Steven Butler's Family History Website

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Biographies

Richard Johnson
(1760-1840)

By Steven R. Butler, Ph.D.


A preponderance of circumstantial evidences has led me to conclude that I am related to the Johnson family by virtue of the marriage of my supposed great-great-great-grandfather Kennard Butler to Nancy Ann Johnson, daughter of Richard Johnson, a Revolutionary War veteran whose biography is given below.

Johnson is an English name; I think therefore that it is more than likely that my Johnson ancestors originated from England.


Richard Johnson was born in 1760 in Southampton County, Virginia, which is one of the earliest areas of North America settled by the English in the early 1600s. It is located in the far southeastern section of the state.

Presently, the identity of Richard Johnson's parents is uncertain but according to Johnson himself, he had a brother named Jordan. Southampton County deed records suggest that he also had two brothers named John and Nelson.

Nothing is known about Richard Johnson's early years except that a little before Christmas 1775, about six or seven months after the American Revolutionary War began, the fifteen years old youth joined the Patriot cause as a private in the Virginia colonial militia, serving as a substitute for his brother Jordan Johnson, who had apparently been drafted. According to the federal Revolutionary War pension application Richard Johnson submitted in 1832, his first service was under the command of Capt. Joshua Nicholls and Lt. Howel Merrick and that the company to which he belonged "first marched to Portsmouth, Virginia through the Isle of Wight and Nansemond counties under the said Captain Nicholls and Lieutenant Merrick…and tarried at that place [Portsmouth]," which Johnson recollected was then under the command of General Peter Muhlenberg. After six or eight weeks, when his term of service expired (probably late February or early March 1776), "he was discharged by his officers and returned to his father's service in Southampton County, Virginia." During this first brief stint of service, Johnson participated in "no battles" nor were there any "particular occurrences."

Richard Johnson recollected that his second term of service came "some eight or ten months later" when again as a substitute for his brother he served in a company of militia led by a Captain Whitehead. According to his pension application, Whitehead's company marched to Suffolk, Virginia, through Isle of Wight County and part of Nansemond County. At Suffolk, the company served under a Colonel Parker and again, after six or eight weeks of inaction, he was discharged and returned home. (Curiously, Johnson's pension application states that this second term of service occurred in the winter of 1777-1778, but if it were only eight or ten months after his first service, it would have been the winter of 1776-1777.)

During his third campaign ("time not recollected"), Johnson served in his own right as a drafted militiaman under Capt. Shadrack Lewis, Lt. Thomas Vaughn, and another officer named Cordy[?] Rowe. He recalled that the company marched from Southampton County to a place called Minder's old field [?] in Isle of Wight County, which was an "intensive place of rendezvous" and "general place of parade," where the troops were under the command of a Colonel Wills or Mills and a Maj. Daniel Duvall. From there, he recollected, he was "stationed off from that place (when it was thought required)" until his term of service expired and he once again returned home to Southampton County. As before, he took part in no battles.

Johnson's fourth and last term of service was a little more interesting. This time, as a drafted militiaman in a company led by a Captain Boykin and a Lieutenant Boykin, he marched from Southampton County "to a place called Sholder's [sic] Hill in the county of Isle of Wight not far from Smithfield and the James River," where his company was placed under the command of Col. Benjamin Blount. Johnson recollected that during this time he was "moved from place to place for divers purposes of annoying and evading the British & Tories" and that he took part in the "taking of a small brig, or barge, or sail boat (the name of or commander's name not recollected) during the campaign of the high banks of [the] James River," which occurred after he had "been placed under Captain Elias Herron and Lieutenant Young of the militia" to guard the possessions of a Colonel Burrell "on said river" on account of "he [Burrell] having been greatly disturbed by the British and the Tories." When the guards learned that two slaves belonging to the Colonel had been captured by the crew of the brig while they (the slaves) were "engaged in making a fish weir," the soldiers "hastened to the place [where the slaves had been taken] and saw the boat going down the [James] river." After Lieutenant Young "hailed" the brig but it "continued to keep sail," he ordered "a fire," whereupon Captain Herron "formed and advanced" his company to the riverside, where they fired, killing one man as the boat's crew was just "then in the act of surrendering." Johnson recollected that the captain of the vessel "declared that he was a true Whig and only took the Negroes to see if they would go with the British & Tories, provided they were to come & that he intended returning them again."

