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January 4 1812: Jacob Johnson


Jacob Johnson (ca. 1778-1812) was married to Mary McDonough and had three children, William Patterson Johnson (1804–1865), Elizabeth Johnson (1806– unknown) and Andrew Johnson (December 29, 1808–July 31, 1875). 

The youngest was also known as Andy, the future Vice-President of Abraham Lincoln and President (1865–1869) after Lincoln's assassination.

The chronology leading to Jacob Johnson's death is not totally clear, but it appears that his health never recovered after he jumped into the icy waters of Walnut Creek to save the lives of Colonel Thomas Henderson and a Mr. Callum, a Scottish merchant. They were all on a  fishing skiff or canoe that had capsized. Jacob later collapsed while ringing the funeral bell at the State Capitol Building in Raleigh North Carolina.   

As described below, among his many duties, Jacob Johnson was Raleigh’s bell-ringer, worked at Raleigh's popular Casso Tavern, was church sexton, a janitor at the bank, captain of the local muster company and was known  for "his talent for whole-pig roasting."  

The details above are taken from Kate Pattison's excellent article, Andrew Johnson’s Father, a Hero in His Own Rightwhich describes him more fully as follows:
Johnson, in his time, was the most popular man in Raleigh. He worked at Casso’s Tavern, which was situated at the southeast corner of Union Square, where the present-day Justice Building sits.  Jacob’s house (Andrew’s birthplace) was located behind the tavern near the stables that held 30-40 traveler’s horses.
Peter Casso’s place was the best-loved tavern in Raleigh, offering food, drink and lodging to members of the General Assembly from all over North Carolina. The tavern was also the site of auctions, cockfights, a Winter Ball and the annual Fourth of July feast for everyone in the city.
Outside of Casso’s, Jacob busied himself with the duties of a church sexton, a janitor at the bank, and captain of the local muster company.  Jacob’s faithful work, as well as his talent for whole-pig roasting, made him a frequent hunting companion of the landed elite.
It was on such an outing, winter fishing, along with Colonel William Polk, Raleigh Star editor Thomas Henderson, Jr., and a Scottish merchant remembered only as Callum, that Jacob’s sense of duty made him heroic.  By differing accounts, it was the winter of 1810 or 1811, when a canoe carrying Henderson and Callum toppled into the icy water of Walnut Creek.  Jacob plunged in and saved both men from drowning, and soon afterword became very ill.
Jacob’s many friends called on him to wish him a speedy recovery.  It was later, in early January 1812, when Jacob was attending to his duties as Raleigh’s bell-ringer, tolling for a funeral on a bitter cold day, that he collapsed from exhaustion and weakness.
On January 4, 1812, Jacob succumbed to his illness, and was buried in the Citizen’s Cemetery, now called Raleigh City Cemetery, with a marker inscribed simply “J.X.J.”  Andy, his youngest son, had just turned four years old.
Jacob Johnson's obituary, in the Raleigh Star newspaper of January 10, 1812, was written by its editor, Thomas Henderson, one of the man he had saved.  It read as follows:
Died, in this city, on Saturday last, Jacob Johnson, who had for years occupied a humble but useful station in Society. He was a city constable, sexton, and porter of the State Bank. In his last illness he was visited by the principal inhabitants of the city, by all whom he was esteemed for his honesty, industry, and humane and friendly disposition. Among all whom he was known and esteemed none lament him more (except, perhaps, his relatives) than the publisher of this paper; for he owes his life, on a particular occasion, to the boldness and humanity of Johnson.






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