We can live our lives without knowing who many of our ancestors were, where they came from, or how or when they first arrived in places there were hardly welcome. Yet, they did walk the same streets we take for granted today; in very different lives we can barely imagine. Lest they be forgotten from yesteryear or today; our heritage is amongst us — if only we open our hearts and minds to notice them.
Benjamin Johnson was born during slavery near Louisville, Kentucky, March 16, 1823. He came to Cincinnati in 1865 and then to Portsmouth in 1867. He worked as a steward on the old Bostonia and Bonanza steamboat lines from 1865 to 1890 in which position he was very popular with the traveling public. His first wife died in Louisville in the early 1860s. he married again to his second wife, Miss Hannah Haley on March 16, 1871. She was the sister of highly respected Reverend Addison Haley (July 14, 1844-March 29, 1916). Hannah Johnson died in 1878. After being one of the oldest and most highly respected citizens and the first known of his family to move to Portsmouth, Johnson died Nov. 2, 1911 at the age of 88.
Leroy William Johnson was the son of Ben Johnson and a well known mail carrier in Portsmouth during the early 1900s. He was born during slavery on Oct. 10, 1856 in Lexington, Kentucky and died Jan. 9, 1923 in Portsmouth. Leroy married Nancy Umber Jan 15, 1874. Nancy or “Nannie” was born in Manchester, Clay County, Kentucky on Feb. 16, 1860 and lived her life with Leroy until she died one month after Leroy’s passing on Feb. 23, 1923.
Georgia Rebecca Johnson was the daughter of Leroy and Nancy Johnson. She was born March 7, 1884 in Portsmouth and died March 25, 1976 in Portsmouth at the age of 92. She married Edward Wells Walton (Poppy) on Dec. 5, 1901 in Huntington, West Virginia. Edward Walton lived his whole life in Portsmouth, born Dec. 3, 1881 and died March 3, 1955.
Edwards parents were born during slavery. William Henry Walton was born March 20, 1956 in Maysville, Mason County, Kentucky; he died May 30, 1922 in Portsmouth. William Married Lucinda (Lucy) Martin on April 15 1875 in Portsmouth. Lucy was born Nov. 25, 1857 in Wytheville, Whtye County, Virginia, and died Nov. 30, 1949 in Portsmouth.
Charlotte Ruth Walton was the daughter of Edward and Georgia Walton. She was born in Portsmouth July 22, 1902. Ruth lived to the age of 100. Ruth died in Cincinnati Nov. 29, 2002. She married Lewis Forrest Taylor Dec. 19, 1925 in Lawrence County, Ohio. Forrest Taylor was born in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia June 29, 1901. He died Oct. 22, 1965. Forrest and Ruth had nine children in Portsmouth — Jean, Betty, Ann, Forrest Edward, June, Olla Lee, Garland, Annette, Richard Gerald and Loretta.
Forrest Taylor’s grandmother, Harriet Lee (born Harriet Smith) was born into slavery in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Harriet had a daughter, Mary Susan Smith (Susie). Harriet later married Lewis Lee in Alleghany County, Virginia. Susan Smith married Lindsay Taylor March 28, 1897. Widowed, Susie Taylor married Robert French Jan. 22, 1911. Harriet and Lewis Lee lived in Hinton, West Virginia. Susie and her husband Robert French also resided in Hinton. Around the 1930s, Harriet (now widowed) moved to Portsmouth with her daughter Susie and son-in-law Robert French. Harriet Lew died June 13, 1946 in Portsmouth. Mary Susan French (Susie) died July 6, 1947, living at 1134 10th St. in Portsmouth.
Surviving today as the three oldest living descendants of the families are June Taylor Wilburn and Loretta Gardner of Cincinnati and live in Portsmouth in Annette Taylor Saunders at 1134 10th Street in Portsmouth. Mrs. Saunders still lives in the house her grandmother Susie lived in during the 1940s.