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The Mystery of Abraham Johnson

Who was the Abraham Johnson at the wedding of William Johnson and Sarah Wardle 22 Sep 1806?

When William Johnson married Sarah Wardle 22 Sep 1806 at Breedon, a witness to the wedding was a certain Abraham Johnson. This was most likely either William's father or possibly his brother. In the case of it being his father, we need an Abraham Johnson born at least 20 years before William, who was born in the early 1780s, so born during the 1750s.

In the case of it being a brother, we need an Abraham born around the early 1780s. Unfortunately, in the Leicestershire-Derbyshire-Staffordshire-Warwickshire area I have not found any baptisms of brothers Abraham + William, nor of any William Johnsons with a father called Abraham. There are various Abraham Johnsons in the area, and various marriages plus children, but none that fit all the criteria. The only brothers Abraham + William that were found anywhere in England were in Shrewsbury, some 63 miles away.

First considerations: possible marriages

Although we do not really know when William was born, we can suppose that as he got Sarah Wardle pregnant in 1805, he was at least 18 years old then, so he will not have been born after 1787, thus allowing us to discount all the William Johnsons who were born after that date.

We also do not really know who William's parents were. If his father was Abraham, then there are only 2 local marriages that could have produced him, plus one other marriage in Shropshire. The first marriage is that of Abraham Johnson to Lydia Fairbrother 22 Feb 1779 at Breedon. The second is the marriage of Abraham Johnson to Anne Ordish (Ordidge) at Church Gresley 11 Feb 1777. Church Gresley is about 8 miles west of Coleorton, where we know our ancestors lived. Breedon is about 4 miles north of Coleorton. The third is the marriage of Abraham Johnson to Elizabeth Roberts 4 May 1780 at Shrewsbury.

Marriage #1:  Abraham Johnson to Lydia Fairbrother, at Breedon in 1779

If we first examine the marriage of Abraham Johnson to Lydia Fairbrother in 1779 at Breedon, the only Lydia Fairbrother in the region was born at Ashby (3m W of Coleorton) in 1745. There are two candidates for an Abraham Johnson who could have married Lydia. One was born in 1759 at Ashby, the other was born in 1753 at Hugglescote (4m S Coleorton). Note that in both cases, Lydia is significantly older than Abraham, and would have been 34 at the time of marriage. There are no recorded baptisms of any children born to Abraham and Lydia, and Lydia died after 6 years of marriage in 1785 at Lount (2m NW Coleorton). So if William's parents were Abraham and Lydia, he had to be born between 1779 and 1785, and his mother was 34-40 years old, possible, but an unusual age at the time for a first child. In 1793 Abraham married again, this time in Worthington to Mary Tennant of Breedon. She died in 1809 at Worthington, and Abraham died in 1816 at Worthington. Coming back to which Abraham Johnson married Lydia Fairbrother, I am fairly convinced that it was the Abraham born in 1759 in Ashby, same town as Lydia. This also ties in with Abraham's age at death in 1816 (aged 58). In many ancestry trees, the other Abraham born in 1753 in Hugglescote has been included, and his death specified as 1840 at Donisthorpe. I think that this is unlikely (see below), in fact I believe that this Abraham is the one who married Anne Ordish in Church Gresley.

Marriage #2: Abraham Johnson to Anne Ordish, at Church Gresley in 1777

Let us now examine in fact this marriage of Abraham Johnson to Anne Ordish in 1777 at Church Gresley. There are quite a lot of children born to the marriage, but no baptisms of an Abraham or a William. The baptisms all start in 1781, so 4 years after the marriage started, which is unusual. In fact, although it does not show in the baptism records, there was definitely an Abraham Johnson born in 1779 in Church Gresley, because he appears in the 1851 census. Pity that his baptism is not there in the records. This was though the only Johnson family in Church Gresley having children at the time, so I am fairly certain that Abraham and Anne did in fact have a son called Abraham around 1778/9. Pity he didn't also have a brother called William born around 1780, as this would have completed the circle. Of course, he may have had a brother, just that so far his baptism has not been identified. Most likely what happened was that in the early years of their marriage, Abraham and Anne moved elsewhere and returned to Church Gresley only in 1781.

