Johnson clan

I will give some information on my maternal grandfather’s grandfather.

The beginning of our look at the Johnson clan from Trace Fork – Putnam County, West Virginia starts with a question of who was the first settler and  where did he come from. The study of the clan goes back to the turn of the nineteenth century, around 1800 and a few years prior to 1800. The records available and family histories provided by stories indicate a man named Benjamin Johnson was the settler on Trace Fork that left many descendants named Johnson.

Benjamin married twice during his lifetime on Trace Fork. He first married Mary McCallister in the year 1814 and after Mary’s death in the 1840’s he married Sarah Duke in the year 1851. Benjamin had a grand son named Hugh Johnson(son of William Frances Johnson) that told many stories and facts about Benjamin. Hugh told that Benjamin was about 30 years older than his wife Sarah that would make his age or date of birth at 1791. Benjamin and Sarah are buried together in the old section of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church Cemetery located in the Curry District of Putnam County, West Virginia. Benjamin’s headstone indicates a birth date of 1784. The many dates found on census records add a lot controversy over the date of birth of Benjamin Johnson. If Benjamin was 21 years old when he married in the year 1814 that would make his year of birth 1793. It seems safe to say he was born between 1784 and 1793.

Hugh Johnson told that Benjamin owned huge amounts of land on Trace Fork from the mouth of Kellys Creek up past Turkey Creek toward Bridge Creek. Benjamin had land grants recorded on Turkey Creek and the land surrounding and including Mt. Moriah Baptist Church. Hugh told that Benjamin first settled and built a cabin in the first cove to the north above Turkey Creek on Trace Fork of Mud River. Benjamin apparently later built a home on the flat below Mt. Moriah Baptist Church as told by Hugh his grandson. Benjamin had the use of two slaves, that cleared much of the bottomland around the Mt. Moriah area. The slaves cleared many huge sycamore trees up and down Trace Fork in that area near Turkey Creek. Hugh told that the slaves are buried on a small flat below where Benjamin lived below Mt. Moriah, overlooking the river. The slave burial site, to many that remember, is between Saint Woods store and William Johnson’s (Uncle Bill) home.

Hugh told that Benjamin and a brother came from Ireland after stealing butter in order to get deported to America. The only reference found concerning Ireland was an entry on the Putnam County census that George Johnson (Benjamin’s youngest son) stated his father was born in Ireland.

In order to understand more about Benjamin Johnson’s Scotch-Irish background, a look back in history to Scotland and Ireland is necessary.

A trip back in time a couple hundred years will give a person an idea of the events affecting the Johnson clan. The Johnson clan was motivated by religious persecution from the English government when they decided to move from their Scottish homeland. In the 1500’s and 1600’s the Church of England was trying to force their beliefs on the Scottish Protestants and a major migration occurred to the west. The island of Ireland is west of the Scottish coast and the migration was a boat trip to northern Ireland. When the Scottish migrants arrived in many numbers to northern Ireland, the English government was quickly involved in the distribution of land. The English controlled the land by developing what they called plantations where the settlers were expected to farm. The Johnsons had avoided the turmoil in Scotland but still had to deal with the English in Ireland.

While the Johnson clan and many other clans were moving to northern Ireland they were forcing many Catholic families south to avoid any conflicts. The English government continued to help the immigrants to Ireland because it was an indirect way of dealing with the Irish Catholics. The English government disliked the Irish Catholics more than the Scottish Protestants and for that reason they did not interfere with the major migration of the Scots to northern Ireland. Thousands of Scottish people went to the Ulster section of northern Ireland to farm on the plantations or work in the linen factories. The farmers had to deal with quit rents paid to English landowners and poor conditions.

Famine conditions did exist prior to the major potato famine of the mid 1800’s which made living in many areas of northern Ireland difficult in the mid to late 1700’s. Many conditions were favorable for migration to America by the year 1800. The end of the American Revolution was a time for the English to help their society by sending convicts, prisoners and the poor families to America.

There are some references that indicated Benjamin Johnson may have been on Trace Fork as early as 1809 although that may have been Bear Creek Benjamin Johnson. The 1806 Kanawha County Tax List shows John Johnson at Hurricane and this may have been Benjamin’s brother. There is a John Johnson listed on the 1850 Mason County Census and his birthplace was listed as Ireland. There is no proof of the relationship between John and Benjamin but they both had sons named David.

When starting to research Benjamin Johnson in the time period of early 1800’s, there were at least three other by the same name. The Benjamin Johnson names are: 1. Bear Creek Benjamin from the area of Lincoln-Cabell county line near the Guyandotte River. 2. Red House Benjamin that married an Oldaker lady in the Mason county area. 3. Loop Creek Benjamin from the Fayetteville area. Loop Creek Benjamin was found on many of the early Kanawha census records and is sometimes confused with our Trace Fork Benjamin.

