Memories of Edwin Johnson – grandson of John and Mary Johnson.
Written in 1967 as told by Edwin Johnson to his family. Transcribed by Bruce Connor Johnson Jr. Comments and footnotes by Bruce C. Johnson Jr. Port Bruce, Ontario, Canada November 2005
In this Centennial year of 1967, when our country is celebrating One Hundred years of Confederation, we are so often reminded to look back to those early days when our forefathers laid the foundation for our country. Many stories from family histories, if recorded now will be available in the years to come for those who are interested; if they are not set down now, they will soon be forgotten. so with this in mind, we are gathering together a history of the Johnson Family, beginning with John Johnson, its founder on this continent, and using as sources of information such documents as are in the possession of Edwin Johnson, a grandson of the late John Johnson; some of the Family History as remembered by Edwin Johnson; and, in other cases, stories that have been handed down over the years. For the accounts of the Davis and Baker families we are indebted to the Memoirs of Miss Lillie James.
John Johnson was born in 1807 in the County of Armagh, Ireland. His father was a member of the Gentry. He had been married twice and John was one of the 2nd family. On the father’s death, his oldest son Edward who had gone to Canada, inherited the Estate, but he did not wish to return. The estate then passed the son next tin line, who turned the 2nd wife and her children out to fend for themselves. John Johnson told of being able on visits to the coast, to see the white sheets on the Clothes lines in Scotland on a clear day, looking across the Northern Channel of the Irish Sea.
It was troubled times in Ireland with the Roman Catholic – Protestant relations being very bitter. John Johnson told of receiving rough treatment as a Protestant from the Catholics. He had a life-long distrust of the Catholics as a result: “but, ah they are Catholics” was often his comment when someone would say a good word for a Catholic. When he decided to emigrate to Canada the Catholic faction tried to prevent him from getting on board ship. One story has it that he was injured in a stone-throwing fight with them. He was sex weeks crossing the Atlantic on a sailing vessel. At this time he was nineteen years of age (So would have emigrated about 1826).
He landed at Montreal and made the trip to Elgin County in Ontario on foot. On one occasion he lost his way from the trail, and on hearing a cow-bell, he hunted up the cow and followed her as she went home. Its owner was an Indian whose name was John Johnson, (This could have been at the Grand River where the Mohawk descendants of Molly Johnson resided) who kept him overnight and set him on the right trail in the morning. He made his way to the farm of his oldest brother Edward, who gave him a home w—-. (This would have been at Lot 10, Concession 8 of Malahide Township in the what is now the Elgin County part of the London District of Upper Canada) He soon took up the life and work of a pioneer community.
Among the stories that have been handed down is one of him being attacked by a wolf pack on the way home after a day spent helping a neighbour. In the gathering dusk he found that he was being followed by what he took to be his neighbour’s dog, so he tapped it on the nose with his axe to scare it back home. It immediately set up a wolf-howl and was answered by others. They swarmed around John, and he backed up to a large tree and kept them away by swinging his axe. Other members of his family heard the wolves and come to his rescue with lanterns and weapons.
Another story concerns a Mormon preacher who was helping himself to free board at Edward Johnson’s. On this particular day the Mormon Preacher was sleeping in the sunlight in a chair which he had tilted back against the cellar door. John had come up to the house from the field to get a drink of water for the men, and sized up the situation. Knowing that the latch on the door was poor, he gave a yell which startled the Mormon out of his sleep. With the movement in the chair, the latch on let go and the Mormon went backwards into the cellar, knocking over a crock of buttermilk on the floor. (Another version of the story says he landed into a crock of cream). The Mormon Preacher decided that he was no longer wanted, and took his leave. This event was one that Jhn Johnson would often laugh about for years afterwards. (Edward did join the Mormon Church and migrated to Nauvoo, and Iowa and his children settled in Utah by 1850)
After some years John Johnson married Mary McLachlin, (They married at Malahide, 6 March 1838) who was his junior by twelve years. Her mother’s maiden name had been Stuart. He bought a farm in Malahide Township in Elgin County, and here most of his family were born. They and their marriage partners of later years were:
1. Margaret, who married Jabez Barber
2. Edward, who married Mary Gough
3. Daniel Stuart, who married Elizabeth Baker
4. Mary Susannah, who died at the age of 2 or 3 years
5. George Albert, who married Ellen Patterson
Following the death of their daughter the Johnson family took into their home a young girl whose mother had recently died. She was Phoebe Elizabeth Baker, whose father was a sailor, and later a sea captain. She was raised in the home to take the place of the daughter — returned her own name until —-
John Johnson decided to move —- following information is from — being kept by his grandson Edwin Johnson
Peter Donnelly to John Johnson — 1852, Registered May 26, 1852.
