Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Joel Johnson, Finding the Facts

What can I learn about my maternal 4th great-grandfather Joel Johnson? 

Joel was the 6th child of 12 born to Asahel and Beula (Hitchcock) Johnson. He was born 18 May 1799 in Orwell, Pennsylvania. Joel’s parents were born and raised in Connecticut before moving to Orwell just two years before he was born. Joel’s birth in the wilderness 

was reported to be that of the first male child born in Orwell, formerly known as Minden. 

In the 1800 US Federal Census Joel’s father Asahel and family are residing in Ulster, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. There were 7 children in the home. In the 1810 US Federal Census Joel’s father Asahel and family are residing in Wysox, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. There were 10 children in the home. 
  • This area would become known as the county of Bradford when organized in 1812. 
A 21 year old Joel married 16 year old Sophronia Benham 1 June 1820 in Orwell, Pennsylvania. The couple would have 10 Children: Asahel (b 1821), Amanda (my 3x great-grandmother b. 1822), Jehial (b. 1825), George W. (b. 1827 died 1836 at the age of 9), Harriett (b. 1829) , Emeline (b.1832), Avery (b 1834 died at the age of 3), George N. (born 1838-2 years after brother George W.’s death), Frank E. (b 1841), and Charlotte S. (b. 1843). 

In the 1820 US Federal Census on 7 Aug I am unable to locate Joel. Joel’s father Asahel is not listed in the 1820 census either. I believe Joel and Sophronia were living with a family member which would be difficult to determine on this census since there are only tic marks following the name of the head of the household. 

In the 1830 US Federal Census in Orwell, Bradford County, PA Joel Johnson is listed with the following:  2 males under 5 [Jehial & George W.], 1 male 5-9 [Asahel], 1 male 30-39 [Joel], 1 female under 5 [Harriett], 1 female 5-9 [Amanda], and 1 female 20-29 [Sophronia]. The dwelling listed before Joel is his father Asahel Johnson. The dwelling after Joel is his brother Artemus. 

On 14 April 1835 Joel purchased land from his father Asahel in Orwell. 

On 4 April 1838 Joel purchased land in Pike and Orwell townships. Joel was listed as being from Orwell. 

In the 1840 US Federal Census in Orwell, Bradford County, PA Joel is listed with the following: 1 male under 5 [George], 1 male 10-14 [Jerrell], 1 male 15-19 [farm worker?], 1 male 40-49 [Joel], 1 female 5-9 [Emeline], 1 female 10-14 [Harriett], 1 female 15-19 [help in house?], 1 female 30-39 [Sophronia], 2 persons were noted as employed in Agriculture. Perhaps the male listed as 15-19 years of age was a farm worker? Three dwellings before Joel is his father Asahel Johnson. 

In the 1850 US Federal Census on 20 September in Orwell, Bradford County, PA Joel was 51 years old and listed as born in PA with his occupation being that of a Farmer. His wife Sophronia and children Jehiel, Harriet, Emeline, George, Franklin, Charlotte are also living in the household. A Benjamin Doty age 20 born in NY is also living with them. Could he perhaps be a farm laborer? Living next door to Joel and Sophronia is their daughter Amanda and her family. Living 2 dwellings in the other direction are Joel’s parents Asahel & Beulah Johnson with Joel’s brother Nelson on the other side of his parents. 

December 1855 Joel served on a jury in Orwell. On 7 Aug 1856 the Bradford Reporter newspaper in an article titled Republican Associations states that the citizens of Orwell organized a Republican Association at the school house and Joel Johnson is listed as the President. “At the meeting held July 26, a declaration, platform and constitution, were adopted, and the association is now ready for active exertion in the cause of Freedom.” I wonder if this group had to do with the political feelings leading up to the Civil War?

In the 1860 US Federal Census on 26 July in Orwell, Bradford County, PA Joel is listed as 61 years old and his occupation is a Farmer. His Real Estate Value was $4,000 and his Personal Estate Value was $1,748. His wife Sophronia and children Harriet, George, Frank, and Charlotte are all listed in the home. Mary Johnson 45 is also living with them (perhaps Mary is Joel’s sister?). 

In August 1861 there is Property Sale listing in the newspaper that mentions Joel’s property as a boundary. 

On the 1870 US Federal Census on 21 June in Orwell, Bradford County, PA Joel is listed as 65 years old and having been born in PA. Joel’s occupation is listed again as a Farmer. Joel and his wife Sophronia are living with their daughter Charlotte S., her husband Lycurges L. Mainord and their 5 year old daughter Mertie. 

On the 1880 US Federal Census on 24 June in Orwell, Bradford County, PA Joel is listed as being 81years old, born in PA, with his father & mother being born in CT. Joel’s occupation is again listed as Farmer. Living in the house with him are his wife Sophronia, daughter Harriett (Dress Maker), nephew Jerome Johnson [Joel’s son Asahel’s son], and niece Mary Russell [Joel’s daughter Emeline’s daughter]. Perhaps Harriett gave the information to the census taker and she listed Mary and Jerome as ‘her’ niece and nephew. They are Joel and Sophronia’s grandchildren. 

Joel died at age 81 on 6 November 1880 in Orwell and is buried in Orwell Hill Cemetery. Joel’s wife Sophronia would live another 13 years after her husband’s death and be buried next to her husband. (See post Tombstone Tuesday-Sophronia and Joel Johnson.)

I was surprised how much information I was able to find on Joel from the 1800s.  I find it interesting how different family members lived with Joel and Sophronia over the years.  Why in 1870 are Joel and Sophronia listed as living with their daughter but in 1880 Joel is again listed as head of household?  Was the information in 1870 given incorrectly as the son-in-law being the head of household?  

I've learned a lot about where he lived, what he did but, unfortunately, it doesn't tell me a lot about the person he was,  what he believed in and what he thought about life.  Wouldn't it be great to just have an hour or so to talk to our ancestors?

If you have any corrections or additions or stories to share, I look forward to hearing them.

Enjoy the journey,



  1. Something I wish every time I do my research. If only we could speak to them. All the facts are great, but what of their day to day lives? Likes and dislikes?

    1. Thank-you Diane. So true, there is so much beyond the facts I wish I knew.

  2. History of our family, community and country are important. Thanks for sharing.