5981, 6013. Johnson


  1. John Johnson (ca. 1594–1659) m. (1) 1613 Mary Heath (1594–1629); Ware, Great Amwell, Herts., Eng.; Roxbury, Mass.
  2. Mary Johnson (1614–1679) m. Roger Mowry (d. 1668); Salem, Mass.; Providence, R. I.


The ancestry of Mary Johnson is thoroughly treated in Douglas Richardson, The Heath Connection: The English Origins of Isaac and William Heath of Roxbury, Massachusetts, John Johnson, Edward Morris, and Elizabeth (Morris) Cartwright, New England Historical and Genealogical Register 146 (1992): 261-78, and Douglas Richardson, Heath–Johnson–Morris Update: The Ancestry of Agnes (Cheney) Heath, New England Historical and Genealogical Register 149 (1995): 173-86. Agnes Cheney was the mother of Mary Heath. This family is also treated by Dean Crawford Smith, The Ancestry of Emily Jane Angell, 1844–1910, ed. Melinde Lutz Sanborn (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1992), 376-91, though these authors do not provide as full a treatment of the Heath ancestry and differ with Richardson on some details of the composition of the Johnson family.

Related surnames

11963, 12025. Heath · 1495, 1503. Mowry

Comment: William Bartram and the Johnson Family

Although baptismal records have been discovered for most of John Johnson’s children in England,[1] which of them survived to adulthood is a matter of some controversy. His will names only one son, Isaac, and one son-in-law, Robert Pepper, but specifies that his estate should be divided among his widow and five children.[2] Three of the others may be identified as Elizabeth, wife of Robert Pepper;[3] Mary, wife of Roger Mowry;[4] and a son, Humphrey.[5] The identity of the fifth child is not firmly established. It had been thought by some, but without firm evidence, that this person was a daughter who was the wife of William Bartram, of Lynn and Swansea.[6]

In a letter of 6 April 1654, Samuel Whiting and Thomas Cobbett, pastor and teacher of the church in Lynn, made the following declaration to their counterparts at Roxbury:[7]

We understand that it is the earnest desire of our neighbor Bartrow and his wife that their child might partake of the benefits of the seal of the Covenant, own baptism in right of his mother, who is daughter to Brother Johnson of your church, and was about three years old when he joined to your church.

Among the children of John Johnson whose baptisms were recorded are two daughters whose burials and marriages are not on record. As a result, the discovery of the family’s English origin has produced a dispute over the interpretation of this text. Douglas Richardson emphasizes that the daughter in the best position to be about three years old when her father joined the Roxbury church was the youngest, Hannah (bp. 1628).[8] Dean Crawford Smith and Melinde Lutz Sanborn rely upon a still less direct argument to identify Sarah Johnson (bp. 1624) not only as William’s wife, but also as previously the widow of Hugh Burt of Lynn.[9]

That William was married to a woman named Sarah is not in dispute. He names Sarah as his wife in his will.[10] She first appears as his wife on 17 October 1660, when their daughter Ellen was born in Lynn.[11] Whenever the marriage occurred, and whatever Sarah’s parentage, she must have married Burt first. In April 1666 or earlier, William Bartrum and Sarah his wife made two joint conveyances with Mary Burt and Sarah Burt, daughters of Hugh Burt, lately deceased, all of Lynn (Sarah Burt by guardian).[12] Obviously Hugh could not have had two daughters named Sarah. It is difficult to imagine William and Sarah Bartram obtaining their interest by any means other than a prior marriage.[13] And Hugh died more than three years before the Whiting–Cobbett letter; his inventory is dated 8 October 1650.[14] There was time after Hugh’s death for Sarah to remarry and have a child whose spiritual estate concerned her.

This argument has more recently won the endorsement of Robert Charles Anderson, though he undercuts it with an odd mischaracterization of the facts:[15]

While there is no doubt that one of the five children named [sic] by John Johnson in his will was at one time the wife of Hugh Burt, it is not certain which daughter, Sarah or Hannah, she might have been. Sarah is the more likely candidate, and if it was she, then she went on to marry William Bartram.

