William Johnson - Slavery to Prominence in Natchez,
Adams Co, MS
Bibliography - Hogan, William Ransoma
and Davis, Edwin Adams, Editors; William Johnson's Natchez; Louisiana
State University Press, Baton Route and London, 1951, 1979, Paperback,
About William Johnson
in Adams Co.
WILLIAM JOHNSON -
William Johnson was born a slave in 1809, in Natchez, Adams Co.,
MS. His mother was Amy, the slave of white William Johnson, who, in 1814,
publicly posted his intent to free "his female slave Amy". The notice was
publicly posted for 30 days, and on March 20, 1814, Amy gained her freedom.
However, due to his young age, Amy's son, William, could not be released
at that time, and so remained a slave.
Upon release from slavery, Amy adopted her former master's last name,
and established a household in Natchez.
Four years later, in 1818, Amy's daughter, "a mulatto girl named
Delia/Adelia aged about thirteen years" was granted her freedom. But it
was not until February 20, 1820 that Amy's son, William, was liberated.
In 1820, Delia/Adelia Johnson married a twenty-year-old Philadelphia-born
free Negro named James Miller, a barber who maintained a business in Natchez.
Young William Johnson became an apprentice in the barber shop, and for
several years operated his own business in Port Gibson, MS, north of Natchez.
In 1830, Johnson purchased the Natchez business from his brother-in-law,
James Miller, who moved his family to New Orleans. The purchase price was
$300, and included such items as a dozen razors, a razor strap, and two
bottles of "bear's oil."
Johnson, at age 26, married a young 20-year-old free mulatto girl
named Ann Battles, in 1835. Up until that time, Johnson had maintained
careful and detailed financial records of his business and personal life.
Those records indicate that he was a man about town, frequently participating
in gambling events, and attending theatrical performances with free women
of color. His notes indicate that Ann was about 5 foot 7 inches in height.
Johnson was slightly shorter that his wife, and his weight averaged around
135 or 140 pounds.
Last structure built by Johnson is currently undergoing
renovation. Located at 210 State Street, Natchez, the building was constructed
between August, 1840, and November, 1841. It replaced a frame house that
had been destroyed by fire in September, 1839. This structure was the family
home for more than 100 years. Photograph by Dale Woosley, Natchez, MS -
William Johnson and his wife raised a large family of ten children.
The tenth child arrived only one month prior to Johnson's death.
In 1835, Johnson's carefully maintained records evolved into a personal
diary, in which he made note of everyday events that occurred in Natchez,
in addition to his personal and business expenditures and trips. In his
diary, Johnson recorded bits and pieces of news and events on a daily basis.
Through these notations, historians are able to see an extraodinary and
intimate picture of Natchez, Mississippi, and the daily life of it's citizenry
during that time. Hundreds of notations were made regarding Natchez citizens
William Johnson maintained his diary until his death in 1851. Shot
by an adversary, white Baylor Winn, Johnson died eight hours later. The
diary remained a secret until 1935. It was first published in 1951, upon
the 100th anniversary of Johnson's death.
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