Benjamin F. Johnson

Here’s some biographical info on Benjamin Johnson —
Ella Johnson Blagg’s grandfather — I can’t remember where I found it on the web, but I’ll put a link to the site when I locate it again!! It’s quite detailed and offers info on several ancestors. Here’s the original!


By Charles E. Johnson

The earliest known record of our Johnson line is the marriage on September 24,
1794 in Montgomery County, in southwest Virginia, of Benjamin Johnston, born
June 12, 1773, Montgomery County, and Theodocia Willson, born November 15,
1773. Benjamin’s parents are not known. Theodocia was the daughter of a Capt.
Samuel Willson. Benjamin and Theodocia lived approximately four miles from
Christiansburg, and on July 1, 1795 they had a son, Roswell. On January 31,
1797 they had a second son, Burk. In November, 1797, Benjamin and Theodocia
were anxious to migrate south down the Holston river basin to the new state of
Tennessee. They had sold their property in Montgomery County but the papers
concerning the sale that had been sent to the state capitol in Richmond had
not yet been returned. They undoubtedly did not want to travel in winter so
Benjamin executed a power of attorney – as Benjamin Johnson – to permit his
attorney to represent him, and the young family apparently set out.

Just when they arrived in Tennessee or where they settled initially is not
known, but a third son, James, was born in Tennessee January 4, 1799. A fourth
son, Caswell, was born October 14, 1801. Then, on October 14, 1803, in Sevier
County, in east Tennessee, twins were born, Benjamin Franklin, our ancestor,
and Lucinda. Less than three months later, on January 4, 1804, tragedy struck
the family, as Benjamin, the father, died at age 30. Theodocia was left a
widow in this harsh wilderness area, at age 30, with six youngsters, the
oldest not yet 9. Fortunately she was soon remarried, to one Adonijah Thomas,
and the family resettled in Campbell County, Tennessee, where Benjamin’s
estate was closed in February, 1809. Theodocia became the mother of four more
children before 1815, three daughters and a son.

(Additonal information from Charles E. Johnson, Oct. 8, 1997: I have found the
location of the family in Sevier County at the time of Benjamin Franklin’s
birth in October 1803 and the death of the father, Benjamin, in January 1804.
It is a 155 acre plat located on the east side of the Little Pigeon River
about half way between Sevierville, and the confluence of the Little Pigeon
and the larger French Broad River. The village of Cattlettsburg is within the

In about 1822, Benjamin Franklin Johnson left the home to fend for himself. He
moved to nearby Anderson County, and was there engaged in farming activities.
On November 12, 1826, he married Martha Muse Oliver, a daughter of the long
time sheriff of Anderson County, Charles Yarbrough Oliver, and a granddaughter
of two Revolutionary War veterans, Douglas Oliver, a prominent businessman of
Anderson County, and Henry Nunalley, also of Anderson County. Benjamin and
Martha, like his parents, apparently also had a pioneer spirit, for some time
in 1828 they set out with their young daughter Caroline Frances for the newly
opened Arkansas Territory. Their journey took them nearly 600 miles, and they
became some of the earliest white settlers in Washington County, in northwest
Arkansas, where we find them in the first federal census of Arkansas, that of

For 33 years after settling in Washington County the family grew and
prospered. After their arrival the following additional children were born:

Eliza Catherine, born July 24, 1829
Nancy Yarbrough, born May 3, 1832
Wiley Burk Oliver, born October 17, 1834
James Caswell, born January 1, 1837
Charles Wesley, born January 1, 1839
Benjamin Franklin Jr., born September 25, 1841
Amanda Jane, born December 3, 1843
Martha Tennessee, born May 29, 1846
Mary Ann, born October 14, 1848
Sophronia Avarilla, born April 20, 1852

In the mid-1830’s Benjamin’s twin sister Lucinda and her family came to
Washington County from Tennessee. Brother Burk and his family settled in Yell
County in the 1830’s. By the late 1840’s Benjamin and Martha were
grandparents. In 1851 Benjamin’s older brother James arrived in Washington
County with his family from Campbell County, having remained there until after
the death of Theodocia probably around 1842. So the decade of the 1850’s must
have been idyllic for the Johnson’s in the beautiful Ozarks with the many
related families, children and grandchildren. Little did they realize what was

On August 27, 1856 Wiley Burk Oliver Johnson, our direct ancestor among the
children of Benjamin and Martha, was married to Mahala West, a daughter of
another pioneer of Washington County, Rev. Jonathan Renshaw West, who as a
young Methodist Episcopal minister had arrived in 1830 along with his wife
Nancy McIntire, his parents, brothers and sisters from Jackson County, in the
extreme northeast corner of Alabama. On July 1, 1857 Wiley and Mahala had a
daughter, Mahala Frances. On September 6, 1859 they had a son, Wiley Burk.
Unfortunately Mahala died that same day, undoubtedly as a result of
complications arising from childbirth. She is buried in a marked grave in a
small cemetery in the middle of a pasture on a farm known as “the old Thomas
Tennant place” just southwest of Summers, Arkansas. Other Wests are also
buried here, but none are our direct ancestors. In the 1860 census we find
Wiley in the household of Benjamin and Martha, while the two young children
are in the household of Mahala’s parents. On Christmas Day, 1860 Wiley married
the next older sister of Mahala, Martha West.

