JOHNSON, William (c.1660-1718), of Blackwall, Mdx. and Mandeville’s Manor, Sternfield, Aldeburgh, Suff.
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Family and Education
b. c.1660, 2nd s. of Sir Henry Johnson† of The Gate House, Blackwall, Mdx. and Friston Hall, Suff.; bro. of Sir Henry Johnson*. educ. Leyden 1678. m. by 1687, Agneta, da. of Hartgill Baron, clerk of the privy seal, of Windsor, Berks., 3s. 9da.1
Asst. R. African Co. 1687–9, 1716; capt.-gen. of Guinea 1716–d.; cttee. E. I. Co. 1690–1, 1698–9, 1702–6; er. bro. Trinity House 1709–d.2
Gent. privy chamber 1690–1702.3
Bailiff, Aldeburgh 1691, Oxford 1699; freeman, Oxford 1699.4
Having at first served the East India Company in Bengal, Johnson established himself as a merchant in London, trading to Africa, and prospered sufficiently to be able to buy property in Suffolk in his own right. But he remained under his brother’s wing, acting as his lieutenant in managing the borough of Aldeburgh, where he was himself returned to Parliament. He was classed as a Tory supporter of the Court by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) in 1690. On 2 Apr. he was appointed to draft a bill to regulate the East India trade. In December Carmarthen forecast that Johnson would probably support him in the event of an attack on his ministerial position in the Commons. Johnson was active alongside his brother, Sir Henry, in the syndicate that from 1691 to 1694 unsuccessfully challenged the East India Company’s monopoly. In April 1691 he was listed by Robert Harley* as a doubtful supporter of the Country party. He told on 4 Jan. 1693 in a division in committee on the East India bill, and on 3 Apr. 1694 Harley reported that ‘yesterday Mr Johnson presented a most witty book to the House against Dr Burnet’s Pastoral Letter, taking in also Sherlock etc.’. In a list of early 1695 he appeared as a supporter of Henry Guy*, possibly in connexion with an attack upon Guy in the Commons. Forecast as likely to vote against the Court in the divisions of 31 Jan. 1696 over the proposed council of trade, Johnson was appointed on 20 Feb. to prepare the bill for regulating the East India Company. Like his brother, he was now returning to the company’s fold. He signed the Association in February, but the following month voted against fixing the price of guineas at 22s. On 25 Nov. 1696 he voted against the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. On 18 Dec. he was granted leave of absence for reasons of health, receiving a further two weeks on 6 Jan. 1698, ‘his lady being ill’.5
In the 1698 election, as part of a scheme of his brother’s, Johnson stood both at Aldeburgh, where he and Sir Henry were as usual returned unopposed, and at Orford, where he was defeated and petitioned. He was listed in about September 1698 among the Country party. In October he was forecast as likely to oppose a standing army. In March 1699 he guided through the Commons a private naturalization bill. By the time his petition was heard, in February 1700, he had embarked on a long trading voyage to the East Indies and China, and, since he would be unable to make his choice of seat in person, he had sent the Speaker a letter to signify his preference, should his petition prove successful, to represent Orford. When judgment was given the letter was read out, but the House, not being satisfied with this procedure, decided to look for precedents. The dissolution came before a conclusion was reached. At the next election he put up only at Aldeburgh. The date of his return to England has not been ascertained, although he was classed with the Tories in Harley’s list of the 1701–2 Parliament, and supported the motion of 26 Feb. 1702 vindicating the Commons’ proceedings of the previous session over the impeachment of King William’s ministers. In 1704 he proposed a scheme to the Treasury, the fate of which is unknown, to import naval supplies other than from Sweden. Having been forecast as a probable supporter of the Tack, he is not recorded as having voted in the critical division on 28 Nov., and, together with his brother, was subsequently listed as a ‘Sneaker’. He was noted as absent for the division on the Speaker on 25 Oct. Listed as a Tory in early 1708, he appeared on another list after the election as a Whig. He voted against the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell in 1710 and following the general election of that year was listed again as a Tory.6
In 1711 Johnson was listed both among the ‘Tory patriots’ who opposed the continuation of the war, and the ‘worthy patriots’ who exposed the mismanagements of the previous ministry. The following year he unsuccessfully solicited Lord Treasurer Oxford (the former Harley), via Sir Henry Johnson’s son-in-law Lord Strafford, for the office of surveyor-general of crown lands, which he had heard was likely to be vacant through the imminent death of the occupant. Whether out of pique at this refusal, or because of consideration of trade, he voted against the French commerce bill on 18 June, differing for once from his brother. He may have joined the ‘Board of Brothers’ in about 1714. He was marked as a Tory on the Worsley list, and in two further lists of the Members re-elected in 1715.7
In 1716 Johnson took the post of governor of Guinea under the Royal African Company, and sailed soon after 16 Dec. 1716, when his will was made. He was reported to have died at Cape Coast Castle in November 1718, the will being proved on 10 Nov. All his property was to be sold, which, together with his personal estate, he calculated would realize some £20,000, to be divided equally among the members of his family, excepting his one married daughter.8
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. PCC 218 Tenison; E. Anglian, n.s. iii. 198; Hedges Diary (Hakluyt Soc. lxxiv), 249; The Ancestor, x. 163.
- 2. K. G. Davies, R. African Co. 384; W. R. Chaplin, Trinity House, 64; Add. 22187, f. 219.
- 3. N. Carlisle, Gent. Privy Chamber, 206.
- 4. W. Suss. RO, Shillinglee mss Ac.454/896, Edward Pratt to Sir Edward Turnor*, 18 June 1691; Oxford Council Acts (Oxford Hist. Soc. n.s. ii), 287.
- 5. Copinger, Suff. Manors, v. 179; Shillinglee mss Ac.484/949, Nathaniel Gooding to Turnor, 8 Aug. 1692; Add. 22185, ff. 23–24; 22186, f. 98; 22248, ff. 6–7; 31141, ff. 27–28; 70140, Robert to Edward Harley*, 3 Apr. 1694; Bodl. Rawl. C.449, ff. 1–35; Luttrell Diary, 351.
- 6. Shillinglee mss Ac.454/1024, John Hooke to Turnor, 29 July 1698; Add. 22184, f. 132; 22186, f. 124; Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 452; Bull. IHR, xxxvii. 24.
- 7. Add. 31137, ff. 276, 288; Beaufort mss at Badminton House, 100.5.2. list of Board of Brothers .
- 8. PCC 218 Tenison; Hist. Reg. Chron. 1718, p. 43.