Benjamin Johnson
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Benjamin Johnson

Veteran of Battle of San Jacinto

By W. T. Block

It defies belief that no biography of Benjamin Johnson, a Battle of San Jacinto veteran, appears in the Handbook of Texas Online, despite the fact that a Texas State historical marker has stood above his grave since 1972. Johnson served a total of three 90-day enlistments in the Texas Army, participating in the “Grass Fight,” as well as the Battles of San Antonio and San Jacinto.

Benjamin Johnson was born on June 8, 1815, near Edgerly, Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana;1 nothing is know about his parentage, except that he may have been an orphan at the time that he arrived in Jefferson Municipality, now Bridge City, in Orange County, Texas in 1832.2

Benjamin Johnson first entered the Texas Army on Nov. 12, 1835, having enlisted in Capt. Willis Landrum’s company as it crossed present-day Orange County. He was later discharged at the Alamo. He enlisted a second time in Capt. James Gillaspie’s company, Col. Sherman’s command, after which he participated in the Battle of San Jacinto on Apr. 21, 1836. Later Johnson served a third enlistment as second sergeant in Capt. J. G. Pierson’s company on July 18, 1836. All muster rolls of Johnson’s enlistments, as well his military bounty grants, can be found in Texas General Land Office.

On April 24, 1838, Johnson married Rachel Garner, daughter of Bradley Garner, Sr. and Sarah Rachel Harmon, and the newly-weds soon moved to Sabine Pass, where Johnson obtained a farm from his sister-in-law, Sarah Garner McGaffey. Rachel Garner was from a family of military heroes, her father having served at the Battle of New Orleans. Her brother-in-law, Claiborne West, was a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, and her three brothers, David, Isaac, and Jacob Garner, has also fought at the “Grass Fight” and the Battle of San Antonio.3

Between 1838 and 1856, the year of Rachel’s death, Benjamin and Rachel Johnson became the parents of 11 sons and 2 daughters. Tragedy also accompanied some of those births, for son Wesley Johnson died in a boating accident at age 18, and a 4-year-old son accidentally fell into a tub of boiling water while the family were killing hogs.

On Jan. 24, 1838, Johnson received a 1,440-acre headright grant from the Jefferson County Board of Land Commissioners. Following his marriage, he appeared again before the commissioners and was granted a married man’s headright of 3,000 additional acres.4

Also in 1838, Johnson was certified as one of the 57 jurors qualified to serve in the Jefferson County courts. On Dec. 2, 1852, he was elected as a county commissioner of Jefferson County. In 1839, Johnson paid taxes on one slave and 100 acres of land at Sabine Pass; these were the products of his own hands, for his one or two children were still infants, as well as his only slave, which was only 1˝ years old.5 Also Benjamin Johnson was of the Baptist faith, and his family were charter members of the second Baptist congregation in Jefferson County.

In 1856 Rachel Johnson died a victim of the rigors of harsh frontier living and too frequent child birth. Johnson employed Matilda Myers as his housekeeper, and on July 4, 1861, she became Johnson’s second wife.6

On April 10, 1861, soon after the shelling of Fort Sumter, his sons Bradley and John Johnson helped organize a militia company—the “Sabine Pass Guard.” On August 3, 1861, when that company was reorganized into infantry and cavalry units, Benjamin Johnson, the old warrior turned age 46, dusted off his musket again and joined his three sons as a member of the “Ben McCulloch Cavalry.”7

In 1906, Tom J. Russell, a Beaumont historian, recorded that as of that date, no descendent of Benjamin Johnson had ever been charged with a felony in Jefferson County. Among his children, Bradley Johnson served four years in the Confederate Army, and lived thereafter as a farmer and stockman at Sabine Pass. So did his sons Joseph and Jack Johnson, who also lived in the footsteps of their father. His son Uriah served as constable and street commissioner in Beaumont for 30 years. His namesake, Benjamin, Jr., served as county commissioner at Sabine Pass for about 30 years, and he was very narrowly defeated for county judge by Jeff Chaisson. Johnson’s daughters became Mrs. Elizabeth Boals of Dallas, and Mrs. Frost Smith of St. Louis.8

After 57 years of life on the harsh frontier, Benjamin Johnson died on Oct. 13, 1872, and he was buried in the Johnson family plot in Sabine Pass Cemetery. On Oct. 14, 1972, on the centennial anniversary of his funeral, a Texas State historical marker was mounted and dedicated on his grave.

Benjamin Johnson was a militiaman and farmer in the best American frontier tradition, shouldering his musket in time of war or emergency, and returning to his mule team and plow handles in time of peace. Thus, it is both fitting and proper that his memory be perpetuated in the history books and on a historical marker.

Endnotes

1 Birth date taken from tombstone.

2 T. J. Russell, “Pioneer Reminiscences of Jefferson County,” Beaumont Journal, Jan. 28, 1906.

3 See also L. W. Kemp, Signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence (Houston: 1944); also Capt. David Garner’s company, muster roll enumerated in “Gen. Austin’s Order Book with The Army Before Bexar, 1835;” also pension application, Jacob Garner to A. B. Bledsoe, Jan. 4, 1875, Texas State Archives. See also S. H. Dixon and L. W. Kemp, The Heroes of San Jacinto (Houston: 1932), pp. 403, 408; also see Marriage Book A-B, Jefferson County, Texas, No. 23A.

4 Minutes of the Board of Land Commissioners of Jefferson County, 1838, pp. 25-26, 140-141.

5 Beaumont Enterprise, Nov. 22, 1908; May 31, 1936; Manuscript Censuses of Jefferson County, 1850, res. 209; 1860, res. 364; 1870, res. 81-63.

6 G. White, The 1840 Census of The Republic of Texas (Austin: 1966), p. 95; also Vol. F, pp. 209, 212, Jefferson County Deed Records; also 1850 Agricultural and Slave censuses.

7 Muster Roll, Sabine Pass Guard, dated Apr. 20, 1862; also muster roll, Ben McCulloch Cavalry, dated Aug. 3, 1861, in Texas State Archives; also recorded in Jefferson County Personal Property Records, Vol. C, pp. 62-63.

8 Russell, Beaumont Journal, Feb. 11, 1906; also W. T. Block, “San Jacinto Veteran’s Grave at Sabine Pass,” Yellowed Pages, Vol. 2, Nr. 1, pp. 6-10.

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