Now we can go to the records that may be found on Benjamin Johnson from land records, court records and census records.
Benjamin Johnson’s first marriage is recorded in the records of Kanawha County : Benjamin Johnson to Mary McCallister by Joshua Morris on October 22, 1814.

1816 was a very bad year, everywhere, but especially on the frontier.  A popular expression was: “1816 and froze to death!” It got cold at night all summer and crops would not grow, There was a killing frost at least once during every month. September was the start of winter with another killing frost. Snows started early in October, and stayed on the ground until April. The snows were two feet deep with a terrible ice crust on top. Many survived only because the deer were trapped by the snows and ice and could not escape the hunters. Following that winter, deer were so scarce that they could not be depended on as a source for meat, nor was the common deerskin britches and jacket any more available.  (The cause of the cold year is identified as an explosion that destroyed a volcano on the island of Tambora, Java.  The resulting dust cloud covered the earth and filtered the light from the sun, and thus the heat that the earth received.) Benjamin Johnson and his new wife must have suffered during these difficult times.

No definite census record have been found for the Benjamin Johnson family for the year 1820. There are entries from Kanawha and Cabell counties that show a Benjamin but the ages and size of families doesn’t prove him as the Benjamin on Trace Fork. At the time of the census, a Benjamin Johnson family lived in Cabell county on Bear Creek and a family in Kanawha county on Loop Creek. Both of these families were larger and the Benjamin was much older, possibly war veterans.
Cabell County Court

Page 150 (74) Court Monday 25 January 1820 Present: Elisha Comas, John Hannan, Benjamin Brown, Andrew Hatfield- Ordered Edward Wyatt, John Porter, Henry Roberts, Thomas McCallister, & Richard Billups or 3 view road from Michael Robert’s Mill on Trace Fork of Mud up Mud River to County line near Benjamin Johnson’s to intersect Kanawha.

The census records of 1830 are a better indication of the family of Benjamin because of  his age and also the older Benjamin recorded on the same census. The 1830 Cabell County Virginia Census shows:

Benjamin Johnson age 40 to 50 and his wife age 40 to 50 which mean birth dates of 1780 to 1790. These birth dates would indicate the ages when married of age 24 to 34.

Two sons age 10 to 15 which means birth dates of 1815 to 1820. One of these sons was David and the other son’s name is unknown.

Five daughters : Three age 5 to 10 which means 1820 to 1825. Elizabeth born circa 1822, Jane born circa 1823 and the third possibly name Mary.

Two age 0 to 5 which means birth dates of 1825 to 1830. Rhoda Angeline born circa 1826 and Rebecca born circa 1829.
Cabell County Court

Page 101 (9) March 24,  1832 Quit Claim.   James McCallister releases claim to Benjamin Johnson for 120 acres patented by John Stephenson on Trace Fork of Mud River to corner of survey for James Barrett to corner of John McCallister. Justices: Thomas Kilgore, Abia Rece
Cabell County Wills

Page 191  August 4,  1836  Sale of the estate of Martin Buzzard. Administrator was Benjamin Johnson. Martin was married to Hannah McCallister who was probably Benjamin’s sister-in-law.

Benjamin’s Land Records as recorded in the Virginia Archives for Cabell County:

July 1, 1836 – 160 acres on Trace Fork of Mud River  on Bounty Land Warrant 12221 & 12295

Grant # 85, 1835-36 page 536.

July 1, 1836 – 75 acres on Trace Fork of Mud River on Bounty Land Warrant  12221 & 12295

Grant # 86, 1836 page 96.

November 30, 1838 – 175 acres on Turkey Creek on Bounty Land Warrant  12729, 12937, 12722 & 12302  Grants 90 1839-40 page 550. Bounty Land Warrants were issued to revolutionary war veterans or their children. Benjamin must have received these warrants from his father-in-law or from an assignment from James McCallister(who also gave him a quit claim in 1832).

Benjamin’s son David Johnson was married to Cinthia Hazelett 1838 by John Canterbury. This marriage date should make his birth about 1817.

The 1840 Cabell County Virginia Census shows Benjamin Johnson age 40 to 49 and his wife age 40 to 49 which means birth dates of 1791 to 1800. These birth dates would indicate the ages when married of age 14 to 23. The ages would seem closer to age 50 because at that time men usually didn’t marry younger than age 21.

The older sons are missing from this family on this census. The unknown son most likely married and moved away or he died. There is a David Johnson listed on the 1840 Kanawha County Census. The Cabell-Kanawha County border line established in 1809 was very close to the Benjamin Johnson farm. David may have lived quite close to Ben and appeared in a later census.

