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William J. Johnson 1821-1909


Posted By: Karen Bergquist Uhr (email)
Date: 3/24/2003 at 23:21:08



Came to Iowa in 1836--Was a Long Time Merchant at Bonaparte and Well Known

William J. Johnson, pioneer, former clerk of the district court and long time business man of Bonaparte died at that place Sunday afternoon at 4:15 o'clock, after an illness of three months or more.

Mr. Johnson had been in feeble health for several years past. About three months ago he had something resembling an apoplectic attack from the effects of which he lingered until Tuesday of last week, when he had another and suffered a third at 5 o'clock Friday, from the last of which he never regained consciousness, passing away Sunday afternoon, at the home of his noa (sic), Mr. J.A. Johnson.

Mr. Johnson, or "Uncle Billy" Johnson as he was familiarly known, was one of the best known men in the country, not only being clerk of the courts in a early day and later candidate for office, but he was a miller at Bonaparte for a number of years and a merchant there of the well known firm of Christy & Johnson for 25 to 30 years, everybody in the eastern part of the county became acquainted with him, and had remembered him and held him in the highest esteem. He was of a very kindly and genial disposition and all who knew him were his friends.

Mr. Johnson was born in Ohio, Dec. 1, 1821, being 87 years four months and 24 days old. At an early age he was taken by his parents to Fountain County, Ind., and from there coming to Bonaparte, staying over the winter, however, at Monmouth, Ill. In the summer of 1836, Mr. Johnson and his father Wm Johnson came to Bonaparte and after remaining awhile returned to Monmouth and the next spring--the spring of 1837--moved the family to Bonaparte, where Mr. Johnson had resided continuously ever since.

March 5, 1846, Mr. Johnson was united in marriags
(sic)to Miss Mary Jane Christy, who had come with her parents from Ohio in 1842, and was the sister of Thomas Christy of Bonaparte, the founder of the Farmers' and Traders' State bank of that place. They were the parents of seven children, the eldest of whom, James died in 1865, and Ella died in 1894, Thomas H., died five years ago at Ft. Madison he being the county attorney of Lee county.

The remaining children are in the order of their ages, Mrs. Geo. F. Smith, Keosauqua; Mrs. Geo. T. Ward, Chicago; Mrs. Wm. Meek, Denver; J. A. Johnson, Bonaparte; and Geo. B. Johnson, Ft. Worth, Tex. There is also a surviving sister, Mrs. Sarah C. Christy of Bonaparte, and a brother, T. B. Johnson died in 1896.

Mr. Johnson was not only among the very earliest of our pioneers, but his span of life was far beyond the average, running back far enough to be of historical interest. He was born only a little more than six months after the death of the great Napolean at St. Helena; George the IV had been on the British throne a little more than a year; James Monroe was president and it was seven years before the first term of Gen. Jackson. He came to Iowa when Van Buren was president. This was then a part of Wisconsin territory and this county was then a part of Des Moines county, one of the only two counties of what in 1838 became Iowa territory.

When Mr. Johnson came to Bonaparte Wm. Meek Sr. had just arrived there and there was no dam and no factories, not even a saw mill there. Edwin Manning had just located at Keosauqua and Seth Richards located the same year at Bentonsport. Black Hawk and his band had an Indian village at Iowaville, where the old warrior died a year later, Oct. 3, 1838, and Keokuk and the main body of the Sac and Fox tribe were at Agency. Mr. Johnson was personally acquainted with Black Hawk, and heard his last speech which was on the occasion of a Fourth of July celebration at Ft. Madison in 1838, when in response to this toast--"Our illustrious Guest--May his declining years be as calm and serene as his previous life has been boisterous and warlike," the old chief said:

"It has pleased the Great Spirit that I am here today. I have eaten with my white friends. It is good. A few summers ago I was fighting you. I may have done wrong, But that is past. Let it be forgotten. Rock River was a beautiful country. I loved my villages, my corn fields and my people. I fought for them. They are now yours. I was once a great warrior. I am now old and poor. Keokuk has been the cause of my downfall. I have looked upon the Mississippi since I was a child. I love the great river. I have always dwelt upon its banks. I look upon it now and am sad. I shake hands with you. We are now friends. I may not see you again. Farewell."

Mr. Johnson's first vote would have been for James K. Polk for president, but Iowa being still a territory, his first vote for president was for Lewis Cass in 1848, who was defeated by Gen, Taylor. He voted for Pierce, Buchanan, Douglas and every democratic candidate for president since, he always taking an active interest in politics.

In 1856 Mr. Johnson was elected clerk of the district court, he running ahead of his ticket, the other county officers being republicans. Henry Clay Clinton of Birmingham was his deputy. Mr. Johnson was the democratic candidate for county treasurer in 1879, but he was defeated. Last year he was president of the old settlers association, but was too feeble to preside at the "home coming".

Mr. Johnson was on of the kindliest and most indulgent of parents and the kindest of men. His funeral will be held at 2 o'clock this afternoon.

Source: newspaper unknown Meek Scrapbook


Van Buren Obituaries maintained by Rich Lowe.
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