Thomas Lewis Johnson (group)

Thomas Lewis Johnson (group)

Thomas Lewis Johnson was born into slavery in Virginia in 1836, the son of a slave and a free father who was one eighth black. Johnson was nearly thirty years old when the end of the American Civil War finally brought his emancipation. He lived in New York and then Chicago before settling in Denver, where he was ordained and became the minister of a small Baptist congregation. His dream, however, was to preach in Africa and to this end he and his wife travelled to England in 1876, where they had the promise of financial help from the YMCA in Manchester and the Baptist Missionary Society in London. Johnson later wrote of this first visit to England ‘Everywhere I went, whether among the rich or poor, learned or illiterate […] I was received as a man, a Brother, and a Christian, and made to feel perfectly happy.’

The seated woman in this portrait is Johnson’s first wife, Henrietta, also a freed slave, who died in Africa soon after the photograph was taken. The other couple (on the left) are Calvin Harris Richardson and his wife, Issadorah (Henrietta Johnson's sister). The Richardsons arrived in England from America in August 1877 to accompany the Johnsons on their mission to Africa. The four Americans reached the west coast of Africa in November 1878. After visiting Sierra Leone and Liberia, they travelled to the village of Bakundu in Cameroon, where Johnson taught and preached. After the death of his wife, his own ill health forced an early return to England in 1880. He continued to preach and give lectures on Africa, not only in England but also in Ireland and America.

In 1890 he settled in Bournemouth with his second wife, Sara, and published his autobiography, Twenty-Eight Years a Slave, or The Story of My Life in Three Continents. He died in Bournemouth in 1921.

Photographed in 1877 or 1878 by J.F. Knights of 30 Clapham Road, London.


Code: 127399
© Paul Frecker 2022