This census only lists four daughters which would indicate that the unnamed daughter from the 1830 census must have died during the ten year period.

There is a new entry of a son age 5 to 9 which means birth dates 1831 to 1835. This son is Calvery or “Call”.

Cabell County Wills

Page 314  May 1845 Sale of the estate of Michael Arbaugh. Benjamin Johnson was one of the purchasers.
Putnam County Court

May Term 1848  Ordered that Benjamin Johnson be appointed surveyor of the road from the mouth of Lick Creek to the county line of Kanawha and that all the male tithables being within said precinct do assist said surveyor in keeping said road in repair.

January Term 1849  Ordered that Benjamin Johnson be appointed surveyor of road from the mouth of Lick Creek to the mouth of Bridge Creek and to the county line – E. Tackett, Joshua Manning, Green Roberts, James McCallister, Edward Grass, Samuel Nichols will assist.

The census of 1850 is for the county of Putnam(which was formed in 1848) shows Benjamin age 60 which means a birth date of 1790. Benjamin is listed only with his son Calvery who is shown as age 17 or birth date 1833. All of Benjamin’s daughters married during the 1840’s and his wife Mary must have died during this period.

Land Grants
Land Records from the Putnam County Courthouse

Book 2 Page 34 – John E. Smith to Benjamin Johnson June 3, 1848, 50 acres at mouth of Turkey Creek, up hill to John Carpenters line. Survey originally made for Malloy Clark. Cost $1.00

Book 2 Page 252 – Benjamin and Sarah Johnson sold to Alexander & James R. Burditt of  Monroe County 399 acres for $1.00 on February 24, 1855.

The 1854 Putnam County Tax list shows Benjamin with 4 horses, 44 cattle and $.60 tax.

William Grass  in 1856 had 511 acres on Waters of Lick Creek & Martins Hollow adjoining Benjamin Johnson’s line, head of Martins Hollow adjoining Joseph McCallisters line. R.N.B. Thompson and Andrew J. McCallister are also listed on the grant.

Putnam County Deed Book 2, pg. 232:”This deed made this 13th. day of July in the year 1855 between Benjamin Johnson of the first part and Leonard Buzzard, Gilbert Buzzard, Thornton Buzzard, and Almira Buzzard infant children of Martin and Rhoda Buzzard of the second part. WITNESSETH that for and in consideration of the love and affection which I have for my grandchildren the said infant children and for the further consideration of Five Dollars in hand paid the said party of the first part doth grant unto the said infant children all his right title and interest in and to one black mare worth $60 and one spotted cow and her calf worth $14.00 which said mare, cow and calf the said party of the first part agrees to warrant generally and it is stipulated that the said property, to wit the horse, cow and calf is to go immediately into the possession of the said Martin Buzzard’s hands to aid and assist in raising the said children and not to be disposed of by him the said Martin or liable in any way for his debts now standing against him or that he may hereafter contract.”    Signed by Benjamin Johnson

The census of 1860 for Putnam County has some new entries that should be explained.

Benjamin Johnson married Sarah A. “Sally” Duke on September 15, 1851 in Kanawha County, Virginia as recorded in the Kanawha County Marriage Book C on page 449. Sally was the daughter of James Duke and Elizabeth Lephart (Leopard) that settled in Putnam County around 1829 from Augusta County, Virginia. The Duke home was located at Panther Lick Road, Culloden, West Virginia.

The 1860 shows Benjamin age 60 which indicates a birth date of 1800 but the actual birth date was probably closer to 1790 or earlier. Sarah’s age is shown as 44 that would be a birth date of 1816.

Mahlon age 7 or birth date of 1853

Narcissa age 6 or birth date of 1854

James B. age 4 or birth date of 1856

William age 3 or birth date of 1857

George age 9/12 or birth date of 1860

The 1870 Putnam County Census shows Benjamin at age 87 which indicates a birth date of 1783. Benjamin is marked as insane on this census. Sarah’s age is 49 that would be a birth date of 1821.

Mahlon age 17 or birth date of 1853

Narcissa is recorded in the Putnam County Death as dying of diptheria on July 2, 1860.

James age 14 or birth date of 1856

William age 10 or birth date of 1860

George age 11 or birth date of 1859

Toliver age 8 or birth date of 1862.

The 1870 census is the last one that Benjamin will appear upon. During the year 1871 Benjamin died and was buried on the high ground of Mt. Moriah Cemetery near the land he farmed and worked for over 50 years. The tax records of 1870 show Benjamin as the owner of 35 acres and the tax records of 1871 show the heirs of Benjamin as the owners of the 35 acres.

