Samuel Roosevelt Johnson.

A memorial discourse on the life, character and services of General Jeremiah Johnson : of Brooklyn, the first president of the St. Nicholas Society of Nassau Island online

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Online LibrarySamuel Roosevelt JohnsonA memorial discourse on the life, character and services of General Jeremiah Johnson : of Brooklyn, the first president of the St. Nicholas Society of Nassau Island → online text (page 1 of 2)
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®|e fife, Cjjiintrier aiti Seriites



Tlie First Presiiiiiiit of the St. Nicholas Societv of Nassau Island,



Dolivpvcd before the Society in Brooklyn, October "20, 1S53.






Pound AT IONS.

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S>i Itkirolns ^ocictn of Itassitn |y;iiib.

At a Special ]\[eeting of the St. Nicholas Society of Nassau Island, held
at the City Hall, in the City of Bvooldyn, on tiie 22d day of October.
1852, the lion. Joh.v A. TiOTT, 1st Vice President in tlie Clialr. Tlio
Chairman announced the death of Gknkkal Jerk.miah Jomnsox, liie luit-
President of tlie Society, in suitable remarks.

Oil motion, Resolved, That a Committee be appointed by tlie Cluiir to
draft resolutions, expressive of the sense of tlie Society, on tlie event yeloved First President, General Jeremiah
Johnson, breathed his last,— to pay a just tribute
to his memory; and to give some expression to
the sentiments of respect and the feelings of af-
fection which fill our minds and hearts; and on
me has fallen the sacred privilege and duty of
pronouncing the Memorial Discourse; on me as
one of your Chaplains, and as of the same blood,
and stock, and name; accustomed to look up to
him as the representative leader and the patriarch
of our family, as well as the father of this our
associated company. To do real justice to his
history, and to portray him personally before you,

so as to bring up his image distinct and life-like as
you knew him and have seen him, it were Avell to
have grown up by his side, and have been witli
him in his daily walks, familiar Avith his home, and
with his ancestral lands where he was born and
lived and died; to be imlnied with his (nvn tradi-
tional lore, have naturally known his ways, manner
and habits ; have had his sayings and anecdotes as
part and parcel of the memory ; his admirable
character and life as a man, a soldier, a citizen, a,
christian, thoroughly known by unstudied obser-
vation; and all the localities, incidents, transactions
and inhabitants of our beautiful Island to have
been, as they were to him, even as household
things ; and withal to possess his quick perception,
his ready memory, and his business talent ; to 1)e in
fine as his embodied self Your speaker can l)ut
give you a retired student's words, iir.t over fami-
liar with localities and circumstances, nor well
disciplined for the business of life's transactions, —
l>ut he approaches his theme with reverential
thought, and with a lieart of love ; and in iie
instance I can surpass his very self, or relatives
most near, for their modest mind would have
shaded his excellencies too mucli, and 1 can speak
of them more freely, and so all the more truly.
And in coming this night before the presence of



our Socioly to speak of our departed friend, 1
\vd\r riiiu'li added eaus(^ ol" homelelt interest, for
i lind mvscir here associated with liis most esteem
(m! i'nstor.* \v(dl kiiuwii to me in my youtlifid days
as a student of renown, even then distinguished
tor el(X|uent rliscourse, just leaving Cohimbia Col-
lege as 1 entered, luii moving in its precincts for
some time after as President of the Peithologian
Society, of which I am a loyal member. And I call
to mind, with much emotion, that my own father,
the Rev. John Barent Johnson, was in the
years 1802-3, like him, the Pastor of the honored
subiect of our discourse, and of the congregation
with which he was all his long life connected.

And lo! here I am, speaking in this imposing
and beautiful structure, sacred to the Redeemer's
name, where one,f — long my school and college
mate, a friend of youth — ^tells his people of a Sa-
viour's love and work. Well do I remember how,
forty years ago, he used to bring me over to his
father's dwelliiig, then very far out of town, out
beyond the Green Hill, and the Nurseries and the
big Scup, and the old City Prison; and to lead me
to his mother's mother, the sainted Isabella Gra-
HA^r, who would take ])y the hand the little boy,

* The Rev. Maurice W. Dwight, D. D.
t The Rev. Georoe W. Bethune, D. D.

