Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The President's Valet

African American William Henry Johnson a personal valet of United States President Abraham Lincoln died January 28th 1864 most likely from smallpox.

William Henry Johnson a free African American was born about 1835.  He was working in Springfield, Illinois as a barber and bootblack when he met Abraham Lincoln in 1860.  When Lincoln became President he brought Johnson with him to the White House.  There seems to have been issues between the existing White House staff and Johnson.  In a letter that Lincoln wrote to United States Navy Secretary Gideon Welles on March 7th 1861 he stated the trouble seemed to be “the difference of color between him and other servants is the cause of our separation.”  Lincoln found other employment for Johnson as a messenger for the United States Treasury Department.  Johnson however continued to work mornings as the President’s valet and barber.

On November 18th 1863 Johnson traveled by train with Lincoln to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery.  The President contracted smallpox and while tending to Lincoln, Johnson also came down with disease.  The President recovered, but Johnson died on January 28th 1864 in Washington, DC.

Lincoln paid for Johnson’s funeral.  Interestingly it is unknown to a certainty where Johnson is buried.  There are two places that claim his remains, Arlington National Cemetery, and the Columbian Harmony Cemetery.

Recommended reading on this subject can be found at Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Johnson

No comments: