1863-1882 EE Johnson's Early Life: Growing up in Coshocton County, Ohio

Ernest Edgar Johnson grew up in the farming community of White Eyes Township in Coshocton County, Ohio, where he was born on his parent's farm on September 7th, 1863.[1] The American Civil War had been raging for two years, and hundreds of volunteers from the county had joined the Union Army. Thankfully the bloody battles were far away from Ohio. 

Ernest was the ninth and last child of Jesse Newport and Martha Jane (nee Dinsmore) Johnson, but at the time of Ernest’s birth only two of the Johnson children were still alive: Grace aged 6 and Charley aged 3. Disease had taken a terribly toll on the Johnson family. The year before Ernest was born, Grace and Charley contracted scarlet fever. The disease left Grace with "some bad effects, slow to disappear". Charley "never recovered from the ill effects of it. One of his legs was badly affected, and his mentality was lowered."[2] Ernest would make it through his childhood unscathed by disease. 

The Johnson's farm was typical for that area—about 205 acres of gentle hills. The farm straddled a small country lane. The White Eyes Creek West Fork ran through part of the western side of the property. A mile south was a little village called Avondale, now known as Fresno.[3] A mile north was Kimball’s Methodist Episcopal Church where his mother was a faithful member.[4]

The nearest significant town was Coshocton, about eight miles away to the southwest—a significant distance in those days. "Few were the families that could afford…a [horse-drawn] buggy. More modest vehicles in the way of light wagons that could navigate muddy clay roads and swim rivers were the prevailing style, with here and there a hardy dweller who still clung to the ox team and mud schooner on wheels for his fancy visiting round the neighborhood."[5]

1872 White Eyes Township
1872 Map showing the Johnson's property in White Eyes Township, Coshocton County, Ohio

A considerable part of Coshocton County was settled by Germans, particularly in White Eyes Township. “Their ministers preached to them in their native language, and their boys and girls studied the German testament in school. The ‘Pennsylvania Dutch’ dialect was spoken; all their thinking was in it; all life outside the schoolroom was discussed in that German dialect, so it could scarcely be otherwise than that generations grew up almost as thoroughly German as those who first came to the county in the early [eighteen] thirties.”[6] There was even a German language newspaper in Coshocton. Ernest had these German-American children as playmates and learned to speak their "awful German" dialect which he could still speak as an elderly man.[7]

In his later years, Ernest recalled childhood adventures "when the hills glistened in their blanket of snow, tramping with a merry troop of neighborhood boys over woody ridges all armed to the teeth with bows and arrows, hot on the trail of the hated redskin. Sometimes we fell so low in mind and morale that we loosed our nail-pointed shafts at scudding cottontails, though our fancy generally was for bigger game."[8]

Ernest's parents strongly believed in the importance of being educated.[9] As a young man, Ernest's father had even taught school for a number of years.[10] The Johnson children attended the little local school where they learned to read and write with Eclectic Readers, informally known as the McGuffey Readers,[11] widely used textbooks that were adapted to the customs and ideals of the frontier people. 

McGuffey Reader pages
Pages from McGuffey Readers

Ernest's father, Jesse, was "a large and powerfully built man, though not always robust in health. As early as 1862 he had his land cultivated on the shares, being unable to do heavy work himself."[12] A week after Ernest turned 5 years old, his father died. "One report said, by bloody flux [dysentery], an excruciatingly painful disease that in those days was very common. Another report gave the cause of death as 'inflamation [sic] of the stomach'."[13] The family buried Jesse in Kimball Cemetery near the grave of his and his wife Martha's 10-year-old son, Roy,[14] who had died of diphtheria two months before Ernest was born.[15] 

Ernest’s widowed mother Martha was a very capable woman and continued to successfully run the farm with the help of a hired hand who boarded at the Johnson's home.[16] She even instituted crop rotation.[17] No doubt the children had their chores on the farm to do.

Martha had a strong, dominating personality,[18] but her daughter Grace said of her, "She is a good mother and never scolds".[19] Grace was not especially assertive. When Grace was 16 years old, Martha arranged Grace’s marriage to 28 year-old John McCullough Adams. Martha probably thought she was making a good decision for her daughter. John was the son of a well-to-do neighboring farmer. But apparently, the marriage was not a particularly happy one.[20]

Three years after marrying, John and Grace left farming and moved into the town of Coshocton where John became a stock dealer, principally in horses.[21] Martha sent Ernest to live with them in town so that he could attend high school which was just a short walk from his sister's new home. Charley, Ernest’s older brother who was not as scholastically capable or interested in schooling as Ernest, remained on the farm with their mother.[22]

Ernest lived in his sister's household with her young and growing family for about four years while he attended high school.[23] The recently built school in Coshocton where Ernest attended had over 600 pupils enrolled over 12 year levels, four in each of the three departments: primary, grammar and high. Education beyond basic reading, writing, and arithmetic, however, was not yet common. Demands of life were often too heavy in other directions to allow much time or means for it.[23] Few went on to study at the high school level. Ernest was one of the few. The first graduating class for the high school at Coshocton was that of 1879 with only 6 members. Ernest's graduating class of 1882 had 15 members—9 boys and 6 girls.[25]  

After graduating, Ernest set out for Colorado.