~ «


the child oi' lier favorite pupil, and speak a few
plain words of kindness and religion. Years linve
passed over us since then, though we Jiave as )'et
felt time's wing l)ut lightly: the currents of life
liave separated us, so that we seldom meet; yet i
ween to old affection, such re-union is delightful,
and it iurnishes additional I'eason to me for tlnanking
Jiim fo]' the privilege which liis courtesy has offered,
wliile we thus unite in doing lionor to the memory
of one so honored and l)eloved. But to my spe-
cial work-
Preliminary to the personal history, there are
certain fjicts relating to tlie ()lood, family, and
estate of our late President, too interesting to be

The historians of Long Island unite in the ac-
count that the families of the Wallabout were
mainly ol" AYalloon blood, the blood of France,
and that the name Waalbogt means '' The Wal-
loon's Cove," and it might seem that the Johnson
family is thus descended. Some of the Walloons
lived in France, on its borders; most of theni,
however, inhabited the Belgic ]3rovinces ; they
spoke the old French. Many of the inhabitants
were Protestants, and in the persecutions of Spain
and France, they emigrated by thousands into
Holland, Avhich, like our own country, freely


welcomed strangers and the oppressed. They
were distinguished for industry, bravery, artizan
skill and agricultural efficiency. In 1623, in the
ship New Netherland, a company of thirty families
embarked from Holland for the colony in Ame-
rica, most of which were Walloon; they settled
throughout the country — some going to Hartford,
some to Albany, and others to the Wallabout.
Now this may strike some faithful members of our
Association with surprise and some with dis-
appointment; for we are very far from being
prepared to give up our Holland claim upon the
person and blood of our distinguished President ;
nor are we of his blood prepared to forego our
birth-right claim to all the pure honors of Holland
ancestry. Nor need we, nor should we in either
case. No true son of St. Nicholas will abate his
tenacious hold in such a business. For look at the
history of the Walloons : even in their own home,
they were of mingled blood and that well mingled
with the Netherland. The emigrants fled to Hol-
land, sometimes, it would seem, designating their
settlement by their name ; there numerously inter-
marrying, so that their blood became more blended
with the native; thence some of their families
emigrated over the wide ocean to cast their lot
within our Holland Colony. Since that time, 200



years and more liave passed away, each generation
for a time increasing largely the proportion of
the pnre Holland blood ; the French growing
''beautifully less," till it is left, not forming the
great substantial element of the man's nature,
but being the spice as it were, giving some
fine flavor to the whole, leaving only a minute
but liappy element of cheerfulness, vivacity and
enterprising spirit, Avhich improves the solid
strength and resolution of character that marks
the Hollander. Thus we see our Tiebout, our
Rapelyea, our Debevoise, manifesting our national
traits, with unmistaken certainty. Like the knife
of the Indian Chief, of which he boasted that
the very identical knife had been handed down
through several generations, twice having had a
new blade, and once a new handle : — so, and in no
other sense do we admit the Gallic claim. Besides, '
some historians* insist that the Johnson blood in
question is directly of Holland, however incident-
ally mingled with Walloon ; and that close alliances
and changes of name, — the patronymic or stock
name being dropped among the colonists with
remarkable facility, — and transfers and bequests of
property have obscured the true relationship.
The honor of being the colonial ancestor of

* Sf e Annals of Newtown, )iy Jamks Riker, Jr., p. 2()8.



General Johnson, direct in the nuile line, is thus
asserted for Jan Bakentskn Van Driest, t'nnn
Zutphen in Ciiilderlaiid. in 1657; and if so, his
very name and home are enongli to satisfy the
most iucrednlons.

