William H. Johnson

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William Henry Johnson (circa 1835 – January 28, 1864) was a free African American, and the personal valet of Abraham Lincoln. Having first met Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, he accompanied the President-Elect to Washington, D.C.[1] Once there, he was employed in various jobs, part-time as President's valet and barber, and as a messenger for the Treasury Department at $600 per year.


William Henry Johnson was born around 1835 at a site unknown. He began working for Abraham Lincoln, in Springfield, in early 1860.


On November 18th, 1863, Johnson traveled by train with Lincoln to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery, where Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. On the return trip, Lincoln became ill with what turned out to be smallpox. Johnson tended to him, and by January 12, 1864 was himself sick with the disease. Lincoln recovered, but by January 28th, Johnson was dead.[2]


Lincoln arranged for and paid for Johnson's burial in January 1864 and paid for his headstone. Burial records from the time were not well kept and at least three competing locations have been proposed for Johnson's grave. The most popular is a William H. Johnson who was buried in 1864 at Arlington National Cemetery, although his common surname makes a conclusive match impossible. Contrary to a popular myth though, Lincoln did not purchase the headstone that appears there now. Arlington ordered a new stone and inscribed on it Citizen, which was the label used to distinguish civilian graves from soldiers before Arlington became an exclusively military cemetery.[3]

In popular culture

William H. Johnson was a character in the 2012 film Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, played by actor Anthony Mackie. In the film, Lincoln and Johnson are portrayed as childhood friends. In the film's opening scene, a young Lincoln rushes to the aid of a young Johnson, who is being whipped by a slaver. Johnson then goes on to work in the Lincoln White House and assist President Lincoln in his fight against the vampiric forces of the Confederate Army.


  1. Holzer, Harold (2008). Lincoln President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter 1860-1861. Simon and Schuster. p. 280. ISBN 978-0-7432-8947-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Hopkins, Donald R. (2002). The Greatest Killer: Smallpox in History. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. p. 279. ISBN 978-0-226-35168-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. ""Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Johnson," the New York Times". 1 February 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

  • Possible William H. Johnson grave site at Arlington Cemetery [1]