History and Us: Elijah Johnson, Great Liberian Pioneer

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Elijah Johnson was one of the earliest leaders of the colonists, having arrived here on January 7, 1822 the ship Elizabeth. It was the ship that brought the first group of colonist from the United States to found a home in Africa, their Motherland. 

He is noted for being the author of two historic statements.  After the Sierra Leone people and the British colonial government had refused the colonists from America settlement at Shebro Island, Elijah Johnson led the colonists from there to Providence Island near Cape Mesurado. The general area they later named Monrovia. At the time, many on the ship Elizabeth urged the group return to the USA.  But Elijah Johnson responded with these historic, inspiring words:

“For two long years I have sought a home.  Here I have found one, and here will I remain.”

His other historic statement came when the British, in a subtle attempt to colonize Liberia during the tribal uprising against the settlers, offered to put up their flag in a bid to scare off the colonists’   tribal opponents. 

But Elijah Johnson, who was then Acting Agent of the American Colonization Society, defiantly told the British: “We want no flagstaff put up here that will cost us more to take down than to whip the natives.”

By that one remark, Liberia was saved from colonization and remains till this day the only African territory that was never colonized.

Elijah Johnson attained a great legacy as a leader.  He was one of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention that started in January, 1847 and ended with the establishment of the Republic of Liberia on July 26 that year.  He was therefore, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

His legacy of leadership has continued down through the generations.  His son, Hilary Richard Wright Johnson, became president of Liberia in 1884.  Hilary was a charismatic leader. He was nominated by both the Republican Party, founded by J. J. Roberts, Liberia first President, and the True Whig Party, of which E. J. Roye became the first standard bearer, later elected President. After his election as President (1884), Hilary Richard Wright Johnson chose his cabinet from both the Republican and True Whig Parties. And that spelled the end of the Republican Party.

Elijah Johnson’s great great grandson, Gabriel Johnson Tucker, became one of Liberia’s great Secretaries of Public Works and was probably the most popular member of the Tolbert government.  When the coup took place in 1980 Tucker, who managed men and women from ditch diggers to architects and civil and structural engineers, was one of only four Ministers of the Tolbert government who were never arrested in 1980.  Public Works employees ran to his house on the morning the coup to protect him.

Elijah Johnson’s leadership legacy continued with Martinus Johnson, also a great grandson, who became Liberia’s Ambassador to Egypt.  A great great granddaughter, Ruby Johnson, was a fashion model in the 1970s who adorned West African magazine covers.  She now serves as a Commissioner on the Human Rights Commission of Liberia.

The Johnson people seemed to have had a special fondness for Marylanders.  Elijah Johnson’s great granddaughter, Danielette Johnson, married Mr. Tucker  of Cape Palmas and their son, Gabriel Johnson Tucker,  married another Marylander, Wilhelmina “Coocoo” Tubman, daughter of President W.V.S. Tubman. 

The Woods sisters of Edina, Grand Bassa County, are also descendants of Elijah Johnson because their mother was an Elijah Johnson descendant.  One of her grand daughters, Hesta, married Goda Baker, a Marylander of the Grebo ethnic group; while Hesta’s older sister, Elizabeth, married Hebert Brewer of the Brewer family of Cape Palmas. 

But that was not all.  Hesta’s eldest sister Maria was wedded to Mitch Brownell, another prominent Marylander; and so was Hesta daughter, also named Hesta, who married a Pearson from Cape Palmas.

One of Ruby Johnson’s relatives has written a history of Elijah Johnson which we hope to share with our readers in the near future.  Elijah Johnson also links us today with Liberia’s current President, Ellen Jonson-Sirleaf. How and why? Kenneth Y. Best, in his book, Albert Porte, record that Ellen’s grandfather,

Mr. Jah Maley, was a gifted linguist who fluently spoke several Liberian languages. This is typical of the Deys and Golas, from whom Jah Maley hailed. As a result of his linguistic talents, Mr. Maley became the principal interpreter of President Hilary Richard Wright Johnson (1884-1892).  President Johnson took Ellen’s grandfather, Mr. Jah Maley, everywhere he went.  So the grandfather, Mr. Maley, decided to adopt the name Johnson as his surname. That is how Ellen’s father Carney, son of Jah Maley Johnson, became Carney Johnson.

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