Table of Contents
A Guide to the collection at the Connecticut Historical Society
William Samuel Johnson (1727-1819), was an attorney, judge, senator, and statesman who contributed to the creation of the United States Constitution. He was president of Columbia College (1787-1800) and served as a militia officer in Connecticut. Johnson was born and lived most of his life in Stratford, Connecticut, but lived in London, England, during the case of the Mohegan tribe v. the Colony of Connecticut from 1767-1771.
Johnson’s father, Reverend Dr. Samuel Johnson (1696-1772) was a clergyman, first as a Congregational minister in West Haven, Conn., then later re-ordained as an Anglican minister in Stratford, Conn., where he spoke out against Congregationalism and Evangelicalism. The Rev. Dr. Johnson was selected by Trinity Church in New York City to be the first president of King’s College which later became Columbia College, later Columbia University.
William Samuel Johnson graduated from Yale in 1744, received a Master’s degree from Yale in 1747 and an honorary degree from Harvard the same year. Johnson educated himself in law and was admitted to the bar. He opened his practice in Stratford and represented clients from both Connecticut and New York. Early in his career, Johnson established himself as an orator and scholar and in 1766 was award an honorary degree from Oxford.
In 1761 and 1765, Johnson served in the lower house of the Connecticut legislature. He served in the upper house in 1766 and again from 1771-1775. He served on the colony’s Supreme Court from 1772-1774. In between, from 1767-1770, Johnson lived in England and represented the Colony in the Mohegan Indians v. Connecticut case. A portion of the collection consists of Johnson’s notes, case studies, and research.
In 1774, Johnson was elected to serve in the First Continental Congress; however, he refused to participate. Throughout the 1760’s and 1770’s Johnson was divided in his loyalties. He tried to maintain a balance between increasingly polarized factions. While he criticized British policy for the colonies, he could not commit himself to a severance from the mother country with which he had so many personal and professional ties. Ultimately, he opted to work as a peacemaker prior to and during the war. His influence diminished as radical patriots gained power in Connecticut government. In 1779, he was arrested for communicating with the enemy, British General Thomas Gage, about ending the conflicts but was able to clear himself.
Johnson’s abilities were again appreciated after the Revolutionary War. He became an influential delegate in the Confederation Congress in 1785 and spoke on the subject of representation. He supported the Connecticut Compromise, the precursor to the representation plan in the Constitution. Johnson was also active in framing the Constitution’s final form and his signature can be found listed with Roger Sherman under Connecticut.
Johnson served in the United States Senate of the new nation as the first Senator of Connecticut starting in 1789 but resigned in 1791 after the government moved from New York to Philadelphia. At that time he was president of Columbia College and concentrated his work there.
In his personal life, in 1749 Johnson married Anne Beach (1729-1796). They had eleven children but not all survived until adulthood. His last wills and testaments identify his children as: sons Samuel William (1761-1846) and Robert Charles (1766-1839) and five daughters Charity Kneeland (1750-1777), Sarah, (1754-1762), Gloriana Ann Alden (1757-1785), Mary (1759-1783), and Elizabeth Verplanck (1763-1789). He also corresponded with grandson, Gulian C. Verplanck and daughter-in-law, Susan (Edwards). Johnson married Mary Brewster Beach in 1800 after his first wife passed away.
Johnson died in 1819 in Stratford, Connecticut. He is buried in Christ Episcopal Church Cemetery in Stratford.
The William Samuel Johnson collection consists of personal and business records, including court documents, correspondence, personal papers and finances, and evidence and documentation from the Mohegan Indian land case.
The business records relate to his law business and cases and include information on iron works. His business correspondence contains letters to and from peers such as Thomas Davies, Silas Deane, Eliphalet Dyer, Benjamin Gale, Jared Ingersoll, Benjamin Latrobe, Thomas Life, William Pitkin, Nathan Rogers, William Smith Jr., Nicholas Stuyvesant, Robert Temple, Jonathan Trumbull, and John Wendell. Letters include his time spent in London England for the Mohegan case as well as his time in Stratford, Conn., and New York.
A portion of the collection was received in 1840 from the heirs of Governor Jonathan Trumbull. In 1903, three volumes were collected and bound. The volumes were disassembled (possibly in the 1980’s). Additions to the collection were added in 1911 and in 2016 all records were filed chronologically. The volume and numbered order are still visible on the previously bound records.
Materials are organized into three series, two have sub-series, based on form and creator.
Series I: Legal Records from Johnson's business Contains three sub-series, Mohegan Case, Assorted legal documents, and Johnson's cases and notes. Mohegan Case consists of of court documents, research, and documentation of Johnson’s work on the Mohegan v Colony of Connecticut case. Assorted legal documents contains documents relating to various topics and may include information pertaining to Mohegan case. Johnson's cases and notescontains various legal documents and may include items related to the Mohegan case.
Series II: William Samuel Johnson Correspondence Contains five sub-series, business to and business from Johnson, letterbooks, and family to and family from Johnson. Business to Johnson consists of incoming correspondence primarily from business associates and friends arranged chronologically. Business from Johnson consists of outgoing correspondences that appears to be drafts and are arranged chronologically. Letter booksJohnson’s collection of copies of letters in bound books arranged chronologically.Family to contains correspondence from Johnson's family to him, arranged chronologically. Family fromcontains correspondence from Johnson to hi family, arranged chronologically.
Series III:Personal Papers and Financial Reocrds Consists of diaries, memoranda, memoirs, personal financial documents, personal legal and estate papers, and last will and testaments.
There are no restrictions on access to the collection.
Use of the material requires compliance with the Connecticut Historical Society's Research Center regulations.
Deane, Silas, 1737-1789.
Dyer, Eliphalet, 1721-1807.
Gale, Benjamin, 1715-1790.
Ingersoll, Jared, 1722-1781.
Johnson, Ann (Beach), 1729-1796.
Johnson, Mary Brewster Beach.
Johnson, Robert Charles, 1766-1839.
Johnson, Samuel William, 1761-1846
Johnson, Samuel, 1696-1772
Johnson, William Samuel, 1727-1819
Johnson, William Samuel, 1727-1819
Kneeland, Charity Johnson, 1750-1777
Pitkin, William, 1694-1769
Smith, William Jr., 1728-1793
Trumbull, Jonathan, 1710-1785
Verplanck, Gulrien Crommelin, 1786-1870
Wendell, John, 1731-1808
Iron industry and trade.
Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut.
Stamp Act Congress (1765: New York, N.Y.).
Connecticut-- Politics and government
United States-- Politics and government.
United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
Item, Collection Title, Collection number (Box #, Folder #). Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, Connecticut.
Collection was processed by Amy Hietala in 2016.
EAD Finding Aid created March 2016.