JOHN P JOHNSON
In the death of John P. Johnson, June 1, 1898, Highland lost one of its prominent and greatly respected citizens. As the day, with its morning of hope and promise, its noontide of activity, its evening of completed and successful efforts, ending in the grateful rest and quiet of night, so was the life of this honored man. His career was a long, busy and useful one. But although an earnest business man, devoting his whole daily time and attention to the further development of his commercial interests, he never allowed the pursuit of wealth to warp his kindly nature, but preserved his faculties and the warmth of his heart for intellectual enjoyment, being to the end of his life a kindly, genial friend and gentleman with whom it was a pleasure to meet and converse.
Mr. Johnson was born at Hickory Grove, now Pocahontas, Bond county, Illinois, on the 6th of December, 1817, and was the. seventh son and tenth child in the family of Charles and Mary (Houston) Johnson. His father was a native of North Carolina, and during the last years of the war for independence he was a member of the Colonial army, and fought at Guilford and Cowpens with the militia of his native state. He wedded Mary Houston, who was also born in North Carolina, and with his wife and five children he removed to Tennessee, locating in Humphreys county. There he remained until 1806. He had been a slave owner in North Carolina, but being radically opposed to the institution of slavery and desirous of rearing his family of boys in a free state, he came to the territory of Illinois in 1806. His sons, Hugh and Benjamin, aged sixteen and eighteen respectively, had previously made their way to southern Illinois, and made a clearing for the home of the family at Hickory Grove, building a primitive log cabin, which was ready to receive the parents and their other children when, in April, 1817, they took up their abode at their new home. The father died in 1820, and the mother passed away in 1841.
In his boyhood days John Powers Johnson experienced all the hardships and trials incident to pioneer life, and also enjoyed the pleasures which were known to the early settlers of the frontier. He was a noted hunter, and his trusty rifle supplied the table with deer and wild turkey. He was a young man of eighteen years when he heard an address on education by a Methodist bishop, and, with the suddenness and decision which always characterized him, he determined to acquire a collegiate education. In order to do this he sold the greater part of his personal effects, and then entered an academy at Bethel, Bond county. His ambition was to become a student in McKendree College, in Lebanon, Illinois, and in order to do this he engaged in teaching in Hickory Grove, where his industry and energy made his first school a marked success. In 1839 he pursued a preparatory course for one year in McKendree College, after which he engaged in teaching for two terms, and then matriculated as a freshman in the college in 1841. After completing his junior year there he entered the senior class of Harvard University at Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was graduated in 1846. For some time thereafter he was connected with educational work, and his labors were most commendable, winning him prestige among the members of the profession at that date. In 1847-1848 he was the principal of the academy at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and his wife assisted him in his work there. Through the influence of some of his classmates in McKendree College, he was chosen the principal of the Georgetown Seminary, in Vermillion county, Illinois, in 1848, and remained in charge of that school until the close of the academic year of 1853. He then accepted the charge of mathematics in Fayette College, of Missouri, but at the end of the year resigned that position.
On leaving the school room he made a visit to the territory of Dakota, which was to be organized as Kansas and Nebraska, and received the government appointment to establish a boundary line between those two territories, on the fortieth parallel of north latitude, as far west as the sixth principal meridian, which line formed the base of the surveys for both states. Mr. Johnson had previously made a thorough study of surveying. Major Thomas G. Lee was the officer having the work in charge, and, after coming to Mr. Johnson's camp and inspecting his starting point on the sandbar on the east side of the river, he pronounced it all right and departed, participating no further in the survey. Our subject fitted out his expedition in St. Louis, arrived at Leavenworth the last of September, began work on the 17th of November, ran the base line west of the river to the one hundred and eighth degree of west longitude, and then returned on the 10th of December to the Iowa Mission. There he became acquainted with the Rev. S. M. Irwin and General Bayless, and with those gentlemen he selected a site and laid out the town of Highland.
In the spring of 1855 he made a trip on horseback through a large portion of Kansas to see the country. Crossing the river at Junction City, he proceeded east on the southern side of the Kansas river, and when near Shawnee Mission, in July, he was halted and apprehended by a squad of men who said they believed he was an abolitionist, and took him to Shawnee Mission. The territorial legislature, which had been removed to that place, was then in session, and there was much bitter feeling against Governor Reeder and all northern people. Colonel Thomas Johnson, the Indian agent, who also was a member of the territorial council, was acquainted with John P. Johnson, of this review, gave him his protection and secured his safe departure.
From the beginning of his residence here, Mr. Johnson was a very important factor in the development, upbuilding and progress of the town of Highland -- in fact this beautiful little city may be said to stand as a monument of his enterprise and progressive spirit. By means of friendship through college associations he had access to large amounts of money for investment in western land, and thus he laid the foundation for his fortune. He died possessed of a large estate, and his money was made through the legitimate channels of trade and through judicious placing of his capital in real estate interests. His honesty was proverbial. He was never known to cheat a man out of a single cent, and he expected like honorable treatment on the part of others. Considering the vast opportunities he had to oppress his fellow men through lawsuits and forced collections, it is surprising to find how few foreclosures he set in motion and how few forfeitures he enforced. He became undoubtedly the largest land owner in Kansas and besides the thousands of acres which he had in this state and in Nebraska, he owned extensive tracts in Missouri and Florida, having orange and phosphate land in the last named state. Large tracts in Arizona and other sections of the country were also included in his realty holdings, and much of his land was under cultivation. He also had large mule, cattle and horse ranches, and so controlled his mammoth business interests that they brought him a handsome income. Soon after establishing his home in Highland he opened a bank, and for forty-one years was connected with the banking interests at this place. His institution was probably the oldest in the state, and was without doubt one of the most reliable, for he conducted business in a safe manner, and his well-known integrity was ample security to his patrons that the money intrusted to his charge was absolutely safe.
No interest or measure intended to prove a public benefit solicited the aid of Mr. Johnson in vain. He was at all times active in support of whatever he believed would prove of public good, and was one of the most earnest and zealous advocates of the Highland University through many years. On the 1st of November, 1860, he was elected the president of its board of trustees, held that office for nearly sixteen years, and continued as a member of the board up to the time of his death. He gave much financial aid to the institution during its entire history, showing his substantial interest by endowing a professorship of twenty thousand dollars, in 1890. For many years he was a prominent leader in the ranks of the Republican party, served as county commissioner and railroad assessor, was the mayor of Highland, and several times represented Doniphan county in both branches of the legislature.
Mr. Johnson was three times married. On the 23d of March, 1847, he wedded Sarah A. Norton, of London, Ohio, who died April 2, 1854, leaving two children, Rollin and Alonzo, both of whom have since died. On the 14th of July, 1856, he wedded Sarah Canaday, of Georgetown, Illinois, who died March 12, 1887. Their only child, Annie, was born May 27, 1863, and died May 25, 1865. On the 10th of July, 1888, Mr. Johnson married Mrs. Virginia Mason Hutt, of Troy, Missouri, who survives him.
When fourteen years of age Mr. Johnson became a member of the Methodist church, and his entire life was in harmony with his profession as an advocate of the Christian religion. In 1866 he united with the Presbyterian church of Highland, and always contributed generously to the support of the gospel and was most liberal in his donations for the erection of the house of worship in 1889. His physical vigor was remarkable; daily was he found in his office from early morning until late at night, giving personal attention to the management and to the details of his extensive business. His life was at all times upright and honorable. He was a man of broad humanitarian principles and sympathy and of kindly spirit. His humanity always triumphed over his prejudices, and he could never see why any portion of his fellow men should be shut out of Christian civilization and social progress. In his domestic relations his kindness of heart and excellence of personal character made him, as a husband and father, a guide and example. By his death the entire community suffered a great bereavement, for during more than forty years he had been a leader in the public life, thought and action of Highland, but his example remains as a grateful benediction to all who knew him, and his memory is cherished in the hearts of his friends throughout Kansas and in many other states.