If you belong to the Ezekiel Johnson family, no matter what your surname is, you are believed to belong to the largest family in the L.D.S. Church, with perhaps, more large men and women in it also. Some of the following information is culled from "Trail to Sundown" by R. D. Johnson. The most posterity belongs to five brothers, Joel Hills, Joseph Ellis, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and William Derby Johnson. The women are Julia Ann Babbitt, Delcena Diadamia Sherman, Esther Melita LeBaron, Mary Ellen Wilson, and Almera Smith Barton.
Our Johnson history in the United States begins, so far as this tale is concerned, with Joseph Guernsey, who was living in New Haven, Conn. in 1647. He traces on down to Seth who had a son also named Seth. This Seth, born November 20, 1732, married Bethial Lee or Lea and became the parents of a daughter Sethiah (some have her Bethiah) Guernsey. Sethiah gave birth to a son named Ezekiel Johnson. The date on the flyleaf of his old family bible, gives his birthdate as January 12, 1776. He gave this date also when he was married but it seems to be very certain that he was born in January or February of 1773. At present it is pretty well conceded that he was an illegitimate child. His father is supposed to be some Ezekiel Johnson but not proven. As a baby, he lived with his mother and his grandmother Sethiah Guernsey Smith. When he was about three, his mother married Jonathan King. They were living in Ashford, Conn. in 1779. Family tradition has it that Ezekiel ran away from home when he was 14. He felt that Jonathan was unkind to him, not being his own son.
He was given a rawhide wallet with the name of James King on it. He was to go collect a small amount of money owed King. He never came back for a good many years. When he did, the Kings had moved to Canada. He never met his mother again. What little we have of his life shows that he was a very energetic and business like person. Some old notes found in his wallet prove that he was traveling and selling cow bells when he was sixteen or seventeen in Albany, New York. He never collected on the notes. Probably got too far away to go back. Old deeds, etc. show also that he was a real estate salesman of sorts. He bought raw land, cleaned it and built a cabin on it and then would sell it and start another one. He did this a lot after he was married, also.
His son, Benjamin, had this to say of him. "As a husband and parent he was tender and affectionate. As a neighbor, obliging and true. His integrity was never questioned. His word was his bond. He was a gentleman in all things except his intemperance (he was an alcoholic), at times this seemed to change his whole nature. He was about 5 feet 10 inches tall, light brown hair, piercing blue eyes, solid build, nice looking, sought after by friends. He was feared only for his words. He never struck any living thing except with his words." I take it that he could be fierce with his poise and eyes and language. He never joined the Church but he used these tactics on mobs at times to protect the Saints as all of his family belonged. One of his daughters married Joseph Smith and two others were sealed to him. Joseph was known to tap Ezekiel for a loan or donation on occasions and always got them.
By 1801, he had met, courted and married an 18 year old girl, ten years younger than himself. He married Julia Hills, who was living with her mother, Esther Ellis Hills, in Grafton, Mass. The wedding took place January 12, 1801. They built and sold houses and added children to their family. Going west through Vermont past Buffalo, New York and on. At Fredonia, along Lake Erie, they settled awhile and Ezekiel decided to go to Cincinnati, Ohio to look around and see if he would like to settle there. The following is the reason in short:
Joe Hills, Julia’s loved brother and his wife, a cousin Rhoda Partridge, moved from Massachusetts to Canada. When war broke out with England in 1812, they were enemies so moved back. He expected to settle near his sister, Nancy Hills Taft, who was living in Cincinnati, Ohio. On his way down he stopped with Ezekiel and Julia in Vermont. He then talked the Johnsons into letting their little boy, the oldest in the family, go with them. Joe Hills liked him because he was his name sake, Joel Hills Johnson. Ezekiel wanted to go down anyway sometime, and when he did, he would bring the boy back.
It was a nice trip down for Joel. By horses and wagon through beautiful nearly unsettled country of lakes and rivers. Through Vermont, New York and Pennsylvania to Pittsburgh. There with others, they bought a flat boat, loaded their things, and slowly drifted down the Ohio River, along the State of Kentucky, to Newport, opposite Cincinnati, Ohio. Here they located in Kentucky and Ezekiel found them there in the Spring of 1815. Ezekiel had walked down there, about 500 miles. Ezekiel didn’t want to settle there so he took his 13 year old boy and walked back. They walked through areas where people had been killed and their homes burned by Indians. They got home in early June of 1815. The Johnsons lived in this neighborhood until the Spring of 1833.
His son Joel married Anna Pixby Johnson, daughter of Timothy Johnson, November 2, 1826. He sold his home and mill in Fredonia and moved to Amherst. David (another son who later died) went to help him with his mill and stayed until Spring. While there, some of the first Mormon Elders came along on their mission to Missouri. They converted enough to form a little branch and Joel and David were among them. One story says that Joel walked to Fredonia carrying the Book of Mormon in his pack. The other says the book soon followed their conversion. R. D. Johnson still has the book.
In the Fall of 1831, Joel, David, and 17 year old Almon Babbitt (he later married daughter Julia) came home and bore their testimonies to the family. A few weeks later two missionaries came along and through the forceful preaching and reasoning of James Brockenbury the family was converted, including son-in-law Lyman R. Sherman, excepting Ezekiel. He refused to let the younger children be baptized until they were of age.
Here is where the course of the Johnson family changed. It led them all over the West, some into Mexico and some to the Isles of the Sea and so on. It was bad for Ezekiel. I believe his excess drinking started here. Ezekiel took some of the family and went to Kirtland to see the Mormons. He met Joseph Smith and was quite enthused. He went to Amhurst where Joel was Branch President of 100 people but when he got back home, he lost interest and could feel himself squeezed out of the family.