Johnson later remembered that after this incident he remained "some time on the banks of [the] James River and likewise at Sholders [sic] Hill until his brother Jordan Johnson came and took his place" to compensate him for his earlier service on his brother's behalf, at which time he again returned home to Southampton County, apparently on his own and without ever receiving a formal discharge. In the meantime, his brother Jordan "remained in service until the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, which was not a great while after."

On August 21, 1788, five years after the 1783 Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolution, twenty-eight year old Richard Johnson was married to Sarah Speed, daughter of a Southampton County neighbor named Robert Speed. His wife's age at the time of their marriage is unknown.

Together, Richard and Sarah Speed Johnson had the following children (not necessarily in order): Julia C., born about 1794; Nancy Ann, born March 11, 1796; Miles; Starling; Richard H.; Sally; William W.; and Martha M.

In 1790, after his father-in-law, Robert Speed, died, Richard Johnson and his presumed brother John Johnson helped inventory Speed's estate.

In 1800, the same year that Richard and Sarah Johnson removed to Johnston County, North Carolina, they joined with Richard's brother Nelson Johnson and his wife Mildred (or "Milly" as it appears she was more commonly known), Sarah's mother Ann Speed, Sarah's brothers Edwin and Robert, and Sarah's sister (or sister-in-law) Elizabeth Speed to sell a 93-acre tract of land that Sarah's father Robert Speed had originally purchased from Josiah Vick in 1779. The buyer was a man named Albridgton Jones, who paid £400 for it. Owing to the fact that he was not listed in Speed's will as one of his heirs, it is unclear why Richard Johnson had anything to do with this transaction unless there was some provision in the law that considered him the owner or joint owner of any property his wife acquired by inheritance.

Richard Johnson was named as the head of a household in the 1810 federal census for Johnston County, North Carolina, although curiously the census data given does not match what we know about this family from other sources. For a start, there are not enough children listed. Neither is Johnson' wife enumerated. This census also shows that he owned a single slave. I can only conclude, therefore, that either the census taker made a mistake or this particular Richard Johnson is not "ours," although there is other evidence that the former soldier did reside in Johnston County around this time (most notably his Revolutionary War Pension application and the aforementioned Southampton County, Virginia will, in which he was a party to the sale of some of his deceased father-in-law's land).

The fact that Milly Johnson was enumerated in this same census suggests that she and her husband Nelson Johnson (who I believe was probably one of Richard Johnson's brothers), also moved to Johnston County sometime during the first decade of the nineteenth century but that he died prior to 1810. This conjecture is supported by the further fact that there is no will on file in Southampton County, Virginia for Nelson Johnson for the same period.

The reason for the Johnson family's move to Johnston County, North Carolina is unknown but it appears that Richard Johnson and his family stayed there for at least ten years before migrating fifty miles further south, sometime between 1810 and 1820, to Cumberland County, North Carolina.

Richard Johnson is listed as the head of a household in the 1820 federal census for Cumberland County, North Carolina. At this time the family consisted of two free white males age 16 to 18, two free white males age 16 to 26, one free white male over 45 years of age (obviously Richard himself, who by this time was sixty), one free white female age 10 to 16 (probably Martha), one free white female age 16 to 26 (probably Nancy Ann), one free white female age 26 to 45 (probably Julia), and one free white female over 45 years of age (obviously Richard's wife Sarah), for a total of nine people. One daughter, probably Sally, is inexplicably missing from this enumeration. Four individuals, almost certainly Richard himself and his three oldest sons, are shown to be engaged in agriculture, which confirms my supposition that like most Americans of the time, Johnson was a farmer. The census also reveals that he owned two slaves: one male over the age of 45 and one female age 26 to 45.

