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Family of John Joakens Johnson


Cook’s Island Became Property Johnson Family Early ‘60s
John J. Johnson Brings Family and Slaves to Texas in 1859

For more than 80 years, members of the family of John Joakens Johnson have lived in Matagorda county. Mr. Johnson was a wealthy slave owner of Mississippi about the middle of the nineteenth century. He was an educated man, having attended institutions of learning in Charleston, S. C. In the 1850s he lived a few years in Louisiana where his fine slaves attracted much attention and he was offered a handsome price for them. Refusing a payment in gold, he moved his family and his slaves to Texas in 1859, settling for a short time in Ellis county.

In the early 1860’s he brought some of his slaves from Ellis county to Matagorda county, hiring 13 to Samuel Hardeman and taking others to the beach where they were put to work making salt. This he hauled by ox wagon to Ellis county where it was traded for flour.

These trips introduced Mrs. Johnson, the former Emily Susan Gayle. Accompanying her husband into Matagorda county, she saw its possibilities and became the owner of Cook’s or Cedar Island in the upper part of the Maria Cummings League. This is now a part of the oil field controlled by the Skelley interests. The story of the sale of this tract of 1144 acres to the young Mrs. Johnson involves the payment for it of $5,000 in confederate money. A very few months after the sale was consummated, the war between the states was over and the money she paid for the land was not worth the paper it was printed on. Mrs. Johnson, it may be surmised, was glad that she could stoop and touch soil that was hers instead of fingering worthless confederate bills, stowed away in some obscure box as tragic keepsakes.

John Joakens Johnson and Emily Susan Johnson raised six sons. The oldest, Augustus, was a member of that ill-fated expedition of Matagorda county men and boys who enlisted in Captain Rugeley’s company in the War Between the States and embarked one winter day to cross Matagorda Bay to the peninsula to protect the coastline from the anticipated approach of federal troops. They met a different enemy, a cold, bitter norther which capsized their boat and resulted in the death of many in the icy waters of the bay. Augustus was one of those who died.

John Joakens Johnson died in November, 1882, and his wife in November 1894.


Home On Prairie Birthplace Two Generations of Family
Marston Johnson Sees Service in Philippines And In World War I

Long-time residents of Matagorda county know of Cook’s Island (or Cedar Island), located in the Maria Cummings League near Bay City, first as a fertile tract of some 1144 acres in the midst of the prairie and later as a productive oil field. Mrs. John Joakens Johnson acquired it in the early 1860’s and there in 1865 her youngest son Simon P., was born. There in 1889 her grandson, Marston Johnson, was born. So it became synonymous with the name of Johnson.

With the exception of 15 years, when he moved to San Antonio and engaged in the real estate and mercantile business, Simon P. Johnson has lived at or near Cook’s Island in Matagorda county. Today, retired at the age of 80 years, he lives at Van Vleck.

In 1883, Simon P. Johnson married Miss Isabella Constance O’Connell of San Antonio, daughter of Phillip O’Connell and lineal descendant of that Irish patriot and emancipator, Daniel O’Connell. Mrs. Johnson was a niece of Michael O’Connell who, at the time of his death, was one of the wealthiest men in South Texas. Four children were born to this union, all of whom live in Matagorda county today; Marston and Phillip of Van Vleck, Mrs. Ethel Cornelius of Markham and Mrs. Minnie Bell Ham of Bay City.

Mr. and Mrs. Johnson saw Texas grow from an almost trackless wilderness into a vast empire with developments along agricultural and industrial lines that would have staggered the most vivid imagination of their earlier days.

Mrs. Johnson was of the Catholic faith and the children received their education in Catholic schools in San Antonio. She died in 1927.

Marston Johnson, founder and owner of Marston Johnson Industries now operating at Van Vleck, was one of the reasons why his father, Simon P., moved to San Antonio in 1899. Better education for his children motivated the elder Johnson’s absence from Matagorda county for the next 15 years. Marston Johnson went to Saint Mary’s Academy and graduated from West Texas Military Academy in 1911. He enlisted in the U. S. Army soon after and was sent to the Philippine Islands where he was an officer in the Philippine Constabulary. He spent about one year there and in Japan and China. He bought out of the Army and came back to the United States, serving later with U. S. forces in World War I, being a second lieutenant when honorably discharged following the Armistice of 1918.

He was married on April 16, 1919, to Miss Edna Louise Harwell of San Antonio, daughter of Louis L. and Annie Irene Harwell. A native of Houston, Mrs. Johnson spent most of her early days in Pine Bluff, Ark. Her family is prominent in that state, most of the men being doctors, lawyers, merchants and plantation owners, all active in politics. She has one sister, Mrs. Irma Wyatt of San Francisco, Calif.