Anderson and his colleagues proceeded to republish this supposition as fact in the follow-up treatment of Hugh’s father and namesake.[16] If anything is established beyond a doubt by the 1654 pastoral letter, however, it is that one of John Johnson’s daughters was the wife of William Bartram, not Hugh Burt, by 1654. In order to make the claim that Sarah Johnson had married Hugh Burt, one must assume that William was continuously married to her from 1654 to 1666. This, in turn, entails the further assumption that Johnson’s married daughter had not died before Johnson made his will. In itself, the evidence does not support those assumptions. At most, it supports the assumption that William was married to Sarah from 3: 2m: [April] 1658, when she was the unnamed mother of his twin daughters Hester and Rebecca. Sarah still could potentially be placed in a different birth family.[17]

Helen S. Ullmann asked the critical question a few years before the discovery of the English origin: How Many Wives? If William was married just once throughout his adult life, then his wife could hardly be anyone other than Sarah Johnson, and neither could Hugh’s. Neither the documentation nor the chronology, however, rules out the possibility that the widow Sarah Burt was actually a second wife of William, whom he married after 1654. In that case, Sarah Bartram need neither have the same parents nor the same birth date implied by the pastoral letter. As it happens, Sarah Bartrom gave her own age as about fifty-six years in a deposition of 29 June 1677, which dates her birth to about three years before Sarah Johnson’s baptism.[18] As Ullmann further noted, descriptions of Sarah’s personal conduct do not comport with Whiting and Cobbett’s description of Bartram’s wife walking inoffensively, as she hath done here so far as ever we have heard, both when as a servant to Brother Layton, and afterward to Mr. Whiting, and when married also.[19] Hugh and Sarah were sued for slander in 1649,[20] and in 1669–70 William and Sarah Bartram were both subjected to extended reconsideration for membership by the church in Swansea.[21]

The most powerful argument for identifying William’s wife with Sarah Johnson proceeds from John Johnson’s will. There is no indication that his heirs were any others than his wife and five children, all of whom were alive and none of whom had died leaving issue. If one daughter had married William Bartram by 1654 but had since deceased, we might expect John Johnson to take it into consideration, but he did not take cognizance of such a circumstance.[22] Eugene Cole Zubrinsky identifies a surviving child of William who was born nearer to 1654: his daughter Elizabeth, who, at the age of about 23 years, joined Sarah Bartrom’s deposition of 29 June 1677.[23] The fact that John’s will does not single out Elizabeth as an object of special concern, together with its timing during a 2½-year interval between births of children to William’s wife, suggests that the Bartram family was basically stable through the mid-1650s. The identification of John Johnson’s fifth surviving child that is favored by Smith, Sanborn, and Anderson can be sustained on a parsimonious interpretation of a combination of Bartram and Johnson family records during the critical years.


1 Douglas Richardson, The Heath Connection: The English Origins of Isaac and William Heath of Roxbury, Massachusetts, John Johnson, Edward Morris, and Elizabeth (Morris) Cartwright, New England Historical and Genealogical Register 146 (1992): 261-78, at 271, 273-5; Dean Crawford Smith, The Ancestry of Emily Jane Angell, 1844–1910, ed. Melinde Lutz Sanborn (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1992), 388-91.

2 Smith and Sanborn, Ancestry of Emily Jane Angell, 384.

3 Married at Roxbury on 14 Mar. 1642/3. Ibid., 389; Richardson, Heath Connection, 275.

4 This Indenture . . . Betweene Roger moorre of Providence in New England and mary his wife being the Eldest Daughter of John Johnson late of Roxbury in Suffolke in the massachusetts Colonje of New England deceased, 12 Oct. 1659. Suffolk Deeds: Liber III (Boston: Rockwell & Churchill, City Printers, 1885), 374.