East half, lot 29, 4th concession, South , — Warwick Township, containing One Hundred acres.
During the years they lived on this farm the Johnson family also joined Zion Methodist Church, 2nd line, S. E. R. In the Historical Booklet prepared for the 100th Anniversary of this church in 1965, John Johnson is listed among those who had contributed to the Building Fund.
The Johnson home was one of those frequently visited by the Methodist lay preacher, Uncle Joe Little. Joseph Russel Little, who was beloved by many for his work among them as a lay preacher, and for his many charitable deeds. His name was kept in memory for more than one generation.
A brother of John Johnson, whose name was George, (1800 – 1874) lived not too distant to be a frequent visitor in the home. His farm had an orchard while John’s did not, at least until the trees, newly set out, were old enough to bear fruit. One member of the family recalled in later years of how the Uncle would come with his pockets full of apples. He would toss an apple across the floor for the children to scramble after. then, another apple would go in another direction with a wild scramble for it. The children always looked forward to his visits as he was of a jovial and somewhat mischievous nature. The youngest son in the home was named after this uncle.
Some of the stories of this period concerned school days. One such story recounted the time that the youngest son, George, played “hooky” from school. In the mornings he would leave home with the rest of the family, but stopped off at the local black-smith shop, spent the day there working, and came home with the rest at night. the Black-Smith found him to be handy around the shop and was quite willing to get the free labour. At the same time George found the shop more to his liking than the class room. After a few weeks of this the news of the goings on got back to his parents and George found himself again back in school.
Another story of the school days again concerned George. On this particular winter he had been wearing a thick mackinaw coat to school, and insisted on wearing it in the spring long after he needed it to keep warm. Finally his parents demanded of him the reason for this. It was the days of the stern school master with his black rod. Their high-lifed mischievous son had found that the thick coat provided extra padding on those days he was on the receiving end of the ‘birch.’
The Johnson boys learned to handle horses while they were quite young. Their father had been an expert with oxen, but did not like horses. It was too much of a change from the slow moving oxen to the light ‘blood’ horses of that time for the father. His eldest son Edward was put driving the team to the local store for the family shopping when he was so small that his mother had to go with him to hold him onto the seat. The horses were high-lifed and fiery and so Edward became an expert with the lines while he was yet a boy. Years later he was considered to be one of the best teamsters in Petrolia. Anyhow, the Johnson boys had many escapades with the horses until at least one, loved to relate to his children and grandchildren. Those involved usually were a cousin Glen McLachlan, Edward, Stuart and George Johnson, and Hiram Barber.
Evidently as the sons married they remained for a few years under the parental roof until such a time as they were able to establish themselves on farms of their own. Edward was the 1st son to be married and his oldest son was born in Warwick. His wife was Mary Gough. Their family was, John, Glen, Richard (Dick), Harry, Will.
Edward moved to Petrolia and worked as a teamster. for some time he worked for Englehart and while in his employ he landscaped the terraces on the side of the hill at the Englehart home in Petrolia. This is now the original part of the Charlotte Eleanor Englehart Hospital, Petrolia. Later he bought a farm on the Tenth Concession, Enniskillen Township at the Side road 21 and farmed there for a number of years. He retired into Petrolia for the closing years of his life.
We turn now to the story of Stewart Johnson, the 2nd son of the family.
He was born in Sept. 1849 and was named after his Grandmother McLachlin’s family., while his family were farming in Malahide Township near Springfield. As already noted the family moved to Warwick Township in 1852, and here Stewart received his schooling along with the other members of the family. He then stayed home to assist on the family farm. He shared in the early settlers’ love of a gun but used it mainly for target practice. One story that he was fond of telling recalled an episode in which the Johnson boys and some neighbour chums were trying to use the old flint-lock muzzle – loader. They had filled the old gun for all they thought it would stand, and were taking turns in shouldering the gun and aiming it out the window of the old log house (which had been replaced as a dwelling by a new frame house) at a target on a tree. They were having no success in getting the powder to ignite until it came to the turn of Hiram Barber, a neighbour land to try his luck. this time the gun fired with a recoil, or ‘kick’ that sent Hiram backwards and knocked him to the floor. He got up, grasped his shoulder with his other hand, and went out the door towards his home. As far as the other boys could hear him he was promising himself “I’ll never do it again, I’ll never do it again.”
