Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Hometown Hero: Frank Johnson, Co. K, 12th USCHA

Frank Johnson left his enslaved life on the farm of his mistress Sarah F. Gaines in Woodford County, Kentucky, comparatively late. He made the short trip over to Camp Nelson in neighboring Jessamine County where he signed up for three years of service in the United States Colored Troops. He was 25 years old.

Thousands of Kentucky slaves like Johnson made their way to Camp Nelson in the late spring and summer of 1864, but for an unknown reason Johnson delayed his enlistment to October, signing up on the 11th. Apparently, Johnson enlisted without his owner's consent. Was he reluctant to enter into an uncertain future as a soldier, or was he possibly waiting for the opportunity to make his get away? We will likely never know, but he did go.

In 1860, Virginia-born Sarah F. Gaines was a 78 year old head of household living with a Susan M. Cook, 70 (possibly a sister?), Susan C. Johnson age 17, and Ella Johnson, 13 (possibly granddaughters?).  Gaines was accounted as owning $17,000 in real estate and $14,000 in personal property. I was unable to find Gaines in the 1860 slave schedules, but in the 1850 census she was listed as owning 11 slaves. Seven were males, who ranged from 46 to a one year old, and four females, who ranged from 58 to 13 years old. Two of the males were approximately Frank Johnson's age.

The 12th United States Colored Heavy Artillery did not see much combat during the Civil War. They served a good portion of their service as garrison troops in Bowling Green, Kentucky. They were mustered out earlier than many USCT units. The 12th were released from their service obligation when they were mustered out at Louisville on April 24, 1866 - less than two years after enlisting.

Included in Frank Johnson's service records are some interesting documents. Above is a certificate dated October 4, 1866, that certifies Johnson served in the 12th and "owed service to Sarah F. Gaines." It was signed by the Adjutant General of Kentucky.

Apparently the document certifying the service of Johnson was prompted by Sarah Gaines's claim for compensation. Above is a document that has two people verifying that Gaines was the "lawful owner" of Johnson, and, in addition, two other people corroborated Gaines's claim that she had been loyal during the war.

Lastly is a formal document making a claim for compensation for Johnson. It includes a signed oath of allegiance. The claim includes a statement from Gaines: "I acquired my title and ownership in the above named slave, Frank Johnson, by being born mine and have held him ever since."

I was pleased to find some post war information on Johnson, which I thought might be difficult due to the commonness of his name. He is listed in the 1870 census as a 29 year old mulatto laborer. He lived with Eliza A., who was 28, James, age 4, and Willie, age 2. In addition, Nancy Johnson, possibly Frank's mother at age 46, lived with the family and was listed as a laundress.

In 1880, Frank Johnson was living Frankfort with a new wife, China, aged 22, who kept house.  Frank worked at a saw mill. Also in the home was James, 13, who was a servant; Willie, 11, who was attending school; Charles, age 9 was also attending school; Laura 5; Bettie 2; and Nancy 6 months.

I was not able to find out when Frank Johnson died, but he still living in 1910.  In that census he was 71 and worked as a foreman in a coal yard. China was listed as 52. Will still lived in the household at age 41. New children included Costella, a 16 year old daughter; son Stephen 18, a hotel waiter; and daughter Johnetta, a 10 year old.

Many questions remain for me about Frank Johnson, but with some research I now know a little more about this man than just what is engraved on his headstone in Greenhill Cemetery.  He was a former slave, a former soldier, a husband, a father - and because of his military service and the service of others, a citizen.

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