Likely to break his family away, he sold his holdings to be turned over the next June and went to Chicago. He bought a tract of land and the family was to follow by June. He was to send a letter just when to come. Julia stayed until April and then moved to Kirtland. If the letter came she wasn’t there to get it. Ezekiel waited a long time, and when no family arrived, he sold the land, and went back to see what happened.
He was in a bad fix in Kirtland. He was about 60 years old. No pleasure in going back to Chicago alone. He hated the Mormons for taking his family. He did carpenter work there and tried to get along. Julia had traded some teams and wagons for some property there. Things got worse and Ezekiel drank more. The more he drank the worse they got. Eventually, he and Julia separated. He bought a place nearby at Mentor. There his daughters took turns staying with him and his small children visited him often. He was the father of 16 children.
The Johnsons lived in Kirtland five years, helped build the Temple and buried two boys and two girls there who died of quick consumption. In 1835, Julia and all her children received a Patriarchal blessing from Joseph Smith Sr., beginning with the eldest, when he got to Joseph Ellis, the ninth he jumped over to Benjamin Franklin the tenth. Julia called it to his attention, but he said that to Benjamin was to come the first blessing because it was spiritual, Joseph Ellis’ blessing was to come largely from work in mundane affairs, and so it proved to be.
Julia Hills Johnson and part of the family seem to have been moving to Missouri. The Saints were driven out from there and she settled in Springfield, Illinois. Samuel Hale and wife and daughter, Mary Ann, who was ten years old, were close friends of the Johnsons and traveled with them. Samuel died and soon his wife passed away. Julia adopted Mary Ann.
Julia and Joel and Benjamin went to Cincinnati to visit and teach the Gospel to Julia’s sister, Nancy Taft and Brother Joel Hills. They had a nice visit, but no luck in religion.
Joel owned a farm at Carthage and is believed to have influenced the Brethren to purchase and settle Nauvoo. After Nauvoo was chosen and the Saints began settling there, Julia and her family decided to go there. It was a 100 mile trip, and on the way, seeing so much vacant country, Julia decided she would like to choose a place where all her family could settle and make a little town. Joel probably helped her and they chose Perkins Settlement, 20 miles from Nauvoo. They bought land and cut it up in town lots and named it Ramus. Later her son, Joseph Ellis, named it Macedonia. In June, 1842, Almon Babbitt and family, Ezekiel, his daughter Ester, probably caring for him, and Benjamin F. Johnson, just married to Melissa LeBaron, left Kirtland and headed for Ramus. It took them about a month to cross Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.
Twice they had runaways with teams that broke up wagons and harness. They had to repair it with nothing to do it with. Both accidents happened while trying to make a move on Sunday. They concluded that Sunday travel didn’t pay. When they arrived, Ezekiel found that his 14 year old son, Amos Partridge, had died a week or so before from rheumatic fever. He also found that Joseph Ellis had married. Ezekiel stayed here for awhile but soon turned up in Nauvoo.
President Snow says the Prophet sent him to Ezekiel to get a donation. Ezekiel gave him $50 and said, "Give that to your _____ Prophet, that’s the last he’ll get." Brother Snow chuckled because Ezekiel helped fight the mobs many times. This story is told of him:
Ezekiel got word that the militia were going to sneak into Nauvoo and hurry the people out before the time they had agreed to leave. Ezekiel took his old double barrel shotgun and went out to the edge of town in a wooded spot. When the company came up, he stepped out with his gun cocked and ordered them to halt. He yelled so all could hear that they would enter the City over his dead body. He gave them a sizzling cursing, told them he had no home and few friends and didn’t care what became of him. He began calling orders to people pretending he had a group with him. The militia turned around and left. Later in the day, they tried to slip in on another road and here was the old man again. They camped for the night and came in the next day. The Saints were ready for them then, so they had a long talk and agreed to withdraw.
Ezekiel went to live for a short time with Joel, but when he left for the West, Ezekiel came back to Nauvoo where part of the family hadn’t gotten out as yet. He was recognized by some of the militia mob and beaten and abused terribly. Sometime later he died from the effects of the beatings. He died January 13, 1848 and was buried in the Nauvoo Cemetery. He is regarded as a martyr for the Church. Ezekiel and Julia had 16 children, six of whom died before marriage. Julia, by advice from the Prophet was sealed to John Smith, uncle of Joseph. Later, her children had this annulled and sealed her to Ezekiel.
There were five boys left. Joel Hills married five wives, not all living at the same time. He had thirty children. Benjamin F. married seven times with forty nine children. Joseph Ellis, three wives and twenty-nine children, George W. two wives and twenty children, William Derby, one wife and twelve children. The five girls that married brought two Shermans, five Babbitts, five Bartons, seven Wilsons, five LeBarons, a total of 164 grand children.
Julia Hills Johnson had a home in Council Bluffs; Kanesville it was called. She had several married children there who hadn’t moved to Utah as yet. She lived at home and with them, maybe as children were born. She died May 30, 1853. (I have always admired her for the way she kept her family together and in the Church. She must have had a strong will. J.E.J. 1962) Julia was a poet and wrote "The Joy and the Song". It was chosen by Emma Smith as one of the first L.D.S. songs. Many of her children had a talent for writing and at least three of her sons were poets, Joel Hills, Joseph Ellis, and George Washington. Joel Hills Johnson wrote on Gospel themes, Joseph Ellis wrote on the beauties of nature, George Washington (?).