Footnotes & Sources

  1. [1] The Family Record of Peter Johnson and His Descendants: Together with notes on related families, the author is purportedly Rev Hubert Rex Johnson; undated but perhaps c1926; probably unpublished; p110. This work relies heavily on the oral traditions of the Richard Johnston family of Jefferson County, Ohio. Downloaded 17 Sep 2022 from https://www.familysearch.org/library/books/viewer/792596/ This record states that Ernest "was born on his father's farm in Coshocton County, Ohio on September 7, 1863". Other records give a variety of birth years (1863 to 1868), but September 7th is consistently given as the day of his birth. As he is listed as 6 years old in the (June) 1870 US Census and 1863 is on his gravestone, I believe that 1863 is the year he was born. Some records list Ohio as his place of birth while others list Virginia. The 1870, 1880 & 1900 US Censuses list his place of birth as Ohio. I believe he was born in Coshocton County, Ohio, and most likely on his parents' farm in White Eyes Township.
  2. [2] Ibid, pp 109 & 110.
  3. [3] Coshocton County Land Ownership Map, 1872; White Eyes Township. The small country lane is today's Route 203.
  4. [4] “Death Claims Pioneer Woman of Coshocton County,” Obituary for Martha Jane (Dinsmore) Johnson, The Coshocton Age (Coshocton, Ohio), Friday 09 January 1903, p5; imaged, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 4 April 2024).
  5. [5] EE Johnson, “Ohio Memories,” photocopy of newspaper clipping from unknow paper but possibly the Ohio State Journal (Columbus OH); probably ca1940.
  6. [6] William J. Bahmer, Centennial History of Coshocton County, Ohio, Vols. 1 & 2 (Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Co, 1909); Vol. 1, p 100. The 'Pennsylvania Dutch' (Pennsylvanisch Deitsche), also known as Pennsylvania Germans, largely descended from the Palatinate region of Germany (not the Netherlands), and settled in Pennsylvania during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.
  7. [7] Personal knowledge of Judith Huston Ely, Ernest Edgar Johnson’s granddaughter, as told to Hope A. Stewart.
  8. [8] EE Johnson, “Ohio Memories” (n 5).
  9. [9] Martha-Marie Sivaslian Barrett (1920-2015), granddaughter of Grace (Johnson) Adams (Ernest’s sister), as told to Hope A. Stewart in email correspondence, 2003.
  10. [10] The Family Record of Peter Johnson and His Descendants: Together with notes on related families, p67 (n 1).
  11. [11] EE Johnson, “Ohio Memories” (n 5).
  12. [12] The Family Record of Peter Johnson and His Descendants: Together with notes on related families, p68 (n 1).
  13. [13] Ibid.
  14. [14] 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); p 714. See also https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/45006849/jesse-newport-johnson and https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/55020906/roy_johnson. Both are buried in Row 3 of Kimball Cemetery, Fresno, Coshocton County, Ohio.
  15. [15] The Family Record of Peter Johnson and His Descendants: Together with notes on related families, p73 (n 1).
  16. [16] The 1870 US Census lists a 20-year-old male laborer as part of the Johnson household. 1870 United States Federal Census; White Eyes, Coshocton, Ohio; Roll: M593_1185; Pages: 301B & 302; Family History Library Film: 552684. The 1880 US Census list a 24-year-old, single, male farm worker as part of the Johnson household. 1880 United States Federal Census; White Eyes, Coshocton, Ohio; Roll: 1003; Page: 289b; Enumeration District: 062.
  17. [17] Martha-Marie Sivaslian Barrett (n 9).
  18. [18] Ibid.
  19. [19] The Family Record of Peter Johnson and His Descendants: Together with notes on related families, p72 (n 1).
  20. [20] Martha-Marie Sivaslian Barrett (n 9).
  21. [21] "Death Claims Well Known Resident at Home Here Saturday," Obituary for John McCullough Adams, The Coshocton Tribune (Coshocton OH), 15 Jan 1921, Sat, p1; imaged, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 30 August 2020).
  22. [22] NN Hill, Jr, comp., History of Coshocton County, Ohio: Its Past and Present, 1740-1881, p 441 (n 14).
  23. [23] 1880 U.S. Census, Coshocton, Coshocton, Ohio; National Archives Microfilm T9, roll 1003; Page: 238C; Enumeration District: 058. And NN Hill, Jr, comp., History of Coshocton County, Ohio: Its Past and Present, 1740-1881, p 714 (n 14).
  24. [24] William E. Hunt, Historical Collections of Coshocton County Ohio: a complete panorama of the county, from the time of the earliest known occupants of the territory unto the present time, 1764-1876 (Cincinnati OH: Robert Clarke & Co, Printers; 1876; facsimile reprint, Salem MA: Higginson Book Co; 1995), p128.
  25. [25] The Coshocton Tribune (Coshocton OH), 9 Mar 1962, p 10:3-4. And "Coshocton High School Alumni" as listed in Tomahawk 1930 yearbook, Coshocton County Ohio OHGenWeb Project. http://www.coshoctonohio.pa-roots.com/alumni/alumni.html accessed 25 Aug 2020.

Published 23 September 2023. Last updated 5 May 2024.

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