JOHNSON, Nathaniel (c.1645-1713), of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumb. and Kibblesworth, Lamesley, co. Dur.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Family and Education

b. c.1645, 1st s. of William Johnson, merchant, of Newcastle by Margaret, da. of William Sherwood, merchant, of Newcastle. m. 1s. 1da. suc. fa. 1678; kntd. 28 Dec. 1680.1

Offices Held

Dep. treas. Barbados by 1668; jt.-farmer of hearth-tax 1679-84; gov. Leeward Isles 1686-9, Carolina 1702-8.2

Member of eastland co. Newcastle 1668, merchant adventurers 1669, freeman 1673; j.p. co. Dur. 1674-?86, collector of hearth-tax, Cumb., Westmld., Northumb. and co. Dur. by 1675; commr. for assessment, co. Dur. 1677-9, Newcastle 1679-80, carriage of coals, Newcastle 1679; capt. of militia ft. Newcastle by 1680-?Feb. 1688; member, Hon. Artillery Co. 1681; mayor, Newcastle 1681-2, alderman 1682-June 1688.3


Johnson was the grandson of a Scottish blacksmith. His father, who served as mayor of Newcastle and sequestrator during the Interregnum, acquired a small estate in Durham and recorded his pedigree at the heralds’ visitation of the county in 1666. Though he attended a Presbyterian conventicle after the Restoration, Johnson himself grew up a staunch Anglican. He went out to the West Indies as a young man, serving for a time as deputy to William Willoughby. But by 1675 he had become a local hearth-tax official, and in 1678 he formed a syndicate, which included Anthony Rowe, to farm and manage the whole tax for five years from Michaelmas 1679.4

Johnson was first returned for Newcastle at a by-election in 1680. A court supporter, he was knighted later in the month, and became a moderately active Member of the second Exclusion Parliament. He was added to the committee on the bill for export of beer, ale and mum, and appointed to that for reforming the collection of hearth-tax. When Laurence Hyde, who as first lord of the Treasury had modified the terms of the hearth-tax lease in the farmers’ favour, was attacked in the House as a friend of the Duke of York, Johnson defended him, rather clumsily. ‘The Treasury being poor’, he said on 7 Jan. 1681, ‘it is an improper time to spend time on removing a treasurer.’ He was re-elected to the Oxford Parliament, but left no trace on its records. In October 1681 he presented a loyal address from the lieutenancy and militia of Newcastle, approving the dissolution. A friend of Count Königsmarck, he acted as surety and interpreter at his trial for the murder of Thomas Thynne II. After the Rye House Plot he induced the vintner Shepherd to turn king’s evidence.5

Johnson appears to have been designated governor of the Leeward Islands on the lapse of the hearth-tax farm. Although rumour assigned a scandalous profit to the syndicate, Johnson himself complained that his ‘circumstances were very strait and pinching’. However he did not take up his post till 1686, and meanwhile played a leading part in the surrender of Newcastle’s charter, after which the Duke of Newcastle (Henry Cavendish) was rightly confident that he would be re-elected. Again moderately active in James II’s Parliament, he was named to nine committees, of which the most important were to recommend expunctions from the Journals and to consider the bill for the general naturalization of Huguenot refugees.6

As governor of the Leeward Islands Johnson conformed to the King’s religious policy. He disestablished the Church and was thanked by the Roman Catholics for his ‘impartiality’. He proclaimed William and Mary as King and Queen when news of the Revolution was received, but requested permission to retire into private life.

I have no liking for the Romish faith, as you know, and hope to live and die a Protestant; and it is from the doctrines of the Church of England that I learned the scruples which oblige me to ask for my dismission.

He settled in Carolina, where he had a large estate, and experimented with the culture of silkworms. On the death of James he took the oaths and was appointed governor of the proprietors of the colony, which he defended with conspicuous courage and success against French and Spanish; but he was criticized as a tool of the High Church party in enforcing the sacramental test for office-holders, and was dismissed in 1708. He died in 1713. His son sold Kibblesworth in 1729 on his appointment as governor of South Carolina; and no other member of the family sat in Parliament.7

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: Gillian Hampson


  • 1. Surtees, Dur. ii. 218; Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 343.
  • 2. Apc Col. i. 503; Cal. Treas. Bks. v. 1151; CSP Col. 1685-8, p. 229; 1689-92, p. 43; 1702, p. 398.
  • 3. Newcastle Merchant Adventurers (Surtees Soc. ci), 295; Reg. of Freemen (Newcastle Recs. iii), 89; HMC Le Fleming, 115; 120; Cal. Treas. Bks. v. 1205; Ancient Vellum Bk. ed. Raikes, 111.
  • 4. Cal. Comm. Comp. 694; CSP Dom. 1655-6, p. 25; Barnes Mems. (Surtees Soc. l), 409; Luttrell, i. 25.
  • 5. HMC 12th Rep. IX, 114; HMC Buccleuch, i. 334; London Gazette, 31 Oct. 1681; Luttrell, i. 170; CSP Dom. 1682, p. 212; July-Sept. 1683, p. 99; Dom. Intell. 2 Mar. 1682; Hatton Corresp. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xxiii), 15.
  • 6. J. C. Jeaffreson, A Young Squire of the 17th Century, ii. 99; CSP Col. 1689-92, pp. 43, 88, CSP Dom. Jan.-June 1683, pp. 30, 130; 1683-4, pp. 314, 333; 1685, p. 25.
  • 7. CSP Dom. 1686-7, p. 228; CSP Col. 1685-8, p. 470; 1689-92, pp. 43, 87, 111; Dict. Amer. Biog. x. 111.