About 1823, when Richard Johnson was sixty-three years of age, he and his family moved again, this time from Cumberland County, North Carolina to Greene County in the then-recently-formed state of Alabama. They would remain there for the rest of their lives.

On May 31, 1828, in Greene County, Alabama, Johnson's daughter Martha married Thomas Dunn. They had at least one child, who they named Andrew Jackson Dunn, obviously in honor of the celebrated former general who was then making his second (and ultimately successful) run for the presidency. That same year, in the only deed that can be found on file for Richard Johnson in the Greene County courthouse, a curious transaction that might possibly have an interesting story behind it, he sold to his granddaughters Lovely Unity (misspelled Loudy Unity in the record) Butler and Jully M. Butler, children of his daughter Nancy Ann and son-in-law Kennard Butler, "two beds and furniture," for which they were charged the nominal sum of one dollar. At the time, the girls could not have been more than two or three years old.

Richard Johnson ought to be named as the head of a household in the 1830 federal census for Greene County, Alabama but for some unknown reason, he is not. Neither can any of his sons or sons-in-law be found listed, with the exception of Kennard Butler. A woman named Sarah Johnson was named but because she was in the 40 to 50 year age group, she does not appear to be Richard's wife, who I think was more likely to be older. I wonder if portions of this census are missing; it is either that or the census taker did not do a very good job.

On June 7, 1832, the United States Congress passed a bill authorizing federal pensions of full or partial pay (depending upon time served) for Revolutionary War veterans and on November 5 of that same year, Richard Johnson filed an application that included a sworn declaration of service, backed up by sworn statements from other Greene County residents who knew him to be an honest man. Apparently, these papers were sufficient. Despite the fact that he possessed no discharge certificate or any other official document from the time of the Revolution confirming his military service, Johnson's application was approved and on September 18, 1833 he was placed on the federal government's pension roll to receive a monthly stipend of $20 per annum (backdated to 1831), although according to an 1835 report by the Secretary of War, "In relation to the Pension Establishment of the United States," the elderly old soldier had not yet received a penny. Other documents in his pension file indicate however, that he eventually did receive the arrears that were due to him and continued to draw a pension right up to the time of his death at age eighty, although it appears he did not always receive it in a timely manner.

Curiously, there appear to be no deeds on file in the Greene County courthouse for Richard Johnson that record the sale or purchase of land. However, records of the United States Bureau of Land Management show that in accordance with "An Act making further provision for the sale of the public lands," which was signed into law in 1820 by President James Monroe, between 1835 and 1837 Johnson purchased four adjoining tracts of government land, totaling nearly 240 acres, a little more than one-third of a section. The first of these purchases occurred on or about September 22, 1835, when General Land Office certificate no. 187 was issued to "Richardson Johnson of Greene County, Alabama", attesting to his purchase of a piece of property that contained "thirty-nine acres and ninety-hundredths of an acre," located about three-and-a-half miles north of present day Greensboro, Alabama (which has been the seat of Hale County since it was formed from the eastern half of Greene County 1867). A little less than two years later, on March 15, 1837, during the Martin Van Buren administration, Johnson was awarded certificate no. 2606, confirming his purchase of an adjacent piece of land (lying directly to the north), containing "seventy-nine acres and sixty-two hundredths of an acre." Two weeks later, on March 30, 1837, certificate number 7521 was issued, affirming Johnson's purchase of an additional "thirty-nine acres and ninety-four hundredths of an acre." On the same date, certificate no. 7622 attested to a further purchase of an additional and adjoining "seventy-nine acres and eighty-seven hundredths of an acre" Unfortunately, none of the four certificates states how much money Johnson paid for these two tracts.

On September 12, 1835 Johnson's son Richard Junior, who was apparently then living in Perry County, Alabama, received a certificate (no. 13545) for nearly forty acres of land adjoining his father's property. On November 2, 1837, Richard Junior, received a second certificate (no. 11648) attesting to his purchase of an additional nearly forty acres of in what was then Greene County.

