Lee County Biography

WILLIAM Y. JOHNSON


William Y. Johnson was born in Blanford, Mass., September 21st, 1810. When he was eight years old his father moved with his family to Broome County, New York, where he lived until he migrated to the west. In September, 1834, he was married to Louisa Mason of the same county.

Deciding to make a new home for themselves in the west, they left Harpersville for Illinois the last week in August, 1837, intending to make the greater portion of the journey in their own wagon.

The previous summer Mrs. Johnson's father, Col. Leman Mason, had come west with his son Sterne and had bought a farm in Knox County, Illinois, on which there were two log cabins. The following spring he sent his son back for the family. There were two wagons in the company. In one were Mr. and Mrs. Johnson and their baby, who was but nine weeks old, and Mrs. Johnson's sister; in the other were six of the Mason family. They sold all their household property and brought with them only one bedstead and table aside from their bedding and personal effects. The wagons were the common spring seat lumber wagons with board tops supported by standards, with curtains on the sides and end.

When they reached Buffalo they took passage on a boat for Cleveland with all their belongings. On this boat they occupied a cabin in company with many other families, most of whom were bound for the west. It was a large cabin with bunks all along the sides. They, however, preferred their own beds, which they spread on their chests and hung sheets around them to shield them from the view of the other passengers. They also prepared their own meals, not only on the boat, but throughout the entire journey, stipulating for that privilege wherever they stopped for the night; at noon they usually partook of a lunch while the horses were resting and feeding. They met with a little adventure on the boat where a man was detected in an attempt to break into one of their trunks.

When they arrived at Cleveland they put their horses in a stable while they were getting out the wagons and loading on the goods. What was their consternation upon going for their team, when all was in readiness, to find that one of the horses had received a clean deep cut the en- tire width of its shoulders, a cut that could only have been made with a sharp knife. While speculating how it could have possibly occurred and what motive could have prompted such a cruel deed, and mourning that they would be delayed on their journey, a man came up and seeing the condition of the horse, recommended an ointment which would take all soreness from the wound, and even went to a store where he knew it was to be had and got some for them, afterward helping them to dress the leg. This timely assistance enabled them to continue their journey the same day, and that evening they reached Medina, O., where a sister of Mrs. Mason was living, and remained over the Sabbath with her, which allowed both themselves and their horses a most welcome rest. Little of moment occurred during the remainder of their trip, except once when the wagon upset in going over a low wet place where logs had been thrown across the road to prevent teams from becoming mired. At that time Mrs. Johnson's sister had her shoulder dislocated and suffered great pain until they could reach a village many miles farther on, where she could receive the attention of a physician and have it set. When they reached their destination the second week in October, after six long weeks on the way. they found that Col. Mason had sold his farm. Fearing that he would not be able to obtain a clear title to the land being located on the military tract and having been offered a good price for it, he thought best to dispose of it. Fortunately there was not far distant a cabin they were able to rent. It was small and had only an earthen floor, but by going quite a distance they got some lumber and in the course of a couple of weeks a floor was laid. In this cabin the entire family, Johnsons and Masons, lived through the ensuing winter.

Very sorry were they that they had parted with all their household furniture, for with the exception of the bed and table above mentioned they had none. "Mother wit," however, supplied them with the former, which were all arranged in the back part of the cabin, there being just room enough to allow two beds placed lengthwise and one crosswise, in between the others, with curtains of sheets to separate them. When nearing the terminus of their journey, in passing through one or two villages, they tried in vain to purchase some chairs, so they were forced for a time to use three-legged stools of their own construction. It was not very long before they were enabled to get a supply of the much-needed articles from a man who manufactured the splint-bottomed chairs. In the spring they moved to Monmouth, where they remained a year. The following autumn Mr. Johnson's parents, a brother and his wife, a sister (then a bride) and her husband. Eben H. Johnson, joined them. Leaving the women there all the men started off to look up some land in the Rock river country, of which they had heard much praise. Arriving in Palmyra they found a squatters claim belonging to the father of William Myres (more familiarly known as Prophet) which could be bought for a thousand dollars. As it was near the timber they considered it a desirable place to settle, so purchased it. afterward paying the government price of one dollar and a quarter per acre.

It is erroneously stated in the Lee County History of 1881 that Eben Johnson bought this claim, when in reality it was a joint investment of the party of live (two Masons and three Johnsons), each taking twenty acres.

The spring of 1839 the remainder of the family left Monmouth in their wagons for Palmyra. With the exception of the very perilous fording of Green river, in which they narrowly escaped being capsized, they encountered nothing worthy of comment upon their trip. There were two log cabins on The Myres place, in which they all lived together for a time, then William Johnson with his family took possession of what was known as the "jumped claim," living there a year and a half. Later he bought or traded for some land .near where the church now stands. It was on this place my husband's eyes were first opened to the light of day.

They had bought some cattle while at Monmouth, and Mrs. Johnson supplied several customers with butter, which at that time was very scarce and brought a high price, as there were but few cattle in the country. They had been obliged to leave their business at Monmouth in an unsettled condition, and when Mr. Johnson returned to collect some accounts due him, he had to take in part payment a yoke of oxen, a large wooden rocking-chair, and a standard gridiron. In those days they were often forced to take whatever they could get. in payment of a debt when the money was not forthcoming The rocking-chair, however, was a very welcome addition to their store. These articles of furniture were highly prized on account of their scarcity, and were considered so great a luxury that less fortunate neighbors, in times of illness, came to ask the loan of them. How strange that appears to us in these days of ease and plenty. Mr. Johnson taught school the winters of 1841 and 1844. As this has been alluded to in another paper 1 will give it only this brief mention.

The latter part of the year 1842 death reaped a rich harvest in the family, four of its members being called to their rest between August and December. The fall of 1846 Mr. Johnson bought the farm in China town- ship afterward owned by Mr. Morris. Here they lived seven years. Mrs. Johnson tells me they lived a somewhat monotonous existence, the days being passed in sewing, spinning, knitting and the performance of manifold household duties, the evenings mainly devoted to reading. Mr. Johnson was for several years an agent of the American Tract Society, and in 1853 moved with his family to Chicago to take the position of general agent for the northwest for that society. He was ordained a minister of the Episcopal church in 1858, and continued in this good work until the time of his death in 1873. His wife is still living and at the age of eighty-two is a remarkably active woman, both in body and mind. (Recollections of Grace Everett Johnson)

Recollections of the Pioneers of Lee County by Inez Kennedy 1893

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