William Johnson Part One: His Home

Street Address : 49 Earl Street
Period : 1800-1850

William Johnson is the earliest black entrepreneur documented in Kingston. After moving from Ohio about 1826, he became a successful barber and hairdresser. In November 1833, his shop, on the west side of King near Brock, was consumed by fire. He persevered despite another fire six years later, and yet another in 1856, and served his customers until his death in 1881.

On 24 February 1841, he married Lavinia Stewart, with the ceremony officiated by George Okill Stuart, Rector of St. George’s Church (now Cathedral). They were noted as “Africans” in the registry book.

William Johnson bought on 4 January 1833 the west half of lot 135, and built this handsome two-storey stone house at 49 Earl Street. At the time, it was free-standing with the double building not added until about 1844 by another owner. At the same time he bought the west half of lot 126 (the corner lot next to lot 135.) On 30 May 1840 he purchased the north part of the east half of lot 135. He retained this property until his death in 1881. When the first tax assessment records came out in 1838 he was assessed for a house, but no addresses were given. We know he was living on Earl Street as early as 1840; after a fire burned down his shop he advertised that he had “his shop since the fire and for the present, at his Dwelling House, in Centre Street a few steps above the residence of John S. Cartwright, Esq.” (Centre Street was later renamed Earl Street, and J.S. Cartwright lived at 221 King Street East.) By 1862 the assessment records starting listing the lot numbers, in this case #135.

In October 1851 a fire broke out in a stable in the block bounded by King, Wellington, William and Earl streets. The whole block of houses along William was burned to the ground. The Johnson home, on the north side of Earl, was in great danger, but survived. By means of “A Card” inserted in a local newspaper, Johnson thanked the Fire Brigade and citizens generally for their efforts in saving his property from destruction by the fire.

From the fact that the Johnson family was able to build a home and live in such a prestigious location, it is evident that persons of African descent could be accepted into the mainstream of the Kingston community during the nineteenth century.

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