It is surprising to see how often tlie Johnson
name occurs in the early history of tiie ( 'olony ;
yery Crequentl}' as the regular surname, and to ;in
inconceivable extent as the middle name; nor are
we to think that a, name so very common iji a
Holland colony, could have been foreign to
Holland, or could designate a foreign blood. As
the name of John is claimed by Christendom, so
the son of John is found in everv hind. Amonsr
the Jansens or Johnsons of the Colony (the names
are identical, ) you will meet with Roelof Jansen,
whose estate below Warren street,' belongs now to
Trinity Church ; with Andeies Jansen, the first
schoolmaster of Beveryck, n.ow Albany ; with
Symon Jansen, a commissioner to examine ac-
counts ; with J ORIS, Willem, Pieter, Stoffel,
Auwke, Theunis, Rem, Isaac, Nettert, (jaspeek,
Carson, Aris, Jeremiah Johnson. It was a Jansen
who gallantly went out on horseback to attempt
the rescue of the French Jesuits, prisoners among
the savage Mohawks ; it was at the house of Jacob



Jansen Stol,'^ that the people of Esopiis, having
no church, were assembled in 1658 to keep
Ascension Day. A Barent Jansen is marked as
early as 1687 in the City of New York, and as a
native in the Colony. A Barent Jansen, in 1690,
with his son Barnt, was killed at the burning of
Schenectady. It was at first written Barnt, with
but one vowel ; and thus some Avould Avrite it out,
Barnet, like the family of General Johnson ; or
Barent, like his kindred of my own family, on the
old farm in Brooklyn, near the City Hall. So
some still write the name Jansen, while others
write it Johnson, the historic documents, and the
family correspondence proving beyond dispute or
doubt identity. Some of these rather peculiar
names, as Teunis or Barnet for instance, may
naturally guide us along the family line, especially
when they are found residing in the same vicinity.

It is impossible, on an occasion like the present,
to go minutely into the discussion of genealogies,
especially where perplexities exist, and where the
learned differ. But I will mention some interesting
results. A banished Huguenot, Joris Jansen de
Rapelje, son of Jeromus Jansen de Rapelje, came
from Holland to New Netherlands, in 1623. He is

*Broadheid's Hist., p. G47,



. ^ ■ '^

said to be the first who tilled the earth in Brooklyn.
To him was born in 1625, Sarah "the first-born
Christian daughter in the provinee of New Nether-
lands ;" the ''first aseertained ottspringv' ^^Y t^^ ^^i'^'
torians, "of European parentage'' in this the Em-
pire State. In honor of this, the Duteh authorities
gave her a donation of land, 20 morgen, or 40 acres,
at the Wallabout ; and the Indians did, also, some-
thing of the same kind. Of this history there is no
doubt, though some question has been raised as to
the place of her nativity, Albany venturing to dis-
pute the honor with Brooklyn. But the latest and
most elaborate of our historians, John Romeyn
Brodhead has recorded it as his conclusion, " here
at theWaalbogM, in the month of June, 1625, was
born Sarah Rapelje;" the location of the grant in-
dicates the same ; the family tradition of the John-
sons and others of the vicinity, has ever been ac-
cordant ; and in matters of this kind, a family event,
or a marked locality, is preserved with vastly more
fidelity and certainty by a neighborhood tradition,
than by some individual's calculation based u])on
insufficient data. Now, from the family mansion of
Gen. Jeremiah Johnson, you look down upon this
very property ; and he, our First President, was
descended from this first-born Christian daughter in

our land. I have, myself, seen and handled, through
_ ^


the courtesy of the sons of our lamented Patriarch,
an old Deed, dated April 10, 1694, a stained,
tattered, and venerable Document, written in the
language of the fatherland, conveying to one of
the family a portion of the paternal farm ; he by
another purchase in 1704, obtained the remainder ;
and his son, dying without issue, bequeathed the
ancestral estate to his near relative, Barnet John-
son, whose son, Jeremiah, was our own Founder,
and his sons again, our honored fellow-members : —
as one of my kindred exclaimed, " Good Dutch
blood, and there's more of it left!''

