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Michael & Sarah Watson Johnson
of New Kent & Henrico Counties, Virginia
By Bonnie Flythe,
Dec. 29, 2003

Michael Johnson first appears in any record in the James River area in 1698 as a processioner for St. Peter’s Parish in New Kent County.   The date of his marriage to Sarah Watson is not recorded in any extant records.

Michael is mentioned in the St. Peter’s Register several times when the baptisms of some of his children were recorded.  Daniel was baptized in 1698/9, Ann in 1705, Agnes in 1707 and Sarah, the last recorded child, in 1709.   However Michael & Sarah were the parents of at least nine children.  In addition to the four children already mentioned, they had John, James, Benjamin, Isaac and Joseph.

We know from Michael’s estate papers filed in 1719 by his two sons John and James that these sons must have been born before 1697.   In addition, the son John was married to Mary Pledge by 1720.  Descendants of James and John have participated in the Johnson DNA project and were found to share a common male ancestor.  A look at first land purchases indicates that Joseph Johnson was born before 1712.   Demographers have stated that colonial wives usually nursed their babies for about one year and that this tended to space children about two years or more apart.  Sarah probably married Michael about 1690 and that most or all of these sons were born in the 1790s.

Sarah’s father John Watson lived near White Oak Swamp and owned land on the Chickahominy River that formed the boundary between New Kent and Henrico Counties. He wrote his will in 1702 in Henrico County, but left his daughter Sarah, wife of Michael Johnson, very little.  The will was filed for probate in 1706.   John Watson was born in 1648 or 1650 according to depositions recorded in Henrico County in 1688.   His wife and the mother of his children was Alice Rowan Watson.

Alice Rowan was the widow of Henry Rowan/Rowen/Rowing who died after 1661 when Alee and Henry Rowen were mentioned as purchasers of land.   With him, she had at least two children, a son Francis and a daughter who married John Jones.  In a 1677 Henrico County deposition, Alice Watson stated that she was 44 years old.  It should also be noted that she gave the deposition using her second husband’s surname.  In 1686, John Watson “late guardian” paid what was owed to the orphan of Henry Rowen who had married John Jones.   Alice Watson relinquished her dower right to land that was being sold by Francis Rowan and Jane his wife in 1790.   Alice’s two Rowen children must have been born in the late 1660s.

Her daughter Sarah Watson was probably born in the early 1770s.  It is highly unlikely that Alice’s children were born later than the time of her deposition in 1677.  With John Watson, Alice also had sons John, Joseph and Benjamin.  

I tentatively conclude that Michael Johnson was born about 1770 or earlier and married Sarah about 1790 in Henrico. They lived after that in New Kent and moved to Henrico in 1714 when he was mentioned as a neighbor in a patent of Thomas Mims.   Michael had been listed in the Quit Rent Rolls of New Kent County as an owner of 40 acres of land, but was not listed as a landowner in the Henrico 1704 Quit Rent Rolls.    He patented the land there in 1717, three years after he moved there.   A much later deed mentions the graveyard where Michael Johnson and his wife and child were buried.   This was land in Goochland.  It appears that one of the daughters born in New Kent County in the very early 1700s died after the family moved to the Henrico County patent land.

Michael’s will was filed in 1719, but it was lost or destroyed along with many other Henrico County records.  An inventory of his property survived and Harold Johnson wrote and made available an interesting article about it on the Colonial Virginia Connections Website.

Michael & Sarah are thought by some to have been Quakers, but proof of their membership is lacking.  In fact, between 1699 and 1709, they were recording the baptisms of their children in the Register of the established church in New Kent County & this is something Quakers would not have done.  In 1700, they did witness the Quaker marriage of Thomas Lankford and Martha West of New Kent County, but non-Quakers were apparently welcome to do this.   In addition, in New Kent Co. a Militia List dated 4 July 1702 showed a Michael Johnson, Quaker, along with Benjamin Johnson a Quaker, and a William Johnson   This may be an error or perhaps Michael & Sarah were Quakers for a short time.  

Suzanne Johnston’s article “New Findings in Johnson Family Research” does not show any other connection between Michael & his wife and the Quaker religion.  This article can also be found on the Colonial Virginia Connections Website.  

Because of the number of children Michael and Sarah had, they left many, many descendants.  On a speculative note, they may be the parents of a Michael Johnson who appears in the records of Goochland County through 1747.  A Charles Johnson is another possible son.  He purchased land in the same area as Michael & his known sons, but his origin is a complete mystery.  Their daughters have not been traced, but most of their sons have and there are articles available about each of them.  The research continues!

Michael Johnson (b. ca. 1670- ca. 1719 Hen.Co.)
  m. Sarah Watson, ca. 1690
    1. John (bef.1697-1751 Go. Co.)
        m. Mary Pledge, bef. 1720
    2. James the Elder (bef. 1697- aft. 1787 Go.Co.)
    3. Benjamin (b. 1690s- ca. 1744 Go. Co.)
    4. Joseph (b. 1690s- bef. 1761 Lunenburg Co., Va.)
        m. Mary , bef. 1735 Go.Co.
     5.  Daniel (b. 1699-1754 Go.Co.)
        m. Agnes (bef. 1733Go.Co.)
    6. Ann (b. 1705-    )
    7. Agnes (b. 1707-   )
    8. Sarah (b. 1709-    )
    9. Isaac (b.1700s-1793 Lunenburg Co., Va.)
        m. Mary, bef. 1756