A few months ago, I wrote about my quest to discover the parentage of my great-great-grandfather, Ezekiel Johnson, whom I knew to have been born in Northwest Missouri around 1850. When I started, I knew two things about him: first, that he had married a woman named Sarah Gilbert in Clay County, Missouri, in 1867; and second, my mother who as a young child had seen a photo of him holding her, described him as “a tall thin white man.” There was talk around the family that he was a descendant of an Englishman, or even that he was himself an Englishman.
I found his death certificate in the Missouri Secretary of State’s archives. His father was named as Dan Carpenter and his mother was Harriet Mitchell. Dan Carpenter was said to have been born in Ohio and Harriet Mitchell was stated to be have been a native of Kentucky. That information led me to the strong circumstantial conclusion that Ezekiel Johnson was the offspring of the well-known merchant Dan Carpenter (1825–1920), son of a prominent family which included Declaration of Independence signer Abraham Clark. Dan Carpenter was married to Martha Pauline Gash for sixty-seven years. There is no evidence that Dan and Pauline had any children between them. The question of Ezekiel’s maternal lineage remained open.
I formed the hypothesis that Harriet Mtichell was the slave of a neighbor, and that Dan Carpenter had produced Ezekiel with her. So how to test that theory? I first searched the census’ slave schedules for 1850 in Clay County, and there was a man named Emmons Johnson. In 1850, Johnson owned several slaves, among them a black female aged 24 and a black male, poisitng hsi age as 3. But beyond that information, I had nothing on Emmons Johnson or Harriet Mitchell. I decided to follow them to Kentucky. I found Emmons Johnson in Kentucky on the 1840 census of Mason County. At the time living in his household were two and white males both under the age of five; three white females, one of them16 to 20 years old; another 20 to 30 years old; and another, 60 to 70 years old. The household also included a free black male, 36 to 55 years old, and six slaves, four males ranging from under five years old to between 36 and 55 years old, and two females, 10 to 24 years old.
But except for the 1840 census in Kentucky and 1850 slave schedule in Missouri there seems to be no other record of Emmons Johnson and that’s where things stand for a while. Recently however I found marriage records for Mason County Kentucky which indicate that in 1833 Emmons Johnson married one Helen Morris. So I went back to the Missouri Census records to try and find Helen Morris Johnson. And she appears in the 1870 census of Clay County married to Nat E. Johnson. The 1870 census shows in Johnson’s with two sons and win, 35, and Thomas, 28. Both sons are listed as having been born in Kentucky. So the evidence suggests that this is the same person as Emmons Johnson who came from Kentucky and gives credence to the theory that two of his slaves, the 24 year old female and the three-year-old male are Harriet Mitchell and her son Ezekiel Johnson. There’s a lot more documentation that could be had on this issue . . . let’s see what else we can turn up!
November 5, 2006 Sunday at 4:50 am