Gen. Johnson added to his paternal estate other
adjoining property, parts of which are now laid
out in city lots. The homestead farm, soon necessa-
rily to be covered by this vast extending city, con-
tinued while he lived as it was. It extends from
the Hospital grounds on Kent avenue, on the
West, to Williamsburg or Division avenue, on the
East ; from land of Jer. Remsen, deceased, near
Hooper street, on the North, to land on the South,
mostly l:)ounded by Flushing avenue, and Walton
street. These interesting points have detained me
long. 1 pass now to the personal history.

Gen. Jeremiah Johnson was l)oni Jan. 28, 1766,



oil tlu^ lioiuestcad ianii. His father, Barnet Johnson,
was born, April 2, 1740, luavried Sep. 8, 1764,
Anne Remsen, of Newtown, and died Nov. G,
1782. He was distinguished as a Patriot, and was
an active advocate of the Revolutionary movement ;
and, as an officer of the Kings County Militia, en-
camped with them at Harlaem, in 1776. In 1777,
he was taken prisoner by the British, and obtained
his parole from Gen. Howe, through the interpo-
sition of a Masonic brother. In order to help on
the cause to which he was devoted, he shrunk
nof from personal and pecuniary risks, but sug-
gested loans from friends in his County to the
American Government, and himself set the exam-
ple by loaning first .£700 and afterwards sums
amounting to $5,000, all the security for which was
a simple private receipt ; given, too, in times of ex-
ceeding peril and discouragement — a noble and
memorable deed.

When the Revolutionary war broke out Jeremiah
Johnson was in his eleventh year. What a boyhood
must have been his, amidst those afflicting, exciting,
and often terrible scenes ! Yes ! he was old
enough to know all about the mustering of the
forces, of the invasion of the enemy, of the catas-
trophe of the bloody and fatal battle near his very


home, of the imprisonment of his father, and of the
capture of the city. Right before his eyes, in the
Wallabout Bay, lay anchored the dreadful prison-
ships, in which, during the war, eleven thousand,
five hundred victims perished. He saw the bands
of soldiers as they traversed the country, the array
of ships of war, the moving of their armed boats
upon the water — and his ears were iamiliar with the
sounds of martial music and adventure, and his eyes
with the signs of invasion and of conflict. He heard
his father stigmatized as a rebel, and with his own
eyes he saw English soldiers intruding on his home
domain, and cutting down his finest trees reniorse-

But that same boy lived to see another sight. In
L7S3, on the 25th of November, he scav the Ameri-
can guard relieve the British; he saw British
troops marching, for the last time, down Broadway
to the Battery, and embarking in boats to their
ships ; he saw Gen. ^Yashington and suite, at the
head of American troops, marching down Pearl-
street, to the Battery ; he saw the British flag pulled
down, and the first American flag hoisted and
waving in the breeze. Those were stirring days,
and must have made indelible impression upon his
mind and character.


His father died before the Peace, and he was
thrown the move upon liiniself; and thongli the
distracted times were very unfavorable to regular
education, he improved his opportunities as he was
able; attended night schools; taught himself; and
so self-made, his manly character was well-disci-
|)Hued and (levelo])ed.

Then, as a good, quiet citizen, he lived upon his
farm in faithful industry; married his hrst wife,
Abigail, a daughter of Rem Rerasen, in 1787, who
died in her eighteenth year in 1788 ; his second
wife, Sarah, a daughter of Tennis Rapilyea, in 1791 ;
who died in her fifty-third year in 1825; — of ten
children four are now living, two sons, Barnet and
Jeromus, and two daughters, Sarah Anne, married
to Nicholas Wyckofi; and Susanna, married to Lain-
l3ert Wyckoff, — children who well sustain the pater-
nal reputation, following in his steps of virtuous
example, of benevolence and usefulness, patronizing
the erection of churches and every worthy cause.
His mother died on her l)irth-day, in 1792, aged
47 years. The old homestead was taken down and
the fine substantial mansion, now occupied by the
family, was erected near the same spot, in 1801.
He, himself, exemplary in private life; exceed-
ingly useful in social life ; honored with the confi-



dence of all ; favored with public trusts ; with high
offices, civil, military, social; crowuing all with a
remarkable kindness of spirit, and with Christian
character and habits, passed nobly through all life's
stages to its last.

