Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

John Johnson Sr. (1770-1824)
MSA SC 3520-14713


Born in Annapolis, Maryland, on September 12, 1770. Son of Robert and Anne Johnson. Married Deborah Johnson, daughter of Reverdy Ghiselin, January 9, 1794; at least two children, Reverdy Johnson (1796-1876) and John Johnson, Jr. (1798-1856). Died in Hancock, Maryland, July 30, 1824.

John Johnson began his political career when the General Assembly elected him to the Governor's Council on November 16, 1796, a position to which he was reelected the following year. However, while his name was put into consideration in 1798, he was not elected to the Council.

He joined the General Assembly with his election to the House of Delegates as one of the representatives from Annapolis in 1800. He served from 1801-1805 in the Maryland Senate as part of the Western Shore delegation. During that time, he was also the Mayor of Annapolis for 1803-1804. Johnson was appointed Attorney General of Maryland by Governor Robert Bowie on October 18, 1806. While serving as Attorney General, Johnson was again elected Mayor of Annapolis, and served 1810-1811. Johnson was a Presidential Elector in 1804, backing Thomas Jefferson, and again four years later, when he supported James Madison. Johnson was also actively engaged in a number of commercial enterprises during this period. He was elected to the Board of Directors of the Farmers Bank in August of 1808. That same year, Johnson was among the Commissioners of the Union Manufacturing Company of Maryland.

He was named to the Court of Appeals upon the death of Judge John Mackall Gantt in March, 1811. After ten years' service on the Court of Appeals, Johnson was appointed Chancellor of Maryland on October 15, 1821. While serving as Chancellor, Johnson was also a member of the commission appointed to negotiate boundary disputes with Virginia. He died while traveling in Western Maryland as part of his work on the commission.  Announcing his death, the Maryland Gazette wrote on August 5, 1824, that the "various and important public stations which he filled during his lifetime are the surest proofs which could be offered of his worth, and the high estimation in which he was held by his fellow-citizens."

Johnson was survived by his wife Deborah and his children. His sons Reverdy and John Jr. both became significant figures in Maryland in their own right. At the time of his death, Johnson owned a farm in Prince George's County and a house in Annapolis. His total estate was valued at $4174, and included 10 slaves. In his nearly twenty years of public service, Johnson held the roles of attorney, legislator, and judge. He was remembered by Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Roger B. Taney as among the figures who dominated the legal profession in Maryland during his day..

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