The Johnson Family of Belfast

Coll. 2781 Johnson family - Edward Johnson Jr. son of Edward Sr. in group photograph 1891 1st from left in back row Box 17 Folder 5
Edward Johnson, Jr., son of Edward, Sr. (first from left in back row) in a group photograph, 1891

By Tessa Surette, MHS volunteer

If Louise Johnson Pratt were alive today she would be relieved to know that her family’s papers and artifacts are finally ready to be shared with the public. The Johnson Family of Belfast collection (Coll. 2781) spans over one hundred years and provides an interesting and entertaining portrait of a wealthy family during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The collection includes correspondence, photographs, diaries, invoices, financial documents, and small artifacts.

Coll. 2781 Johnson family - Louise Johnson with horse Box 17, Folder 6
Louise Johnson Pratt (1876-1963), who compiled her family’s collection

Edward Johnson Sr. (1840-1906) was a wealthy and respected member of Belfast society. He and his wife Georgiana summered in Belfast (their house was known as “The Homestead”) with their four children, Alfred, Ralph, Edward Jr., and Louise. Although they were part-time residents, Edward Sr. and his family were well respected and popular within the community. Some correspondence relates to Edward’s financial life, including his time as executor of his brother’s estate, and as President of Belfast Savings Bank. There are also letters between himself and his children as well as with his brothers and sisters.

Louise Johnson Pratt is the most prominently featured of Edward Sr.’s four children. She was the last survivor of the four siblings and probably acted as the compiler of this collection. In photographs Louise often looks surprisingly modern and her correspondence (which was written almost exclusively before she was married) provides insight into the thoughts and opinions of a young woman at the turn of the 20th century.

Coll. 2781 Johnson family - Alfred Johnson son of Edward Senior 1926 Box 17 Folder 3
Alfred Johnson, son of Edward Senior, in 1926

In a family collection this large there are many entertaining documents and artifacts. Some that stand out are:

  • a letter from one of Louise’s friends in which the friend gives a scathing review of The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane, but goes on to praise various books that no one now has ever heard of
  • Louise’s teenage diary in which she drew a doodle that corresponded with each day’s happenings
  • the surprisingly entertaining bank-related correspondence between Edward Sr. and W.H. Quimby, which contained far more gossip than one might expect
  • the birth certificate for one of his children on which Edward Sr. described his occupation as “Gentleman”

For more information see Coll. 2781 in the Minerva online library catalog.

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