Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Nicholas Johnson - Man of Mystery


One of the most mysterious of my father’s relatives is Nicholas Moses Johnson, the youngest son of Moses Johnson and Nancy Mayfield.  No one has any idea what happened to him after the Civil War and he is held in very low esteem by the family he left behind!

Nicholas was born in Guilford Co., NC around 1828 and was the youngest of the five children of Nancy Mayfield and Moses Johnson.  I’ve always sort of wondered about him.  His mother would have been close to 48 when he was born if we have the correct birth date for her.  Since, you can’t really trust the census records for dates…I suspect that she might have been closer to her husband’s age, which would have put her around 43 years old.  Moses and Nancy married on 6 May 1816 in Granville Co., NC and had Henderson William b. 2 May 1817, Washington Abraham b. 25 Oct 1819, Martha A. b. abt 1823, Nancy Jane Emily b. 27 Aug 1827 and Nicholas Moses b. abt 1828.  I have wondered if Nicholas and Nancy might have been twins…but since I didn’t know about Nancy until a few years ago, I’ve never really explored that part of the story.  All of the Johnson children were born in Guilford Co., NC and they left North Carolina sometime in the early 1840’s before 1844 when oldest son Henderson marries in Carter Co., TN. 

When the family is counted in the 1850 census, Moses and Nancy are counted in the 3rd Civil District in Carter Co., TN along with their son Nicholas and Henderson and his family.  Nancy must have died not too long after 1850, because Moses remarries in 1855 and is in fact recorded on the same page as his son, Nicholas’ marriage.  Nicholas Moses Johnson marries Mary Ann Jenkins on 1 Apr 1855 in Carter Co., TN.  Their first child was born before the marriage…and their second child was born six months after their marriage.  Those two facts certainly lead to some interesting conclusions.  Three other sons are born in quick succession and by 1864; Mary Ann and Nicholas Moses are the parents of 5 children including 4 sons.  This is a very tumultuous period for anyone living in this part of Tennessee.  Many of the men worked for the Union army to help destroy bridges in the area to prevent them from being of use for the Confederacy.  The women also were known to harbor Unionists and Union soldiers as well from the Confederates who stormed the area.  So the men were out fighting and the women were home keeping their families safe and protected as best they could yet supporting the Union as well.  It is in this environment that Nicholas and his family are living.  After the birth of their youngest child in 1862, Nicholas disappears.

Many in the family believe that Nicholas abandoned his family and went west to settle in Santa Barbara, CA.  When I talked to cousins about him…they referred to him as “Nicholas Moses “spit” Johnson” and seem to hold him in contempt.  If he truly did abandon his family…think of his poor wife with five children to raise.  She lived until 1912 when she passed away in Hampton, Carter Co., TN.  There are family members who believe that they saw a letter from Nicholas from California…but no one I have talked to has actually seen the letter or knew it to exist as a fact.  It very well could have been possible that Nicholas died in some mysterious way and didn’t abandon his family and was simply never located after the war. 

I have never found any reference to Nicholas Moses Johnson after 1862.  So….he remains a man of mystery.  I have traced most of his children and ironically that is the part of the Johnson family that remained in Carter Co., TN.  All of the rest of the children of Moses Johnson and Nancy Mayfield moved onto other locales.  The only Johnsons left in Carter Co., TN are those that descend from Nicholas Moses Johnson and Mary Ann Jenkins.  It is definitely an irony!