The census records from 1820 to 1870 indicate that Benjamin was born from 1783 to 1800. The marriage date of 1814 makes the 1800 birth date unlikely.

Benjamin Johnson’s two families are listed below:
Children of Benjamin  Johnson and Mary McCallister are:

son (name unknown), born circa 1816

David B., born circa 1817; died before 1850; married Cynthia Hazelett 1838

Margaret Mary, born March 1818.

Elizabeth A., born 1822; married Joseph Paul 1847.

Jane, born May 28, 1823; died December 30, 1853; married Elijah Tackett October 26, 1843.

Rhoda Angeline, born 1826 ; married Martin Buzzard on April 18, 1848 in Cabell County, Virginia.

Rebecca, born 1829; married Richard Grass on December 24, 1846

Calvery “Call” , born circa 1832-1836; died 1895

Children of Benjamin Johnson and Sarah Duke are:

Mahlon Morris, born October 10, 1852; died March 23, 1899; married Eliza Jane Nicholas.

Narcissa F., born June 30, 1854 and died July 22, 1860 (Narcema T.?).

James Benjamin, born circa 1856; died circa 1903-1904;married Ella Arbaugh December 9, 1886.

William Frances, born January 22, 1857; died December 1, 1926; married Manerva Carpenter.

George Lemuel, born August 26, 1859; died ?

Joseph Toliver, born 1862; died May 5, 1884 (He was killed in a hunting accident)

A few stories told concerning Benjamin Johnson:

Ben and Sally Johnson were cutting brush and clearing land when a rider on horseback came riding toward them. When the rider arrived where they were working, they recognized him as Abraham Carpenter. Abraham was a member of the 8th Virginia Cavalry and was running from Union soldiers. Abraham was trying to see his wife (Sibby Carpenter) at the head of Lick Creek. Abraham had married Sibby in 1859 just before the start of the Civil War. Ben told Abraham to dismount and Ben and Sally covered Abraham with brush to hide him. Ben smacked the horse on the rump and it ran down over the hill out of sight. When the Union soldiers arrived and asked about a lone rider, Ben said that he had seen one. The Union soldiers rode on in search of the lone rebel rider. When the Union soldiers were out of sight, Ben and Sally uncovered Abraham. Abraham whistled for his horse and it promptly came. Abraham Carpenter proceeded to Lick Creek for his furlough at home.

When William Francis Johnson was a young boy, his job was to check on the cattle each day. He would walk a path to the field where the cattle were grazing. William was young but wanted carry his father Ben’s flintlock on his walk to the field. Ben finally let William carry the flintlock even though it probably was to heavy for him to handle. When William arrived at the field, he noticed a small bear cub playing near the corner of the field. William approached the cub quietly and caught it in his arms. William was carrying the cub and playing with it, when he noticed a huge mother bear ready to attack. William dropped the cub and tried to fire the flintlock. The flintlock would not fire, apparently the powder had dropped out of the flash pan. William panicked and when the bear got closer, he rammed the flintlock down the throat of the bear. William ran home told his father Ben what had happened. Ben organized a party to track and find the bear. The flintlock was found on the bank of Trace Fork with claw marks on the stock. The bear had clawed the stock to pull it from its throat. The bear wasn’t found but the flintlock had the stock replaced and it was used for many more years.

Benjamin Johnson had two slaves, a man and a woman. When the slaves were freed after the Civil War, they didn’t want to leave their master Ben. They had a small cabin below Mt. Moriah Baptist Church on the Lick Creek side on Trace Fork of Mud River. They cleared a lot of the bottoms on that area of Trace Fork. The slaves cleared a lot of the land across the river, where Cattle Jim (James Eli – son of Calvery Johnson) lived. Most of the bottoms were huge sycamores and nothing like the beautiful farmland seen in the twentieth century. The slaves are thought to be buried in unmarked graves on a little flat between Bill Johnson’s home and Saint Woods store.

The location of Benjamin Johnson’s home is thought to actually be in two places. Apparently he moved to a larger home later in his life. The location of the original log home of Benjamin is thought to be in the small hollow just above the Burdette home on Trace Fork. The site can be found easily in the spring when there are many daffodils in bloom where the home was located. It is thought that Ben later lived in a larger home on a flat below Mt. Moriah Baptist Church just above the pond. The grandson of Benjamin, Hugh said that was the location of his home and the foundation stones could be seen there. During the late 1850’s and 1860’s Benjamin paid taxes on 50 acres of land. It is generally thought that he owned much more land on Mt. Moriah hill, across Trace Fork and up to the Burdette farm.

The life and family research of Benjamin Johnson is a unfinished project and so many answers remain unfound. The story is a big one but I have only written a small part of that story.

Jeff Thornton


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