Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Joseph Leeds Johnson
MSA SC 5496-51874
Founding Officer of Freedom's Friend Lodge No. 1024; Laborer; Talbot County

Biography:

Mr. Joseph Leeds Johnson was one of the first officers for Freedom’s Friend Lodge No. 1024 in Saint Michaels, Maryland. He and his wife, Amelia, had five children: Victoria, Harriet, Colista, Charles, Joseph, and Isaiah.1 While little is known about his direct participation in the lodge, even less is apparent about his early life. It is probable that he was born a slave in 1836 to Daniel Lloyd of Dorchester County, Maryland.2 His parents, Joseph L. Johnson, Sr. and Mae Johnson, were likely slaves as well. According to this theory Joseph would have enlisted in the Union army in 1863.3 Despite the uncertainties surrounding Joseph’s early life it is highly likely that freedom was obtained on or before November 1, 1864 when Maryland adopted a new state constitution that outlawed slavery.4

Around 1860 Joseph married a young woman, Amelia, and within their first years as a married couple Amelia gave birth to a set of twin girls, Victoria and Harriet A. Johnson.5 Then, the same year that the Civil War ended the couple added a newborn Charles E. Johnson to the family.6 By 1870 the family, including a five year old Charles E. Johnson and a one month old Colista F.A. Johnson, was living in Saint Michaels in Talbot County, Maryland.7 Joseph worked as a farm laborer while Amelia tended to the house.8 The two enrolled the twins in school in an effort to prevent the girls from ending up like their parents: although Joseph was able to read his wife was illiterate.9 They did not want their children to become landless and uneducated.

During this time Mr. Johnson was an officer of Freedom’s Friend Lodge Number 1024, which was under the direction of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in America.10 The fraternal organization aided the community of Saint Michaels by caring for the sick and elderly, promoting education, and encouraging a strong relationship with God.11 Joseph was among the founding  members of the lodge when he in addition to Robert Brown, Daniel Chaney, and William Skinner purchased land for the lodge in 1867.12 The deed shows that Joseph was elected Noble Grand of the lodge, which was the second highest ranking in the lodge’s hierarchy.13 

While fortune seemed to shine upon Joseph Johnson, all was not well in his household. He and his wife Amelia seem to have separated. Either Amelia died or she and Joseph obtained a divorce. Regardless of the manner in which Joseph’s marriage ended in 1880 his children, including Joseph L. Johnson, Jr. and Isaiah Johnson, went to Baltimore City to live with their father’s mother, Mae, and their aunt Colista.14  Most of his children were still enrolled in school. Victoria, who was 19 in 1880, was employed as a school teacher15 and a 10 year old Charles worked as a servant to the Steiff family on West Fayette St.16  

Though they resided in separate houses Joseph did not stay far from his children. In 1886 the City Directory placed his dwelling in Arch Street, on which his sister’s house was located..17 He would eventually move to 1110 Etting Street, which would be his home for the remainder of his life.18

Around the same time that he appeared in the directory Mr. Johnson married Margret L. Johnson.19 According to the Baltimore City Directory, Joseph had a diverse employment history. He worked as a batteryman for Western Union Telegraph Company20, a janitor21 and a general laborer22. It is also possible that he was employed as a  porter23 before moving to Etting Street.

On October 24, 1915, thirty-five years after he moved to Etting Street, Mr. Johnson died at the age of 80.24 His son Joseph Leeds Jr. was living with him at the time of his demise.25 He was survived by his wife, Margret L. Johnson, who was thereafter admitted to the Shelter for Aged Colored Women.25 Joseph Leeds Johnson was buried in Laruel Cemetery on October 26, 1915.26

It is uncertain if Joseph continued his participation in the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows when he moved to Baltimore. For example, Mr. Johnson’s participation in Freedom’s Friend Lodge was not mentioned in the notice of death that appeared in The Afro-American. Though, his wife’s entrance into the Shelter for Aged Colored Women, which had an admission fee of $100, suggests that his family had some help in paying for her residency.


Footnotes-

1. U.S. CENSUS BUREAU, “1870 Federal Census Record,” (Talbot County, Maryland, District 2), Page 40, Lines 2-7; U.S. CENSUS BUREAU, “1880 Federal Census Record,” (Baltimore City, Part of the 3rd Precinct of the 14th         Ward, Enumeration District 124), Pages 2-3, Lines 47-50 and 1-4.

2. U.S. Colored Troop Military Service Record, “Evidence of Title” (7th U.S. Colored Infantry, 1861-1865), Ancestry.com.

3. ----, “Volunteer Descriptive List” (7th U.S. Colored Infantry, 1861-1865), Ancestry.com.

4. "When Did Slavery End in Maryland," Pathways to Freedom: Maryland and the Underground Railroad, Maryland Public Televisionhttp://pathways.thinkport.org/about/about4g.cfm

5. U.S. CENSUS BUREAU, “1870 Federal Census Record,” (Talbot County, Maryland, District 2), Page 40, Lines 2-7

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9.  Ibid. 

10.  TALBOT COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, (Land Record), 6 February 1867, William Green to Freedom’s Friend Lodge No. 1024, MSA CE 90-10, Book STH 73, page 278.

11. TALBOT COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, (Charter Record), 01 January 1884, MSA CM 993-1, CR 10018, 63.

12. TALBOT COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, (Land Record, Deed) 

13. “Structure of the Order,” The Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in America and Jurisdiction, http://guoofamerica.com/oddfellows_natl/Structure.html.

14. U.S. CENSUS BUREAU, “1880 Federal Census Record,” (Baltimore City, Part of the 3rd  Precinct of the 14th Ward, Enumeration District 124), Page 3, Lines 1-4.

15. Ibid, Page 2, Lines 47-50.

16. U.S. CENSUS BUREAU, “1880 Federal Census Record,” (Baltimore City, Part of the 3rd Precinct of the 14th Ward, Enumeration District 125), Page 18, Line 8.

17. Baltimore City, Maryland, “1886 City Directory,” Page 698

18. ----, “Certificate of Death” (Health Department, 1915, MSA CR 48167), Page 544.

19. U.S. CENSUS BUREAU, “1910 Federal Census Record,” (Baltimore City, 17th Ward, Enumeration District 291), Page 8B, Lines 81 and 82.

20. “Death of Mr. Joseph Johnson,” Afro-American (Baltimore City, Maryland), October 30, 1915.

21. Baltimore City, Maryland, “1899 City Directory,” Page 765.

22. ----, “1887 City Directory,” Page 665.

23. ----, “1888 City Directory,” Page 586.

24.  “Certificate of Death” 

25. U.S. CENSUS BUREAU, “1920 Federal Census Record,” (Baltimore City, 17th Ward, Enumeration District 286), Page 14A, Line 38.

26. "Certificate of Death"


Researched and Written by Tierra Langley, 2013

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