Marriage #3: Abraham Johnson to Elizabeth Roberts, at Church Gresley in 1780

The third marriage of an Abraham Johnson was to Elizabeth Roberts 4 May 1780 in Shrewsbury. This has the advantage of their first two children being named William b 24 Aug 1781 and Abraham b 11 Jul 1782, both born at Shrewsbury. After that it is all mystery, as the couple do not have any other children in Shrewsbury, or, apparently, anywhere else in England. Neither do Abraham or Elizabeth die soon afterwards in Shrewsbury. Of course they could have moved somewhere else and then one or the other died, without any reference being made to the name of their spouse in the burial record. Quite often you just get an "Elizabeth Johnson died", no age or husband's name. We could suppose though that for some unknown reason the family moved to the Coleorton area. This wouldn't explain however why there are no more children, but it would place 2 Abraham Johnsons (father and son) and one William Johnson (son) in the Coleorton area at the right time.

This supposition also has the advantage that when William married in 1806 aged 25, the witness Abraham Johnson could possibly be either his father or his brother. Analysing the wedding certificates, though, casts doubts on both these hypotheses. This because when his father Abraham married in 1780, he signed his marriage certificate. When, however, his son William married in 1806, the witness Abraham did not (or could not) sign his name. On the other hand, William did sign his own marriage certificate in 1806, and if the witness was his brother Abraham, then it seems strange that William was able to sign his name while brother Abraham is not. That said, William's first two children were named William (b1805 before marriage) and Abraham (b1807). A further point in favour of this hypothesis is that it does seem strange that we don't find the birth of William anywhere in the Coleorton area, and this hypothesis not only provides a place of birth, but also provides him with an Abraham as a father and an Abraham as a brother!

Analysis of the marriages

So where does this leave us? Well, Marriage #1, that of Abraham to Lydia Fairbrother, as well as having no documented children, has the disadvantage that Lydia was relatively old (34-40). It does though have the advantage that Abraham's father was called William Johnson, which could be a good reason to call a son William. Why there is no trace of William's birth in the 1780s is not explained.

Marriage #2, that of Abraham to Anne Ordish, on the other hand, has the disadvantage of no baptism either of a William or an Abraham, although I am quite convinced that there was a son called Abraham, so perhaps there was also a son called William. There is a gap in the years between Abraham's supposed birth in 1778/79 and the next child Mary in 1781. The fact of Abraham's parents being John Johnson and Constancy has both advantages and disadvantages. Its disadvantage is that there are no children called John or Constancy, nor, for that matter, William. That said, it does have the advantage of supporting Johnson family folklore that has always said that we were related to a certain John Johnson, born in 1710, and who lived and was killed in Lount in 1760 (so in the right area). Having a father named John who had a child Abraham in the 1750s, and so was born around 1732, would leave this hypothesis open. There is though no other indication of any link to the Coleorton area, whereas in marriage #1 Abraham and Lydia were married in Breedon, and Lydia died in Lount, very close to Coleorton.

Marriage #3, that of Abraham to Elizabeth Roberts in 1780 in Shrewsbury, has the advantage of two brothers Abraham and William both born at the right time. There is though no proof that the family did originally come from Shrewsbury, and most likely no way to prove it.
So perhaps marriage #1, Abraham and Lydia, are ahead on points!

...and if Abraham was William's brother?

Finally, we need to examine the possibility that William's father was not called Abraham, and so the Abraham Johnson who was a witness at the wedding of William and Sarah was a brother to William. Unfortunately, the only pair of brothers who were called Abraham and William are the ones born in Shrewsbury in 1781-1782. Although there were 30 William Johnsons born in Leicestershire during the period 1777-1787, 4 in Derbyshire, 38 in Staffordshire (but only 1 within 20 miles) and 8 in Warwickshire, unfortunately there were no corresponding baptisms of any Abraham Johnsons in these counties during this time period! In fact, there are only about 10 Abraham Johnsons born in the whole of England in this timeframe!

My personal conclusion

My personal conclusion is therefore that the Abraham Johnson who was a witness at the wedding of William Johnson and Sarah Wardle in 1806 was in fact his father born in 1759 in Ashby, and that his parents were Abraham Johnson and Lydia Fairbrother. As can be seen above, however, this is at most a "good guess" and solid proof is just not available.


John Lomas, 8 May 2017