The private and family life is hardly a suitable
topic to enlarge upon, on an occasion like the pre-
sent. I leave it in its own sacredness of simplicity,
beauty, and affection, to the memories and hearts of
those who understand it, and who will treasure it,
oh how tenderly and reverentially, till life's latest
hour !

But I must dwell awhile upon his more public
career — his official and military history. Naturally
of social turn, of benevolent impulses, and very
public-spirited, at quite an early age he took an in-
terest in whatever promised to promote the welfare
of his native island ; and, from his very character,
position, and associations, he became early con-
nected with public affairs. Of such offices as con-
sisted with home residence, and interfered not with
conducting its concerns efficiently, all were conferred
upon him, which a grateful and confiding commu-
nity could bestow. He was a Trustee of the Town
of Brooklyn for 20 years, and Supervisor of the
^ — »



same for 40 years, being for a long period t\u) \)vc-
siding officer of the Board of Supervisors. Wlien
Brooklyn was erected into a vUlage^ the residence
of Gen. Johnson was left ontside of the village
bounds; and, of course, he could not, except by
his own influence in a private capacity, which he
ever largely exercised, participate in its public
affairs ; but in 1835, the City Charter was obtained,
and the bounds were so extended as to include the
Eighth and Ninth Wards ; and thus his residence
fell again within the lines. In 1887, he was elected
Mayor of the City of Brooklyn, and re-elected in
1838 and 1839. He was elected a Member of the
State Legislature, for the Session of 1809, and
again, of 1810. In 1840, he was again elected to
that important station, and again, in 1841. Ho
was, at one time. Judge of the Common Pleas. At
the time of his death he was President of the Wood-
hull Monument Association, and Chairman of the
Board of Agriculture in the American Institute.

Amongst us, of the St. Nicholas Society, he stood
recognised as our Founder, and our President.
While he lived, we had no other. Besides all these,
there was hardly an occasional or incidental duty
in the business of agriculture, of education, of im-
provements, of reference, of management, to which


he was not summoned: as a striking instance of
which I mention as illustrating his business capacity
and experience, as well as the reputation and high
confidence he maintained amidst the community ;
that a member of the bar informed me he could
hardly go into any search of title in Brooklyn, with-
out coming in contact with his name in all parti-
tions of property in four cases out of five ; which
carried my own memory back vividly to the days
in 1823, when I so well remember him with Leffert
Lefferts and Jeremiah Lott, studying and arguing
over the map of my father's ancestral farm, then in
pasture, in grain, and in orchard, now built up and
in the very heart of our great city, dividing it into
three portions, for my sister, my brother, and myself

General Johnson was naturally a soldier. He
showed it in his manly countenance and martial
bearing; and the life of his boyhood and youth must
have nursed the patriot thought and the soldier spi-
rit. During the war with Great Britain from 1812
to 1815, he was at first only a .Junior Captain; but
when one was solicited to go out in command on
the Frontier, others declining, he volunteered for
the dangerous duty ; and so lie took precedence by
consent, and early became Colonel. Meanwhile lie
was very active in raising troops, and took great



interest in military affiiirs; and lield himself ready
at call. He was then honored with a Brigadier-
Generars commission, and was placed in cominand
of the 'J 2nd Brigade of Infantry, numbering 1750
men, and in view of a defence against an invasion,
then almost daily expected, was ordered on Sept.
2, 1814, lo Fort Greene, in Brooklyn, on which a
fort and barracks were erected — a service on which,


Online LibrarySamuel Roosevelt JohnsonA memorial discourse on the life, character and services of General Jeremiah Johnson : of Brooklyn, the first president of the St. Nicholas Society of Nassau Island → online text (page 1 of 2)