, 1846 and cash book entries, 1843, 1846.
                              (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 24        Diary, 1847. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 25        Diary, 1842, 1847-1848. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 26        Diary, 1848. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 27        Diary, 1848-1850. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 28        Diary, March 1849 - July 1849. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 29        Diary, 1850-1851. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 30        Diary, 1851. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 31        Diary, 1864-1874. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 32        Ledger, 1808-1811; Aug. 1840 - Sept. 1840. (Series

O:24      --   Vol. 33        Ledger, 1833-1837. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 34        Ledger, Aug. 1835 - Nov. 1839. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 35        Ledger, Jan. 1837 - April 1839. (Series III)

U:161          1    39        Vol. 36, Ledger, Feb. 1837-Oct. 1841, and cash book
                              entries, Jan. 1866 - Nov. 1867. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 37        Ledger, March 1858 - May 1859. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 38        Notebook, July 1844 - May 1857. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 39        Notebook, Oct. 1846 - Aug. 1866. (Series III)

O:24      --   Vol. 40        Notebook, March 1848 - Dec. 1866. (Series III)

O:24 (box)     --   Vol. 41   Notebook, March 1850 - April 1861. (Series III)

O:24 (box)     --   Vol. 42   Notebook, March 1852 - Aug. 1859. (Series III)

O:24 (box)     --   Vol. 43   Notebook, Jan. 1854 - Oct. 1866. (Series III)

O:24 (box)     --   Vol. 44   Notebook, Jan. 1856 - Aug. 1863. (Series III)

O:24 (box)     --   Vol. 45   Notebook, Oct. 1867 - June 1868. (Series III)

O:24 (box)     --   Vol. 46   Notebook (Diary), Jan. 1868 - Dec. 1868. (Series III)

O:24 (box)     --   Vol. 47   Notebook (Diary), Jan. 1870 - Aug. 1871. (Series III)

O:24 (box)     --   Vol. 48   Notebook (Diary), Jan. 1872 - July 1877. (Series III)

O:24 (box)     --   Vol. 49   Notebook, Jan. 1872 - July 1876. (Series III)

O:24 (box)     --   Vol. 50   Notebook, Jan. 1872 - July 1876. (Series III)
O:24 (box)     --   Vol. 51   Notebook, July 1897 - June 1900. (Series III)

O:24 (box)     --   Vol. 52   Notebook Attendance Record, Jan. 1871 - June
                              1872. (Series III)

O:24           --   Vol. 53   Notebook of Verse, n.d. (Series III)

U:161          1    40        General printed items, 1862-1934, n.d. (Series IV)

U:161          1    41        Religious printed items, 1910-1920, n.d. (Series IV)

OS:J           2   ----       Newspaper and periodical
                              1860-1905, n.d. (Series IV)

O:24          --    Vol. 54  Thomas P. Dolbear's Chirographic Atlas
                              (New Orleans, 1850). (Series IV)

O:24      --   Vol. 55        William Ransom Hogan and Edwin Adams Davis,
                              editors. William Johnson's Natchez: The Ante-Bellum
                              Diary of a Free Negro (LSU Press, 1951).

65:J      1    --             Sheet music, 1800, 1839-1909. (Series V)

65:J      2    --             Sheet music, n.d.; bound vols. of sheet music, various
                              dates; Bertini's Piano Method (2 copies, incomplete).
                              (Series V)

U:161     1    42             Photographs, no date. (Series VI)

OS:J      2    ----           Photograph (group portrait), no date. (Series VI)