JOHNSON, Henry (1623-83), of Blackwall, Mdx. and Friston, Suff.
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Family and Education
bap. 25 Jan. 1623, 1st s. of Francis Johnson of Aldeburgh by Mary, da. of Peter Pett of Deptford, Kent. m. 13 Dec. 1648, Dorothy, da. and h. of William Lord of Melton, Kent, 2s. 3da. suc. fa. 1636; kntd. 8 Mar. 1680.1
Commr. for sewers, Mdx. 1647, Havering and Dagenham levels Sept. 1660, assessment, Mdx. and Suff. 1677-80, Aldeburgh 1679-80; capt. of militia ft. Mdx. by 1678-d.2
Yr. bro. Trinity House Aug. 1660; member, R. Adventurers into Africa 1663, R. Africa Co. 1672; committee, E.I. Co. 1683-d.3
Johnson was descended from a merchant family. His great-grandfather settled at Aldeburgh and represented the borough in Parliament in 1597. His maternal grandfather was a member of the Kentish shipbuilding family, and in 1639 he was apprenticed to his cousin Phineas Pett. He took no part in the Civil War and by 1651 he was building ships for both the merchant service and the Commonwealth navy at Deptford. He bought the East India Company’s shipyard and docks at Blackwall in 1655 for £4,350. Thereafter he became one of the leading shipbuilders and owners of the time. He lived at Blackwall in the house at the entrance to the dockyard, which he eventually rebuilt.4
After the Restoration Johnson continued to prosper, building ships for, among others, the Royal Navy and the East India Company, in which he held £1,200 stock. He had £1,388 on deposit at the Stop of the Exchequer, but two years later he bought Friston estate, three miles from Aldeburgh, from Thomas Bacon, and rebuilt the Hall. Samuel Pepys found his prosperity unaccountable since he was ‘never famous for building the best or biggest ships’.5
Returned for Aldeburgh at the first general election of 1679, Johnson was classed as ‘doubtful’ on Shaftesbury’s list. A moderately active Member of the first Exclusion Parliament, he was appointed to six committees, including that to examine the disbandment accounts. His claim on the Exchequer was hastily settled with an excise pension of £83 p.a., and according to Roger Morrice he voted against exclusion. He is not known to have stood again. In February 1680 he and two partners unsuccessfully tendered for a three-year lease of the excise farm, but he received some compensation in the following month, when the King knighted him in his own house at Blackwall. In 1681 he made some proposals for the tin farm, again unsuccessfully. He died at Bath and was buried on 19 Nov. 1683 in the East India Company chapel at Poplar, to the building of which he had been a major contributor. In the funeral sermon he was described as being
religiously inclined; not only free from the gross debaucheries and sinful excesses of this atheistical and corrupt age ... but very serious in his discourses, grave and exemplary in his whole deport. No encourager of faction or rebellion, no friend to or favourer of profaneness or irreligion, but on the contrary a countenancer of religion and loyalty ... Sir Henry Johnson was one who both feared God and honoured the King.
Under his will almshouses were built at Poplar for six ships’ carpenters, though it was not until 1756 that they were used for the purpose he had intended.6
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: Paula Watson
- 1. Vis. Mdx. ed. Foster, 67; H. Green and R. Wigam, Chrons. Blackwell Yard, 9, 18, 24.
- 2. Green and Wigram, 11; C191/7/48; CSP Dom. 1678, p. 440.
- 3. Add. 22183, f. 4; Sel. Charters (Selden Soc. xxviii), 179, 188; Add. 38871, f. 8.
- 4. East Anglian, n.s. iii. 198; W. Foster, John Company, 148-51; Cal. Ct. Mns. E.I. Co. ed. Sainsbury, iv. 307; v. 34; Econ. Hist. Rev. (ser. 2), v. 198; CSP Dom. 1651-2, pp. 552, 567; 1653-4, pp. 470, 507; 1655, p. 441.
- 5. CSP Dom. 1665-6, p. 26; 1667, p. 140; Cal. Ct. Mins. E.I. Co. viii. 117, 327; ix. 311; Copinger, Suff. Manors, v. 131; Pepys Naval Mins. (Navy Rec. Soc. lx), 163.
- 6. Cal. Treas. Bks. v. 1268; vi. 448; vii. 128; Green and Wigram, 24; S. Peck, Funeral Sermon, 26; Lysons, Environs, iii. 470.