Jacob Johnson (father of Andrew Johnson)

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Jacob Johnson
Born 1778
Newcastle, England or
Raleigh, North Carolina
Died January 4, 1812 (aged 33–34)
Raleigh, North Carolina
Occupation hostler, soldier, sexton, porter
Spouse(s) Mary McDonough Johnson
Children Andrew Johnson

Jacob Johnson (1778 – January 4, 1812) was the father of Andrew Johnson, the 17th President of the United States.

Early life[edit]

Jacob Johnson was born about 1778. Some sources[who?] indicate he was born in Newcastle, England and sailed to America around 1795, but others say[who?] he was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, and it was his grandfather who came from England.[citation needed]

Historian Rev. Nash A. Odom writes, "In the year 1760, Peter Johnson, migrated from Kintyre Scotland to North Carolina with his large family and settled in Cumberland County. The preaching instinct broke out again and a number of the Johnsons became ministers. One was the father of Jacob Johnson, who moved to Raleigh, North Carolina and was the father of President Andrew Johnson."

Billy Kennedy writes that Jacob's father, an Ulster Presbyterian named Andrew Johnson, emigrated to North Carolina about 1750 from Mounthill, now in Northern Ireland.

Genealogist and local historian Hugh Buckner Johnston, Jr. (1913–1990) of Wilson, North Carolina published a series of articles in The North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal between 1978 and 1985 in which he identified the probable siblings of Jacob Johnson and proposed a suggested ancestry for President Johnson. In February, 1978, Johnston identified Aaron Johnson as a brother of Jacob Johnson, based upon claims made by Johnson’s detractor William Gannaway Brownlow about Aaron’s son Madison Johnson, who was executed for murder in 1841 in Wake County, North Carolina.[1] Hugh B. Johnston also published an article in May, 1979 about the 1845 criminal trial of Matthew Johnson of Wake County, North Carolina, who was identified by Brownlow as a cousin of Andrew Johnson. Matthew Johnson was a son of Jesse Johnson of Raleigh.[2] In “A Renewed Search for the Ancestry of President Andrew Johnson” published in May, 1982, Hugh B. Johnston identified several letters found in the papers of President Johnson written by individuals claiming kinship. Henderson W. Johnson of Jasper County, Iowa, son of Moses Johnson of Carter County, Tennessee, wrote Andrew Johnson a letter dated February 8, 1861 identifying himself as a cousin. Jesse Wheeler of Johnston County, North Carolina, while a prisoner of war at Point Lookout, Maryland, wrote two letters dated June 29, 1864 and December 23, 1864 seeking Johnson’s assistance. Wheeler identified his mother, Rulaney (Johnson) Wheeler, as Johnson's cousin. On August 2, 1865, Jane (Utley) Johnson of Raleigh, North Carolina, wrote President Johnson seeking his aid. She identified her late husband, Jesse Johnson of Raleigh, as the President’s uncle.[3] In a subsequent article published in May, 1985, Hugh Buckner Johnston further identified John Johnson as a sibling of Jacob Johnson, citing a May 4, 1875 letter written by John’s grandson Henry H. Depo of Fayetteville, NC describing his family’s relationship to the former president.[4] Johnston’s 1985 article also set forth a theoretical ancestry for Jacob Johnson, suggesting that he and his probable siblings Jesse, John, Moses, and Aaron Johnson were the sons of William Johnson of the Mark’s Creek area of eastern Wake County, North Carolina. Johnston further proposed that Jacob Johnson’s putative father William was a descendant of Sylvanus “Sill” Johnson (ca. 1696–1763) of Essex, Amelia, and Prince Edward Counties, Virginia, and Johnston County, North Carolina.[5] The theoretical ancestry put forth by Hugh B. Johnston was repeated in Hans L. Trefousse’s book, Andrew Johnson: A Biography (1989).[6]

DNA testing conducted by the Johnson/Johnston/Johnstone DNA Surname Project sponsored by FamilyTreeDNA has largely discredited the ancestry suggested by Hugh Buckner Johnston, as well as various theories published by other earlier biographers of President Johnson. Two direct male descendants of Moses Johnson (ca. 1788 – ca. 1873) of Carter County, Tennessee, have been DNA tested, as well as a direct male descendant of Sylvanus "Sill" Johnson (ca. 1696–1763) of Johnston County, North Carolina. The y-chromosome DNA test results confirm that the family of Jacob Johnson is not descended from Sylvanus "Sill" Johnson. In 2010, a direct male descendant of William Johnson (1804–1865) of Brazoria County, Texas, brother of President Andrew Johnson, was also DNA tested. The results of that y-chromosome DNA test reveal a close genetic match with the descendants of Moses Johnson of Carter County, Tennessee, substantiating the relationship of that family to President Johnson. Current DNA results performed for the Johnson/Johnston/Johnstone DNA Surname Project suggest Andrew Johnson is likely descended from or genetically related to William Johnson of Surry County, Virginia, who devised his will on November 4, 1709 (Probated July 4, 1710; Surry County, Virginia Deeds, Wills, Etc., Volume 6, 1709 – 1715, p. 28). President Andrew Johnson’s paternal Johnson ancestors belong to Haplogroup I2b.[7]

Marriage and family[edit]

Jacob Johnson married Mary "Polly" McDonough (July 17, 1783 – February 13, 1856) on September 9, 1801 in Wake County, North Carolina.[8][9] They had three children: William Patterson Johnson (1804–1865), Elizabeth Johnson (1806–??), and Andrew Johnson (December 29, 1808 – July 31, 1875). Andrew is thought to have been named after his maternal grandfather, Andrew McDonough.


