Our Window To The Past...
African American Soldiers Who Served in the War Between the States
Prince A. Johnson
Prince A. Johnson, African American descent, was born approximately 1836 in Virginia or South Carolina. In the 1860s he was a slave of William I. Turner of Hillsborough County. Turner was a planter and steadfast Confederate supporter.
Johnson married Miss Jennie (last name unknown). Jennie was born in Virginia about 1850.
On January 10, 1861 Florida seceded from the union. It is at this period in history that the lives of Johnson and Jacob Summerlin converge. In 1863, Summerlin purchased Johnson from Turner. Johnson was approximately 27 years old.
Johnson “who possessed special skills" was valued very highly and was likely to be allowed to work unsupervised. The system of slavery was such that many bondsmen in this area may have been allowed to complete their daily tasks in time to tend to personal chores such as gardening and improving living conditions for their families. Some owners may have allowed slaves to hire themselves out and keep a portion of the earnings, while paying a percentage to the owner.
Johnson may have worked under such a system. This may have given him the opportunity to gain a certain measure of independence.”
During the War Between the States Jacob Summerlin became a blockade runner who smuggled beef and medicine to the Confederate troops. He and his partners reportedly moved their shipping dock to Live Oak Point, present day Charlotte Harbor, where they could load their ships out of sight of the Union gun ships located at Boca Grande Pass. His operation came to an immediate halt when Summerlin was pressed into service by the Confederate States Army.
Summerlin, along with his slave Johnson who probably served as his aid, joined the Cow Cavalry, under Captain Francis A. Hendry, Company A in Fort Meade. Johnson's duties where probably cooking, washing and/or mending clothes, and assisted in the cattle drives.
After the War Between the States Johnson continued to work for his previous owner. He remained to raise his family, even though most freedmen left Polk County. Probably due to his independent labors and “as a result, when freedom eventually came, he was better prepared to care for himself than those in other parts of the South who labored under a more restrictive system.” This may explain how he established his large farming operation after 1865.
Summerlin left the area around 1867-68 when Johnson decided to relocate to East Bartow and homesteaded 80 acres. He made his living as a farmer, grove owner, and a local expert in digging and cleaning wells. Polk County’s African Americans chose to live in the areas of Bartow and Homeland.
In the 1866 Polk County tax roll Johnson was listed as one of the twenty adults’ freedmen and in 1867 he was listed on the voter registration list.
On the 1870 U.S. Federal Prince is shown as being 30 years old having been born in Virginia, Jennie is 20 years old having been born in Virginia and their children are:
Jack, born 1860 in Florida
James, born 1863 in Florida
Jennie, born 1867 in Florida
Lucy, born 1865 in Florida
By 1879 Johnson’ children attended an area school for African American to begin their education.
In 1880 he ran for the office of Constable, the first African American to run for political office in Bartow. Johnson was a well respected citizen.
These first set of children do not appear on the 1880 U.S. Federal Census. Prince is 45 years old having been born in South Carolina, Jennie 25 years old having been born in Virginia, and their children are:
Edmond, born 1867 in Florida
Emma, born 1868 in Florida, married Thomas Waldon
Marguret, born 1869 in Florida
Leothan, born in 1870 in Florida
Lover (Loven), born 1875 in Florida
Chester, born in 1879 in Florida
In 1882 Johnson’s property was redrawn and included in the proposed new city of Bartow. This move allowed Johnson and three other African Americans to be included in the 25 who cast their votes in order to meet the requirements for incorporation as a municipality in the State of Florida. Also, it gave the town the power and authority to organize police protection.
He did not apply for or receive a Soldier’s Pension with the State of Florida. However, many white Confederate Soldier’s in Polk County did not apply to receive benefits. Perhaps they were not aware of the availability of the pension or were prideful in accepted “charity” from the government.
Prince A. Johnson died on September 3, 1896 and was interred in Evergreen Cemetery, Bartow, Polk County, Florida.
Annie H. Darracott chapter, No. 791, United Daughters of the Confederacy, lauds Prince A. Johnson, a slave, for his service to the Confederate States of America’s army during 1863 to 1865.
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