Stewart Johnson, while yet quite young, became interested in Church life. He became a Class Leader at Zion Methodist Church, 2nd Line, S. e. R. Warwick Township. Possessed with a fine tenor voice he taught Singing Schools in his own community. Among the family heirlooms is the Tuning Fork he used at these Schools.
He took up land for a short time (probably one year) in the Brooke Swamp. There he cut wood and delivered it to the Michigan Central Railroad for firewood for the locomotive.
In 1873 he went for one year to teh Sault Ste. Marie area. The Deed of the land gives this information; registered on Sept. 29th, in Sault Ste. Marie, District of Algoma, Township of Korah, area 114 acres. He soon disposed of this property and returned to Warwick.
On May 26, 1874, he married Phoebe Elizabeth Baker who had been raised from early childhood in teh Johnson home. Tehe Wedding Certificate gives this information:
“Attendants: Hiram Barber and Elvie McLachlin
Minister: Rev. Jas. H. McCartney.
Place: Township of Warwick”
One memory of the wedding- Day was a late – season snow storm.
For some years Stewart and his wife continued to live with his parents on the farm in Warwick Township, and here his older children, Mary, John and Elvie were born. Mary attended school in Warwick. In 1883, when Elvie was 3 years old, he moved to the Tenth line of Moore Township in what was known as the Providence community. Here their daughter Edna was born. After one years on the 10th concession he moved to the “East half, lot 4, Concession 5, Moore Township.” The deed gives Jan. 25, 1884 as the date on which he purchased this farm. Here the rest of the family, Frances and Edwin were born. It was on this farm, one mile east of Brigden that he resided until the day of his death early in 1926. His younger brother, George, had purchased the farm immediately to the west and farmed there until he went to Manitoba in 1901. Most of that family were born on that farm.
The farm buildings on Stewart Johnson’s farm were on the north side of the M. C. R. Tracks, about 1/4 of a mile north of the 4th concession. During the early years the locomotives were wood burners. These trains were accompanied by a shower of sparks as they went by. During any dry period thse sparks set fire to the grass, and it was necessary for the family to keep a watchful eye for fires every time a train went by. It was the price of survival. Sometimes it was necessary for all hands to get out to fight the firs in order to save the buildings and the ripening crops. It was quire a common thing to have to replace short stretches of the rail fence after a particularly dry spell. After some time ( and considerable pressure from the farmers regulations were passed to force the railways to install better safety equipment to reduce the amount of flying sparks. This, with the introduction of coal as fuel, reduced the fire hazard.
Water was hard to come by on the farm in Moore. He had quite a number of holes drilled for water but never got a well. They had to rely on cisterns for water for the home; or in dry seasons, draw water from springs along the creek. The livestock were often watered at the creek when the cisterns were used up.
Besides his work on the farm, Stewart Johnson continued his work as a Methodist lay preacher. Circuits had been set up with one ordained Minister having several preaching appointments. This made it necessary for some of the pulpits to be taken by laymen. One daughter later recalled how her father was away preaching in various pulpits Sunday after Sunday. He traveled by horse-back much of the time; buggy or cutter the rest of the time. One young minister had him relieve him in his pulpit on various Sundays while he went back to visit a farmer charge. This story had a happy ending as the minister eventually brought his new bride for a visit in the Johnson home to introduce her to the family. also, he often preached at the Graham school house, traveling on horse-back. He was taking the services regularly just prior to the time the Presbyterian Church was able to provide an ordained minister to conduct the services. This community later built a church which is now Knox Presbyterian Church, Dawn Township.
One of his sons-in-law used to tell of how, when he was a young lad sitting in the back row of seats in the Shiloh School House after Sunday School, a stranger came in. To start a conversation with the boys the man asked, ” Is there going to be church here today?” The young lad answered, “Yes, when the preacher gets here.” only to find that the stranger, Stewart Johnson, was the preacher for the day.
A grandson, who was living with his grandparents while attending Continuation School in Brigden, tells of a time his grandfather came home from preaching at Plum Creek in what was one of his last services. He helped his Grandfather put the horse into the stable and together they went to the house. His grandfather put his hand into his pocket and pulled out 2 two dollar bills and said to his wife, “Mother, I have been a lay preacher in the Methodist Church for forty-five years and this is the first time I have ever been paid.”
Another memory concerns the family gathering in the parlour around the organ for an evening spent in singing. The eldest daughter, Mary had taken music lessons and played for the family. They spoke of their father with his tenor voice loving the tunes with the high notes – notes which they found hard to reach. A Bernard’s Home boy, George Clark, who worked for bothe George and Stewart Johnson was often one of the group. Later, after he left the community, he wrote in one of his letters that the thing he missed most was the evenings spent in singing.