During this period the storm clouds of civil war were brewing. Arkansas was a
slave state, but its citizens were divided. Benjamin was staunchly opposed to
slavery and secession and spoke out against both on many occasions. Because of
this he made many political enemies. The matter of secession was voted upon in
early 1861, and the secessionists won. Arkansas joined the Confederacy. The
Johnson’s and Wests and others who had opposed secession, were considered to
be Unionist enemies in Confederate territory, which they were. Their homes in
Washington County were not more than 30 miles from Missouri, a Union state. In
addition, within 5 miles or so to the west was Indian Territory, and the
bushwhackers among the Indian tribes were ready to take advantage of a
breakdown in law and order to plunder, steal, and kill across the border in

The Johnson families of Benjamin and Martha and the Jonathan R. West families
and others were forced to leave for safety’s sake, leaving behind their homes,
furnishings, stocks, and grains. They went north almost 150 miles into Kansas,
and settled in Bourbon and Linn Counties near Mound City, Mapleton, Rockford,
Freedom, and Timberhill. Before they could get out of Arkansas three of the
four Johnson brothers were conscripted into the Confederate Army, however they
did not stay. The location of the family homestead in Washington County, Cane
Hill, became almost a no mans land throughout the War. Because of its location
so near the dividing line between North and South it was occupied at various
times by both sides. A fairly sizable battle took place there. It is fair to
surmise that the abandoned farms of the Johnsons and Wests suffered
considerable destruction during the War. One of the costliest battles, in
terms of human lives lost, of the entire War took place less than 40 miles
north of cane Hill almost on the Arkansas-Missouri state line. A total of over
6500 on both sides were killed and wounded there in the battle of Pea Ridge
during three days of fighting in March,1862.

During the War the Johnson brothers were engaged in freighting supplies for
the government from Fort Scott, which was a very large supply depot, to the
many federal forts and other installations in Indian Territory, Kansas, and
Missouri. While engaged in this business they very nearly lost their lives
when in September 1864, near the end of the war, a supply train of which they
were a part of over 200 wagons being escorted by 600 soldiers was ambushed and
overrun at Cabin Creek, about 60 miles north of Fort Gibson, Indian Territory,
their destination, by a large Confederate Cherokee Indian force of over 2000
led by Brig. Gens. Stand Watie and Douglas Cooper. The brothers escaped with
their lives, but lost a great deal in teams and wagons.

The years in Kansas were harsh. The wife of Jonathan R. West, Nancy McIntire,
died in January 1863 at age 56. Her marked grave is in Mapleton Cemetery,
Mapleton, Kansas. The first child of Wiley Johnson and Martha West, James
Blount Johnson, born October 2, 1861 in Arkansas apparently just before the
families fled, died in August 1863, not yet 2 years of age. At the end of the
War, in November 1865, Martha Muse Oliver Johnson and her youngest daughter
Sophie, then 13, returned to Washington County to reclaim the family property,
Benjamin being ill at the time and unable to accompany them. He recovered and
did join them on January 27, 1866, but on January 29 Martha Muse Oliver
Johnson died of a heart attack. She was 57. She is buried in a marked grave in
Bethlehem Cemetery on Fly Creek, about 4 miles southwest of Lincoln, Arkansas,
or west of Clyde.

Some of the Johnson families remained in Kansas. Wiley, his brother Charles,
and their sister Martha and their families settled in Jasper County, Missouri
probably in 1866. The second child of Wiley and Martha, John Henry Johnson,
born April 3, 1865, died there in 1866. His little grave is located in an
almost deserted cemetery named Gem Cemetery. The little cemetery is located
right off an Interstate ramp just across from where Dudman is located.
Beginning in early 1867, Wiley and Martha had nine more children, all in
Jasper County, as follows:

Addie May, born February 1, 1867
Charles Grant, born April 10, 1868
Emma Ruth, born July, 1870
Edward Franklin, born July 14, 1871
Claude Sherman, born January 29, 1873
Martha Belle, born February 16, 1875
Effie Gertrude, born February 21, 1877
Walter Caswell Fletcher, born February 21, 1879
Benjamin Otto, born October 11, 1880

Martha Belle died in 1885 at age 10. Emma Ruth died in 1888 at age 17. Effie
Gertrude died in 1902 at age 24. All the others lived full lives, ranging from
70 years for Charles to 87 years for Walter. Wiley Burk, the first born son of
Wiley Burk Oliver Johnson and Mahala West, was killed along with 50 to 60
others in a train wreck in August 1917 at Tipton Ford, Missouri, when he was
age 57.

Benjamin Franklin Johnson sold out in Washington County in 1867 and also moved
to Jasper County. There he remarried, on September 23, 1867 at age 65, a widow
with four children, Elizabeth Jane West Barker, who was an older sister of
Martha and Mahala West. The marriage ceremony was performed by Rev. Jonathan
R. West, father of Elizabeth, Mahala, and Martha West. Benjamin and Elizabeth
thereafter had two sons, Milton Schyler, born January 28, 1869, and Henry
Keck, born November 29, 1871. Benjamin died April 17, 1883, approaching 80
years of age. He attributed his robust health and longevity to “temperate
methods of living, having never used tobacco in any form, or stimulants of any

His family bible, printed in 1856, is still in existence today. It is in the
possession of Mrs. Ruby Johnson, widow of Elry Johnson, a son of Milton
Schyler Johnson. Mrs. Johnson lives in Carthage. Benjamin Franklin Johnson and
his wife Elizabeth, Wiley Burk Oliver Johnson and his wife Martha, Rev.
Jonathan R. West, plus most of the sons and daughters of Wiley and Martha are
all buried at Dudman Springs Cemetery, which is just off I-44 about five miles
southeast of Carthage and just west of Sarcoxie.


By Charles E. Johnson

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