Known as "mud-sills" (lower-class people), Jacob and Mary Johnson were both employed at Casso's Inn, where Mary worked as a weaver and clothes washer, and Jacob was a hostler. Jacob also was a militia Captain of Muster Division 20, a sexton for the Presbyterian Church, and a porter for the State Bank of North Carolina (chartered in 1811). Jacob Johnson is also said to have been the sole bell toller in Raleigh.


The home of Jacob and Andrew Johnson in Raleigh, North Carolina.

The Johnson family log home was on property owned by Casso's Inn, a popular antebellum inn northeast of the present-day North Carolina State Capitol building. Casso's Inn was owned by Peter Casso, a Revolutionary War soldier.

The Johnson home is now preserved at Mordecai Historic Park in Raleigh, North Carolina.


Jacob Johnson's grave at the Old City Cemetery in Raleigh, North Carolina

Jacob Johnson saved the lives of Colonel Thomas Henderson, the young editor of the Raleigh Star, and his friend Mr. Callum, when the enthusiastic group of fishermen capsized their fishing skiff on Walnut Creek near Hunter's Mill in December 1811. The third occupant of the skiff, Mr. William Peace, had no trouble getting to shore. Johnson jumped in the water and saved Henderson and Callum, to the detriment of his own health. He died several weeks later, ironically, while ringing the funeral bell at the State Capitol Building. He was buried at the Old City Cemetery in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Johnson's obituary from the Raleigh Star of January 10, 1812, read:

  • "Died, in this city, on Saturday last, Jacob Johnson, who had for years occupied a humble but useful station in Society. He was a city constable, sexton, and porter of the State Bank. In his last illness he was visited by the principal inhabitants of the city, by all whom he was esteemed for his honesty, industry, and humane and friendly disposition. Among all whom he was known and esteemed none lament him more (except, perhaps, his relatives) than the publisher of this paper; for he owes his life, on a particular occasion, to the boldness and humanity of Johnson."

Following his death, Mary (McDonough) Johnson married Turner Daughtrey (or Daugherty) on May 6, 1812 in Wake County, North Carolina. Jesse Johnson served as bondsman.[10] She is buried in the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery, Greenville, Greene County, Tennessee.

Gravesite Dedication by Andrew Johnson[edit]

Jacob's grave remained marked only by “J.X.J.” until 1867, when the current marker was erected. The writing on the marker has been obliterated from weather and vandalism, but an early account indicates that it was inscribed as follows:

  • "In memory of Jacob Johnson. An honest man, loved and respected by all who knew him."

Then-president Andrew Johnson was invited by Raleigh Mayor William Dallas Haywood to attend the public erection of Jacob's monument. He agreed to attend the dedication; this marked Johnson's only trip to the south during his term as President. He departed Washington, DC on June 1, 1867, stayed at Richmond, Virginia on the 2nd, and arrived in Raleigh on the 3rd. Johnson stayed at the Yarborough House Hotel on Fayetteville Street during his stay, and delivered a lengthy speech about various topics shortly after arriving.

The gravesite dedication took place on June 4. At the ceremony, the president called his father an "honest and faithful friend, a character I prize higher than all the wordly fortunes that could have been left me.” He spent the 5th and 6th in Chapel Hill, where he attended one of the commencement ceremonies for the University of North Carolina, and left for Washington on the 7th.




  • Bergeron, Paul H. et al. The Papers of Andrew Johnson, Volume 12, February - August 1867. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press. 1995.
  • Savage, John. The Life and Public Services of Andrew Johnson, Seventeenth President of the United States. New York: Derby & Miller, Publishers. 1866.
  • Stryker, Lloyd Paul. Andrew Johnson: A Study in Courage. New York: The MacMillan Company. 1936.
  • Thomas, Lately. The First President Johnson: The Three Lives of the Seventeenth President of the United States of America. New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc. 1968.
  • Winston, Robert W. Andrew Johnson: Plebeian and Patriot. New York: Henry Holt and Company. 1928.


  • Graf, LeRoy and Ralph W. Haskins, Editors. This Clangor of Belated Mourning. The South Atlantic Quarterly. Volume 62.3, 1963.
  1. ^ Hugh B. Johnston, “Was a first cousin of President Andrew Johnson hanged in Raleigh?,” The North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal, Volume 4, No. 1, February, 1978, pp. 30-34.
  2. ^ Hugh B. Johnston, “President Andrew Johnson’s kinsmen were tough!,” The North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal, Volume 5, No. 2, May, 1979, pp. 96-99.
  3. ^ Hugh B. Johnston, “A renewed search for the ancestry of President Andrew Johnson,” The North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal, Volume 8, No. 2, May, 1982, pp. 90-94.
  4. ^ Hugh B. Johnston, “President Andrew Johnson’s Uncle John Johnson,” The North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal, Volume 11, No. 2, May, 1985, pp. 111.
  5. ^ Hugh B. Johnston, “Who was President Andrew Johnson’s Grandfather,” The North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal, Volume 11, No. 2, May, 1985, pp. 111-112.
  6. ^ Hans L. Trefousse, Andrew Johnson: A Biography, New York: W. W. Norton Co., 1989, pp. 18-19.
  7. ^ http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~hjohnson/New%20Index/Pesidential%20DNA/presidential_dna.htm
  8. ^ Wake County, North Carolina Marriage Bonds, Jacob Johnston to Polly McDonaugh, September 9, 1801, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.
  9. ^ Andrew Johnson National Cemetery, Greenville, Greene County, Tennessee.
  10. ^ Wake County, North Carolina Marriage Bonds, Turner Daughtrey to Polly Johnson, May 6, 1812, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, North Carolina.