The Rabbit Holes I Go Down

Franklin Johnson

Franklin Johnson
Photo from Ancestry.com

For seven years, I have researched and discovered that what I thought to be accurate based on what was presented by someone else wasn’t. Hopefully, my research can change perspectives. But to this day, other people’s perspectives and biases continue to misinterpret Franklin. Franklin has grabbed hold of my heart for whatever reason, and maybe, for this reason, I can help clear up any misperceptions.

I started this seven-year journey while volunteering at the Wallingford Historic Preservation Trust. They own the Johnson Mansion on South Main Street and the Nehemiah Royce House on North Main Street; I was there for three years with a brief return last summer. They work hard to keep these properties relevant and the stories accompanying them. The Franklin Johnson Mansion is located at 153 South Main Street in Wallingford. Franklin’s Mansion was built in 1866 with his second wife Carolyn, who passed in September of 1867, not long after the completion of their mansion. They had two daughters, Emma and Ermina (Minnie). Franklin’s two sons from his first marriage were out of the house by then. After the death of his second wife, Franklin married Harriett Parker Patterson. They lived in the house until Franklin’s death, and Franklin’s property was divided evenly among all four of his children, even his single daughter Emma. This is something to note because this wasn’t done often then.

Photo of Franklin Johnson Mansion Built 1866 Photo from Wallingford Historic Preservation Trust

Wallingford has forgotten him and his family for the most part. I wonder if this is partly because his descendants don’t even know who he was. Were his stories lost to them? Or was it that the people of Wallingford found other people/families to keep in the forefront of its history?

Because of who Franklin was, I will have to tell his story in two parts. He was essential to the Town of Wallingford, and there is a great deal of information regarding Franklin. In brief, his roles included but were not limited to father, husband, Probate Judge, farmer, religious man, Member of the State General Assembly, Wallingford Selectman and Townsmen. For this first part of Franklin’s story, I have decided to concentrate on his role as it encompasses Slavery.

I bring slavery into Franklin’s story because recently, this was said about Franklin in an article about “Enslaved Wallingford: The Missing Chapter of Our American Narrative” in the https://myrecord-journal.newspapers.com/image/778146060/?terms=enslaved%20wallingford%20the%20missing%20chapter “The namesake owners of the Johnson Mansion, another preservation trust property, also enslaved individuals” I know this might not seem as though it is important but believe me, it is. I am a massive supporter of the project; hell, I even helped with research for a bit. My issue, and the only issue, is this statement gives a false narrative.

The Wallingford Historic Preservation Trust has also worked hard on “Enslaved Wallingford: The Missing Chapter of Our American Narrative.” They have brought to light the enslaved and free African Americans of Wallingford, Cheshire, and Meriden; all three towns were originally within Wallingford’s borders. This significant project for the trust will be a permanent exhibit at The Royce House. They’ve also continue to work closely with The Witness Stones Project, Inc. Two Witness Stones have been placed in Wallingford, one at the Royce House and the other at St. Paul’s Church, both on North Main Street. While working on this project, they have uncovered the enslavers and the enslaved. So now, the named and unnamed enslaved of Wallingford will be remembered.

Some of the Johnson family did enslave people; they were enslaved by distant family members of Franklin’s, such as great Uncles, second cousins, and so on. Their names are part of the Enslaved Wallingford project and can be viewed at the Royce House. Such documents as Church records, censuses, newspapers, State Archives, historical books, wills, and land records have been used to identify the enslaved who have been lost to the rest of us. These exact records used by the team documenting the enslaved in Wallingford are the records that show no evidence of Franklin being an enslaver.

There have been many people of means who never had enslaved people, and to state that because someone was of such standards, this made them enslavers is a bit far-reaching. Franklin has been seen as an enslaver because he was a farmer, a man of excellent means, and his dissention of the Nebraska Bill.  That isn’t who he was, as far as the documentation suggests.  

His eldest son Homer joined the Union Army’s 27th Regiment Infantry, CT, on September 10th, 1862. His unit was captured in May 1863, but Homer was not there. He had been discharged due to disability on March 3rd, 1863. Thankfully he missed that action. My point in stating this is that because of the standard in which Franklin lived, he would have been able to pay for another to go to War in Homer’s place.

Philemon Bruce and Franklin Johnson’s signatures from the 1854 Minority Opinion captured from the digital archives of the Connecticut State Library

I have painstakingly transcribed this 20-page Minority Opinion from May of 1854. Connecticut State Library General Assembly Papers, Box 71, Folder13; pages 3-23 the year 1854, Franklin and fellow General Assemblyman Philemon Bruce were the minorities of the vote for the Nebraska Bill in the state of Connecticut. From what I’ve read, it wasn’t that they were pro-slavery they were Pro-law. They believed that Congress had no right to vote on Slavery in this particular context and that the vote to keep or abolish slavery was to be left to the states. His dissention says he was pro-slavery, but the facts about his life tell us something different. With such conflicting facts, it is hard to say for sure, but I still believe that until proven otherwise, Franklin is not the man he was made to be.

So go visit Franklin at his mansion, tell him I said hello and enjoy what the volunteers have to offer. They work extremally hard.

 

We can not rewrite history to forward our own agenda, any agenda for that matter!

2 Comments

  1. Milly

    So glad you are telling this story. It doesn’t seem like Franklin deserves to be tarred with the same brush.

  2. Lorraine S Connelly

    Your work and painstaking research has helped forward the work of the Trust and for that we are very grateful. The Trust will be working with eight 3rd and 4th grade Pond Hill elementary school teachers to design a history curriculum of early Wallingford. Your clarifications regarding Franklin Johnson are important. The house will be not be reinterpreted as part of the Enslaved Wallingford narrative, but as part of post-Civil War life as Wallingford moves from a primarily agrarian community to an industrial one.

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