William Johnson

Male, Deceased Person

1809 – 1851


Who was William Johnson?

William T. Johnson was a free African American barber, who lived in Natchez, Mississippi.

Johnson was born into slavery, but his slaveholder emancipated him in 1820. His mother Amy was freed in 1814 and his sister Adelia in 1818. He trained with his brother-in-law James Miller as a barber, and began working in Port Gibson, Mississippi. He returned to Natchez, becoming a successful entrepreneur with a barbershop, bath house, bookstore and land holdings. He began a diary in 1835, which he continued through the rest of his life. Also in 1835, he married Ann Battle, and the two had 10 children. Johnson loaned money to many people, including the governor of Mississippi who had signed his emancipation papers.

Johnson was killed in a land dispute in 1851. His murderer was held in prison for two years and brought to trial twice; but was freed because he claimed to be white and the only witness to the murder was a black man, who under Mississippi law at that time could not testify against a white man.

Johnson's diary was rediscovered in 1938, and published in 1951. It reveals much of the daily life of a Mississippi businessman, including the fact that he was himself later a slaveholder.

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Jun 17, 1851

on July 23, 2013


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