Elizabeth "Bessie" Johnson Stewart (nee Ells)



Bessie was the youngest of two girls born to Lieut. William Ells, a Civil War veteran, and his wife Isabella.

When Bessie was just four years old, her mother suddenly died. Nine years later, her father died, but it was probably long before his death that Bessie and her sister, Lulu, were being raised by their maternal grandparents, John and Sarah Stewart, in the small country town of Coshocton, Ohio. At some stage, the girls become known as Lulu and Bessie Stewart instead of Ells. I get a sense that there was a falling out between the Stewarts and their son-in-law, Will. (I will discuss this further when I write Will's story.)

Just before turning 21, Bessie married 27 year old Ernest Johnson, a part-owner and editor of The Coshocton Age, one of the local newspapers. The marriage ceremony took place in her Grandmother’s home where Bessie had been raised.

The following year, their daughter Isabelle was born, and Ernest sold his half interest in The Coshocton Age. Looking to further his career, Ernest obtained a position on the reportorial staff of the New York Morning Journal.

After several years living in New York, the young family moved to Philadelphia where Ernest worked as a journalist at The Philadelphia North American.

Bessie's health, however, was failing. She had Bright's disease[1] which affects the kidneys and causes high blood pressure and heart disease. In the autumn of 1900, her grandmother Stewart and Aunt Haddie closed up their Coschocton residence and moved into Bessie's home in Philadelphia to nurse her and care for 8-year-old Isabelle.[2] On February 10, 1901, at the age of 30, Bessie died at her home in Philadelphia.

As an adult, Isabelle, remembered little of her mother, though she did recall her mother being ill for a long time. She said that in the middle of one night there were lots of comings and goings. The next morning she was told that her mother had died.

Father: Lieut. William Eugene Ells (1839-1883)
Mother: Isabella Stewart (1845-1874) 

Spouse: Col. Ernest Edgar Johnson (1863-1962) 


4255 Viola Street
4255 Viola Street, Philadelphia, Bessie's home where she died
(photo ca 2007, courtesy of Sean Solomon whose is restoring the house)


  • 1870

    February - Born in Ohio. The 2nd of two children of William and Isabella (nee Stewart) Ells. 

  • 1874

    March 24 - Her mother, Isabella, dies aged 28.

  • By

    She and her sister are living with their maternal grandparents, John G. and Sarah Stewart, in Coshocton, Ohio. Their father lives in Newark, Ohio, where he works as a bar keeper.

  • 1883

    September 4 - Her father, William, dies aged 43.

  • 1885

    August 3 - Her grandfather and guardian, John G. Stewart, dies aged 71, causing legal and financial issues for the family.

  • 1891

    January 17 - Marries Ernest Edgar Johnson in Coshocton, Ohio.

  • 1892

    November 13 - Daughter Isabelle born in Coshocton.

  • 1893

    Lives in New York City where her husband works at the New York Morning Journal, but she and baby Isabelle spend the summer in Coshocton with her grandmother Stewart. 

  • 1900

    Moves to Philadelphia where her husband works at The Philadelphia North American

  • 1901

    February 10 - Dies at her home in Philadelphia, aged 31 years, of kidney disease and valvular disease of the heart. 

  • 1901

    February 15 - Her remains arrive in Coshocton, Ohio, and taken to her Stewart grandmother's home where a brief funeral service was held followed by interment in Oak Ridge cemetery. 

Lulu and Bessie Ells
Bessie (right) and her sister Lulu 
Their father, William Ells, was a Junior Daguerreian, that is, someone who creates photographs on a silver or a silver-covered copper plate. On the back of this photograph is printed: "C. Hempsted, Palisade Gallery, over Nichols and Speer's Drug Store, Newark, Ohio".  Charles Hempsted was their uncle—the husband of William's sister, Mary. I believe William worked for his brother-in-law Charles Hempsted. 

Stewart residence, Main Street Coshocton
Bessie's grandparents' home on Main Street, Coshocton – 
where Bessie and her sister grew up, and where Bessie and Ernest Johnson were married.[3] 

Bessie Johnson
Bessie's husband kept this photo of Bessie together with their marriage license. 

marriage license of Ernest Edgar Johnson and Bessie Stewart


  1. [1] In 1912, Ernest's 17 year old niece, Martha Adams, also died from Bright's disease which she developed from having had scarlet fever when she was five. Scarlet fever was a common disease in Ohio in the 1800s and early 1900s. It is quite possible that Bessie, too, had contracted Scarlet fever resulting in kidney and heart disease. 
  2. [2] The Coshocton Age (Coshocton OH), 11 Feb 1901.
  3. [3] Lithograph from NN Hill, Jr, comp., History of Coshocton County, Ohio: Its Past and Present, 1740-1881 (Newark, Ohio: AA Graham & Co, Publishers; 1881; facsimile reprint, Salem MA: Higginson Book Co; 1995), p607.

Last updated: 16 July 2023

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