5 Humfrey Johnson for and in consideration of Twenty sixe pounds thirteene shillings & foure pence due vnto his ffather John Johnson. Suffolk Deeds: Liber I, 22 Sept. 1643 (Boston: Rockwell & Churchill, City Printers, 1880), 44.

6 Paul W. Prindle, Ancestors and Descendants of Timothy Crosby Jr.: With Supplement H, Ancestry of Mary Morey, Wife of Timothy Crosby Sr. (Orleans, Mass., 1981), 365, cites an LDS temple record for this unproven claim.

7 Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 17 (1880): 140-2, at 140.

8 Richardson, Heath Connection, 275.

9 Smith and Sanborn, Ancestry of Emily Jane Angell, 390.

10 H. L. Peter Rounds, Abstracts of Bristol County, Massachusetts, Probate Files, 1687–1745 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1987), 3; Abstracts from the First Book of Bristol County Probate Records, Genealogical Advertiser 4 (1901): 58-61, at 58.

11 Vital Records of Lynn, Massachusetts, to the End of the Year 1849, 2 vols. (Salem, Mass.: Essex Institute, 1905–6), 1:43.

12 Essex Society of Genealogists, Essex County Deeds, 1639–1678: Abstracts of Volumes 1-4, Copy Books, Essex County, Massachusetts (Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, 2003), 197, citing deed of 1 April 166_, 3:279, and 342-3, citing deed of 8 April 1666, 4:658. Helen S. Ullmann, William Bartram of Lynn and Swansea, Massachusetts: How Many Wives? Essex Genealogist 6 (1986): 178-85, dates the former to 1 April 1666.

13 Ullmann, William Bartram of Lynn and Swansea, 180.

14 The Probate Records of Essex County, Massachusetts, 3 vols. (Salem, Mass.: Essex Institute, 1916–20), 1:123.

15 Robert Charles Anderson, The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England, 1620–1633, 3 vols. (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1995), 2:1109. To his credit, Anderson proceeds to describe the identification of Sarah Bartram as a difficult and unsolved problem. The same statement is repeated in Robert Charles Anderson, The Winthrop Fleet: Massachusetts Bay Company Immigrants to New England, 1629–1630 (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2012), 419-20.

16 Robert Charles Anderson, George F. Sanborn Jr., and Melinde Lutz Sanborn, The Great Migration: Immigrants to New England, 1634–1635, 7 vols. (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1999–2011), 1:502.

17 Vital Records of Lynn, 1:43.

18 Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts, ed. George Francis Dow and Mary G. Thresher, 9 vols. (Salem, Mass.: Essex Institute, 1911–75), 6:299.

19 Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings 17:141. Compare Ullmann, William Bartram of Lynn and Swansea, 179.

20 Quarterly Courts of Essex County, 1:172.

21 Robert Charles Anderson, ed., Swansea, Massachusetts, Baptist Church Records, New England Historical and Genealogical Register 145 (1991): 21-49, at 30-2.

22 Ullmann, William Bartram of Lynn and Swansea, 180.

23 Eugene Cole Zubrinsky, Elizabeth Bartram, Wife of (1) William Hammond Sr. of Rehoboth and Swansea, and (2) Joseph2 Fiske of Lynn and Swansea, Mass., New England Historical and Genealogical Register 149 (1995): 230-43. Zubrinsky himself was skeptical of Smith and Sanborn’s identification of Sarah, describing Elizabeth as the daughter of William Bartram of Lynn and Swansea and likely step-daughter of his widow Sarah (____) (Burt) Bartram (p. 232). Unfortunately, the reasoning behind this conclusion is not formally stated in this article. Whiting and Cobbett refer to the child with a masculine pronoun, which suggests that it was a boy, but there has always been reason to suspect the inaccuracy of this detail. Their letter survives only as a copy of copy, and William is not otherwise known to have had any sons (Ullmann, William Bartram of Lynn and Swansea, 179).

Created 9 June 2003; last updated 28 February 2014.
Austin W. Spencer | email: spencer@rootedancestry.com