|Articles, Biography, History, Law, Media Archive, Mississippi, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2013-04-05 04:30Z by Steven|
Timothy Van Cleave, Park Ranger
Natchez National Historical Park
The Life of William Johnson
Known as the “barber” of Natchez, William Johnson began his life as a slave. His freedom at age eleven followed that of his mother Amy and his sister Adelia. After working as an apprentice to his brother-in-law James Miller, Johnson bought the barber shop in 1830 for three hundred dollars and taught the trade to free black boys. It was shortly after he established a barber shop in downtown Natchez that he began to keep a diary. The diary was a mainstay in Johnson’s life until his death in 1851.
As a young prominent citizen in the free black community of Natchez, Johnson’s interest in marriage and starting a family was strengthened by his thriving business. By 1835, his initial investment of three hundred dollars had grown to almost three thousand. His dress was impeccable and he was confident in his future. So confident that he caught the eye of twenty year old Ann Battles. Battles, also a free black married Johnson in 1835. Their eleventh child was born in 1851 at the time of Johnson’s death…
…In 1851 a boundary dispute with his neighbor Baylor Winn found the two men in court. Although, the judge ruled in Johnson’s favor, Winn was not satisfied. Winn, also a free black ambushed Johnson returning from his farm and shot him. Johnson lived long enough to name Winn as the guilty party. Through strange circumstances, Winn was never convicted of the killing. Winn and his defense argued that he was actually white and not a free person of color because of his Indian ancestry in Virginia. Therefore, the “mulatto” boy who accompanied Johnson on that fateful day could not testify against Winn. Mississippi law allowed for blacks to testify against whites in civil cases, but not in criminal cases. Two hung juries could not decide if he was white or black, so Johnson’s killer walked free…
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