Steward Johnson never lost his love of a good (and fast) driver. He was fond of horses and always insisted that the work horses as well as the driver be groomed just right. Over the years he had some serious runaways, but managed to escape injuries. He bought his last driver when he was seventy-five. He had to try out several before he found one that was fast enough to suit him. After his death it fell to his grandson, Stewart Miner, to go to the store in Brigden to bring his Aunt Mary home from work. The driver was good enough that without special urging he would out-foot any of the drivers of local boys who tried to pass.
Now, we must go back some years and take up the story of the older generation. Once again the life-story of John Johnson becomes intertwined with that of his son Stewart. His wife, Mary, suffered from poor health in her last years. An inflammation of the eyes caused her to go blind. These last years found the older couple selling their farm in Warwick and coming to live with their son Stewart. This was while their younger son George was living on the adjoining farm to the west, and one cannot pass by without recalling some of the incidents in which he figured. The oldest daughter in the home, Mary used to recall that on one day in the summer she was helping her grandmother across the kitchen, passing near the screen door. George had come over from his own farm, unknown to his mother. She hadn’t known he was there but she knew who to blame, for her first words were: ” George Albert, you behave yourself.” His sister-in-law, when well past eighty years, used to recall with considerable enjoyment a joke she had on her husband’s fun-loving brother. On another visit he was getting a drink in the kitchen and she got the benefit of the last in the dipper. George slipped out the door and leaned back against it to hold it shut, forgetting that it was the screen door. She quickly picked up the water pail and threw it on him through the screen door. He was nearly soaked.
The Mother’s health finally failed, and so we read today on a tomb-stone situated near the south fence in Zion United Church Cemetery, Moore – Enniskillen Town line this inscription:
In Memory of
Beloved wife of
July 18, 1891
John Johnson remained a strong, healthy man to well past the Psalmist span of four score years. He bought a farm in the Graham Community and farmed there a few years. Later he sold this and returned to live with his son Stewart for the final years of his life. A hard – working man himself, he had no use for anyone who was lazy. A Grand-daughter told of a relative who had visited him on one occasion. This man claimed a relationship to him stating that their parents had been cousins 1st or 2nd as the case may have been. He finished the argument by stating, ” That makes us cousins too.” “No it doesn’t” the old man replied. the trouble lay in the relative’s lack of ambition, not in the relationship.
His daughter-in-law, Mrs. Stewart Johnson, told of how, as he grew older the old man became somewhat careless in his clothing. This showed up in what he would wear to go to Brigden. One day his son Stewart found him preparing to go to Brigden and took him to task for not cleaning up to go to town. He finished it off by stating, ” Why, if I met you on the street looking like that, I would be ashamed to speak to you.” The son’s wife told of how their father never said a word but went upstairs. Some time later he came down, freshly shaven, and dressed in a suit.
“Where is Stewart?” he asked
“He has gone to Briden.” she answered
“Did he dress up?” was the next question.
“No, he took a load of grain up to the mill.”
“Well,” the old gentleman stated, “If I meet him on the street, I won’t speak to him.”
The children in the home looked forward to his return on these trips to Brigden as he often brought home candy or other treats.
In about the last year of his life a lump appeared on his neck which was diagnosed by his doctor as cancer. So again referring to the tombstone in Zion Cemetery we read the closing chapter of a long and useful life:
Feb. 6, 1903
95 years, 11 months
Again returning to the Stewart Johnson family, we find that the eldest daughter, Mary, remained at home to help her mother.
John, the next in age, after finishing Public School stayed home on the farm and later bought the farm across the side road in Lot 3, Concession 5. Feeling that he was called to the Ministry of the Methodist Church, he left home to attend Albert College, Belleville. He was ordained a minister of the Methodist Church, going into the United Church at the time of Church Union in 1925. He married Mabel Fair, daughter of hte Rev. Fair.
Elvie, the second daughter had her mind set on being a school teacher. She traveled daily by train to Petrolia High School, and was accompanied for at least one year by Edna, who also became a school teacher. Elvie attended the Model School in Sarnia in 1901, and the London Normal School in 1904-05. She taught in School No. 5 Dawn, at Beecher, at the Shiloh School 1907-09 and Brigden 1909-10. She married Charles Miner.
Edna also attended London Normal School and taught some years. She married Robert Cope.
