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Kay (and related) Biographies from "Album of Genealogy & Biography, Cook County, IL", 1897


Capt. Christopher Johnson. (Page 93)

Capt. Christopher Johnson, one of the old landmarks of Chicago, who arrived in this city as long ago as 1838, was a native of the little kingdom of Denmark, and was born near Copenhagen, October 3, 1819, his parents being natives of the same locality. His father was killed by an accident before Christopher was a year old, and the latter was bound out to a farmer on the island of Als. Imbued with the strong love of the sea which has filled so many of his countrymen and made them famous as sailors the world over, at the early age of fourteen years he shipped at Sonderburg, Denmark, on board an ocean vessel, and within the next two or three years had sailed around the globe. In the winter of 1837 he found himself in the city of New Orleans, and, having long desired to verify the statements he had heard of the advantages America offered to industrious, enterprising youth of all nations, he left his ship, and started for the heart of the country. After reaching St. Louis, he went to Peoria, in this State, whence, by means of a hired team, he reached this city.

Mr. Johnson's employment after reaching what was then the muddy little village at the mouth of the Chicago River was as a member of a surveying party; but he served thus only a short time, and soon after sought the more familiar and congenial life of a sailor on the Great Lakes. On one occasion, while on a trip on one of the Lower Lakes, on a vessel called the "Maria Hilliard," he was shipwrecked and met with other mishaps. But on the whole fortune favored him; and after a few years' service as a common sailor, he was able to buy a small schooner, the "Helena," and took charge of her as captain. In 1849, while coming with a cargo of bricks from Little Fort, near Kenosha, the "Helena" was sunk near the Rush Street Bridge. On her voyage to Chicago, she had sprung a leak, but by the efforts of the captain and crew, she had been kept afloat until the city was reached. After raising his vessel, Captain Johnson sailed her for some time longer, but in 1853 concluded to give up sailing for good. His life on the lakes had given him a pretty fair insight into the lumber business, and in this he embarked, remaining thus engaged until the Great Fire, when, in common with innumerable others, he lost almost his entire savings. Fortunately, however, he did not lose his residence, which was then on the West Side. He was the owner of a farm at Lemont, and he moved his family there for a time. His handsome new farmhouse was destroyed by fire two years later, and he built another.

Captain Johnson had married in 1849, and for the next twelve years he reared his children on the farm. He retained real estate he had owned in Chicago previous to the fire, and had added to it, and at the end of the twelve years he removed his wife and family to the city, finding here greater scope for himself and promise of future occupation for his sons. His property interests increased to such an extent that his time was fully taken up in managing his private affairs, and he never entered any other business. During all his life in Chicago he lived on the North Side, where he was universally known and popular with all. He built his first home on the corner of Ohio and Market Streets, a spot which he then considered the most prepossessing in the city. His objection to the South Side was due to its mud, that portion of the city being almost impassable in the early days on account of its level. At one time he intended to buy the land on which Briggs House now stands, but after considerable deliberation concluded the site was too muddy, a succession of mud holes having to be crossed to reach it.

Captain Johnson's widow, who yet survives, was previous to her marriage Miss Emily Raymond, a daughter of John and Louise Raymond. She is a native of Copenhagen, and was born September 1, 1833. At the age of ten years she came to America with her father, who was a ship-carpenter. He followed the lakes until his death, which resulted from an accident he met with while in the pursuit of his calling, being caught and crushed between two ships. His death occurred some months later, at the age of forty-five years, August 11, 1853 Mrs. Johnson's marriage occurred in Du Page County, this State, near Naperville, December 9, 1849, and resulted in the birth of thirteen children, of whom the following are living: Maria Louise, Mrs. A. Nelson, of Chicago; Lena Amelia, Mrs. John S. Lee, of Lemont; Evelyn, Mrs. D. T. Elston, of Chicago; Henry W., living in Socorro, New Mexico; Benjamin Franklin, of Pomeroy, Washington; Charles Christopher and George W. Johnson, of this city.

In politics Captain Johnson was an ardent support of the Republican party, and his party's candidates were never defeated by his failure to do his duty at the polls. During the early years of the Civil War he served as Collector of the North Town, but a naturally retiring and modest disposition kept him from ever being conspicuous in politics. In religious faith he accorded with the Lutheran Church. The respect in which he was held was shown at the time of his death, which occurred September 28, 1895, within a week of his seventy-sixth birthday anniversary. He had been an enthusiastic member of the Cleveland Lode of the Chicago Freemasons, in which he was initiated in June 11, passed July 7, and raised October 13, 1859, and his fellow Masons attended his funeral in a body. His early life had been full of incident and adventure, but his later years found him quietly fulfilling the duties of a self-respecting, honorable life.


Submitted by Mike Murphy