Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Am I related to Andrew Johnson?


Every few months I get an email from someone who is wondering if they might be related some way to President Andrew Johnson.  They’ve heard from some relative that they are related to him and in some cases they think that it must be true because their family came from Tennessee…and so did Andrew Johnson….except he was born in North Carolina!  So here is a little history about Andrew Johnson.

Andrew Johnson was born on 29 Dec 1808 in Raleigh, Wake Co., NC to Jacob Johnson and Mary “Polly” McDonogh.  His father died tragically on 4 Jan 1812 after saving three men from drowning leaving his mother in dire straits financially with two sons to care for.  She got both of her son’s positions as tailor apprentices and then helped them leave their apprenticeship and go to Greenville, TN when they were in their late teens. This was in the late 1820’s.  Andrew married at the age of 18 to 16 year old Eliza McCardle. She essentially helped teach her husband to read, write and to math…and was an extremely important part of Andrew Johnson’s successes in life.  My 3rd great grandfather was a younger brother of Jacob Johnson’s and he and his family lived in Granville, NC.  It is interesting to note that Andrew as a youth was a member of what might now be called a gang of boys that ran around town.  Many of these boys were cousins of Andrew’s and his brothers and in an older group than my 2nd great grandfather.  One of these boys was hung for murder in the early 1840’s and this is about the same time that my family left North Carolina for Tennessee.  I don’t know if there is a connection…but it certainly looks suspicious to me. 

So by 1844, is a successful businessman and serving as the U. S. Representative from Tennessee’s 1st congressional district and served 5 terms in the U. S. House of Representatives.  He served two terms as Governor of Tennessee and then was elected as United States Senator.  He fought those who wanted Tennessee to secede from the Union and while unsuccessful he was appointed as the Military Governor of Tennessee and later became Lincoln’s Vice President.  After Lincoln’s death, Johnson became President.  President Andrew Johnson was not well liked – mostly because he wasn’t Lincoln.  Although, I’m sure his diplomatic skills were sadly lacking.  As he began to put in place the Reconstruction policies that Lincoln wanted – the Radical Republicans put in laws called the Reconstruction Acts designed to punish the south and established a law that took the power of the President to appoint or fire members of his own cabinet. (The Tenure of Office Act) He was impeached because of his refusal to honor this law and after much political finagling; the impeachment was unsuccessful at removing Johnson from office.  After his term was over, Johnson returned to Tennessee and traveled throughout the state giving speeches.  He attempted twice to be reelected first to the House and later the Senate and finally successfully to the Senate in 1874.  He died of a stroke suffered at his daughter’s home at Stoney Creek, near Elizabethton, Carter Co., TN.   Johnson’s body was wrapped in a flag and a copy of the U.S. Constitution was put under his head and he was buried in Greeneville, TN in what is now known as the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery.
Home where Andrew Johnson died in Carter Co., TN
Andrew Johnson's grave.

Andrew Johnson grave - on Memorial Hill.

Early home of Andrew Johnson at the Andrew Johnson Historical Site in Greeneville, TN

For years, my father told us that he had been told of a family relationship to Pres. Andrew Johnson and Mom and I never really believed him.  Mostly because we had been down this road before and had never found any proof…until around 1999 when we received a copy of an article written by Hugh Buckner Johnston that quoted a letter written by Henderson Johnson addressed to Cousin Andy.  In this letter, mention is made of Henderson’s father and brothers and special note about Aunt Mary (Andrew Johnson’s mother) this letter was found in Andrew Johnson’s papers at his library.  So, finally my father was proven correct and the doubt that Mom and I had shared was erased.  However, most people don’t have a document to provide strong evidence as to a connection and so they base what they think they know on family stories.  Out of the dozens of people who have written me about a connection, only one or two have a possible connection from what I’ve been able to discover.  The Johnson name is extremely hard to research and theories don’t measure up very often.  However, I welcome those who ask and when I have the time, I do some research to see if something may match.  Mostly because in the end – it is nice to help someone else and you never know when someone may have something really interesting to share that helps me as well.