On December 29, 1835, in the same year that he made his first government land purchases in Greene County, the then-seventy-five-year-old Richard Johnson wrote his will. It appears that he died about five years later at the age of about eighty. In this will, which was presented for probate on December 14, 1840, Johnson named his wife Sarah, to whom he bequeathed "the tract of land on which I live, the house (thereon), my stock of horses, cattle, hogs" as well as "all my real & personal property of any kind whatsoever," adding that none of his estate was to be sold except as needed to pay his debts and "except as may be necessary for her [Sarah's] decent support." Upon the death of his wife, the old soldier added, he wanted his entire remaining estate to be sold so that it could then be divided into "eight equal parts" for distribution to his son Miles Johnson, son Starling Johnson, daughter Julia C. Rackley, daughter Nancy [Ann] Butler (wife of Kennard Butler), son Richard H. Johnson (who was named executor of his father's will), William Gillespie (his share to be held in trust for Johnson's daughter Sally, "to be dealt to her as…shall seem meet & expedient"), daughter-in-law Milly Johnson (wife of presumably deceased son William Johnson), and daughter Martha M. Dunn, "to hold & to have to her, and to the heirs of her body that may be living at the time of her death." Interestingly, and some reason left unexplained, Johnson further directed that his wife Sarah should not "take to live with her any of my children or grandchildren except their daughter Martha and grandson Andrew Jackson Dunn. The probate record regarding Johnson's will also confirms that all his heirs were then living in Greene County, Alabama.

On December 13, 1842 Richard Johnson's widow Sarah wrote her own will, in which she bequeathed $100 to her grandson Andrew Jackson Dunn. She next directed that the remainder of her estate be sold and then after paying any debts, that equal shares of the residue be given to her daughters: [Nancy] Ann Butler, Martha M. Dunn, and Sally Johnson "for and during the term of her natural life, free from the debt or control of her husband James Johnson and after her death to be equally divided between her children." Last of all and for reasons that remain unknown to this day, Sarah Johnson directed, "that my said executor," who she named as Robert B. Waller, "hold the remaining fourth part in trust for the sold use of my daughter Julia Rackley for and during the term of her natural life, free from the debt or control of her husband Anthony Rackley, and after her death to be equally divided between her children." Interestingly, she made no provision for any of Nancy Ann Butler's children, perhaps because they were grown or nearly grown by this time whereas the others may have all had minor children.

On August 22, 1844, a little less than two years after writing this will, Sarah Johnson died. Her final resting place, as well as the location of her husband's grave, is unknown. It seems likely however, that they are both buried in some small country cemetery in what is now Hale County, Alabama, owing to the fact that federal land records show that they lived in that part of Greene County that was divided and formed into Hale County in 1867.

That Andrew Jackson Dunn was a minor at the time of his grandmother's death is confirmed by a set of legal documents on file in the Greene County courthouse, which show that in 1848, sometime after Sarah's daughter Martha Dunn had also died (apparently not long after moving in 1843 with her husband and son to Lowndes County, Mississippi), a man named James R. Hilliard was made legal guardian of Andrew Jackson Dunn. These papers include a notation, dated September 16, 1848 and signed by the aforesaid Hilliard, confirming receipt of Andrew's $100 legacy from his grandmother Sarah. Why it took so long for it to be paid is a mystery. If this boy grew up to be the same Andrew J. Dunn who was afterward enumerated in the 1860 federal census for Tippah County, Mississippi, then he was about fifteen years old when his grandmother died and left him an inheritance. I suspect that he might also be the same Andrew J. Dunn who served in the Third Mississippi Battalion during the Civil War, was taken prisoner by federal troops while serving on detached duty in a Confederate hospital at Murfreesboro, and was then paroled after being held at Fort McHenry, Maryland. Unfortunately, what became of Dunn after the war is presently unknown. One of the more interesting documents in this same set is the affidavit of a woman named Rachel Days who confirmed that Nancy Ann Butler and Martha Dunn were sisters by stating that while on a visit to Mississippi, she had learned of Martha's death and then, after returning to Greene County, Alabama, informed "Mrs. Butler," whereupon she [Nancy Ann Butler] had remarked that the news "would kill her mother." In view of the fact that Sarah Johnson died not too long afterward, perhaps it did.


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