Marston Johnson Industries Leading Business Van Vleck

Orderly and immaculate to the last blade of grass are the acres on Bay prairie, five miles east of Bay City in the little town of Van Vleck where Marston Johnson lives and where he has built during the past 15 years the various details of his modern abattoir.

The visitor, approaching sees first the main building which houses the abattoir proper. Across its white front is the trade sign, Marston Johnson Wholesale Meats – Cold Storage Van Vleck, Tex.

At the right of the drive which leads past the pump house and hide shed to the main building is the home of Mr. and Mrs. Johnson and his business office. It is an attractive one-story, rambling little house, set in the midst of a closely cropped lawn which is dotted with a flower bed or two and young trees, a fir, a fig, some others.

The visitor to the abattoir is shown through the rendering room, the elaborate system of unloading alleys, the pens where cattle are kept pending slaughter, the slaughtering room itself.

In the last named, after the day’s work is done, cleanliness reigns. The only reminders that a large supply of meat has been made ready therein that day are a few halves of beeves hanging from the ceiling and, in the refrigeration room, cuts that make the meat-hungry public gape with envy.

The water supply for the plant is well which Mr. Johnson had dug and from which issues an abundance of water as pure as the Bay City supply, according to state laboratory tests. The pump is run electrically and electricity for the home and business is obtained from the Rural Electrification Administration.

Due to government restrictions that have arisen from the stringencies of war, Marston Johnson’s customers bring their stock to him for slaughter. Arrived on the grounds, the stock is cared for and the business of the abattoir done by a small personnel, headed by Edward, Allen and Herbert O’Connell. Four of his employees have been taken by the armed forces, included being Clarence Albert Hoppe.

In the office, Mr. Johnson has a most capable bookkeeper in the person of Mrs. Mildred O’Connell of Van Vleck. Mrs. O’Connell states that her only claim to achievement is her three men in the armed forces: her husband, Pvt. Bouldin O’Connell, with three years service in the U. S. Army to his credit; her son, Burton O’Connell, S 2/c; and her son-in-law, 1st Lt. Harry Stafford of the 7th Army.

Ross Wyche, has been with the Marston Johnson Industries for years. Eugene Franklin and Freddie Lee Moore remain on duty while among those who have gone to war are Jim Franklin and Earl Spiller.

Marston Johnson has a keen gray eye and a brilliant smile. His one and only hobby is his business which he has chosen for a life work, which he considers vital to his time and which he would not change for any other. Neither would he change his place of residence to any other part of the world than Matagorda county where his eye can almost daily see vast acres that have belonged to the Johnson family for more than 80 years.

Marston Johnson Abattoir One of County’s Basic Businesses
Plant Keeps $750 Here Daily; Owner Plans Extensive Expansion After War

Plans to make Bay City a trading center, a manufacturing center, a wholesale center as well as an agriculture production center, after the war are promised on industries already doing business here. Such a one is Marston Johnson, Wholesale Meats, his abattoir being located about five miles east of Bay City at Van Vleck. This business, only a few years old, has grown to such proportions since its modest beginning that it kills and handles in satisfactory manner the livestock required to supply Bay City and surrounding territory.


In addition to Matagorda county, customers for the Johnson abattoir are found in Wharton and Brazoria counties. The plant kills around 600 head of stock monthly. Mr. Johnson indicates that this local wholesale meat plant keeps around $750 daily circulating in this section of Matagorda county in contrast to a like amount going out of the county if cattle and hogs had to be shipped to Houston, slaughtered there and returned here for retail sale.

In this connection, prices on meats, locally reflect a savings to customers from his savings in extra freight hauls to and from Houston, as it is the customer who finally pays shipping expense on any product.

Mr. Johnson reports that he handles an average of $2,000 monthly in hides.

Observes Sanitary Rules

The Johnson abattoir is operated under the strictest observance of sanitary laws and regulations, state, local and military. Meat is properly killed, cooled and handled to comply with these regulations and the plant has been accorded the approval of the State Health department, the county sanitarian and the local veterinarian, as well as the surgeon from Camp Hulen, Colonel Hearn.

Post-War Plans

This business has reached, perhaps, its peak for the duration but Mr. Johnson is looking ahead to the post-war era when he plans to build a cold storage plant that will meet all requirements of Bay City and that will have a cold cutting room which is highly important in the handling of meats at retail.

100th Anniversary Edition of the Matagorda County Tribune, Thursday, August 23, 1945


Henry Marston Johnson & Edna Louise Johnson - Roselawn Memorial Park - Photo courtesy of Faye Cunningham



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Feb. 26, 2012
Feb. 26, 2012