Frances, on competing Public School, took a job in Brown’s store in Brigden. At age 20 she went to work in the office of Hayne’s Mill. Later she rejoined the staff of R. B. Brown’s store, and spent several years as a clerk in Brigden, and later in Stratford. She married Russel Pretty.
Edwin, the youngest of the family, stayed home on the farm and bought out his older brother when he left for college. He married Loretta Smith. Gifted with a natural talent for drawing and painting pictures, he made Art work a lifetime hobby. Since retiring from active farming, he has made his hobby become a full time occupation.
Quite often the memories of Stewart Johnson includes incidents involving the family pets – usually the dog. Towards his later years he had a dog which was part Retriever and part Collie, named Sport. True to his Retriever background this dog loved to pick up and carry articles. He was taught to carry the mail from Edwin Johnson’s home on the 4th Concession to the Stewart Johnson home – a distance of a quarter of a mile. Another trick taught him was for him to bring a stove – wood stick to the house, and then by swinging it with his head, knock on the door – post. For this he was often rewarded by something to eat. (a couple of Stewart Johnson’s grandsons who had not yet started to school and were often sent out to the wood – pile to get wood for the stove, were much impressed by this feat when on a visit to their Grandfathers. On their return home they were somewhat disappointed when they failed to teach their own dog the same trick – to save themselves the work).
Edwin Johnson tells of one time he and a neighbour, Fred Shaw, who had been hired to help in the harvest, were cutting grain and the binder broke down. They were trying to fix it in the field with what wrenches they had with them when one of them remarked, ” if we only gad a hammer.” They didn’t notie the dog disappear, and didn’t miss him until they saw him coming towards them. The neighbour was the first to see Sport and exclaimed. “Oh no! this is getting too good!” Sport was carrying a hammer. They completed their repairs, and finished out the rest of the afternoon cutting grain. On going to the barn with the team they could see Stewart Johnson in the barn floor carefully turning over the straw and chaff on the floor with a fork. “I bet he is looking for the hammer” was Fred’s remark. When they reached the barn Fred started teasng the older man about having nothing more to do than stir up the straw, etc. Edwin tells about his father getting his “Irish” up, but keeping himself under control. When the older man later turned his back on them while he was still turning the straw, Fred dropped the hammer (which he had kept hidden) onto a clear spae on the ground, remarking “Why, if you are looking for the hammer, here it is.” Stewart Johnson looked up in surprise and took in the whole situation – the two returning from the field, the dog, and the hammer lying on the ground on a place which he had carefully looked over.
“It was that dog,” he replied. “He was here when I laid he hammer down.”
The old gentleman was pretty well disgusted with the trouble Sport had caused him by carrying the hammer away, but he soon forgot it while doing the chores. by the time they went in for supper he was again friends with his dog.
Stewart Johnson, as a staunch Methodist, took part in the Local Option campaigns under the Ontario Temperance Act, and the Canada Temperance Act. During these campaigns feelings ran high between the “Wets and the Drys.” The Methodist Minister in Brigen was a fiery leader of the Temperance force. The Methodist Parsonage stable was burnt in what according to the Temperance forces, was an attempt to burn out the Methodist Minister in the middle of the night. Evidently the wind didn’t carry the flames as far as some hoped it would. The Johnson family received threats as to what would happen to the young people as they traveled to and from Bridgen on the railway track. During this time they had a watch dog, appropriately named “Watch,” who by his fierce manner commanded respect from strangers. He was often taken along by the members of the family for protection.
To mention old “Watch” brings to memory one of the stories in which he figured. One of Edwin Johnson’s pals was a lad in Brigden by the name of George Rogers. One year George came to the Johnson home on Victoria Day bringing with him the fire-crackers to celebrate. George and Edwin were having a great time setting off the fire-crackers until George threw one under Watch. The resulting explosion was something that Watch neither forgot nor forgave. Always after that event Watch had to be tied up whenever George down for a visit.
Stewart and “Libby” Johnson celebrated their Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary in 1924 with all members of their family present at the old home, including the grandchildren. One interesting fact was that only one grandchild, Howard Johnson, carried on the family name.
Early in January, 1926, Edward Johnson died in his home in Petrolia. Stewart, although not in the best of health, due to his heart, attended his brother’s funeral on Jan. 5, 1926. Early in the morning of Jan. 7, 1926, he suffered a fatal heart attack in his home. Once again the family gathered at the old home – this time for the funeral of their father on Jan. 1926. the Funeral was held in his late residence with the Rev. J. D. Bannatyne of Brigden United Church officiating. Interment was in Bear Creek Cemetery, Sixth Line.