What evidence is there of a black presence in Britain and north west England?

The Life of the Late James Johnson

Published by Alice Johnson, 1914
Printed paper

Oldham Archives and Local Studies Library

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The Life of the Late James Johnson

James Johnson was born into slavery on 20 March 1847, at Smithfield, North Carolina in the USA. After a daring escape and many adventures, he settled in Oldham and became a noted religious preacher.

As a young boy, Johnson was the property of a boat builder, then a planter and was finally sold for $825 to a man named George Washington, under whom he worked on plantations and as a coachman. He escaped during the American Civil War by swimming out to a northern warship, the Stars and Stripes.

Johnson made his way to New York, from where he worked his passage to Liverpool, arriving in December 1862. Over the next four years he travelled across England, arriving in Oldham in September 1866. At first he worked in the smithy at Messrs Dawson & Stanier's Flat Top Foundry, and six months later moved to the engineering firm of Platt Brothers & Co. Whilst at Platt's, he was introduced to the Sheffield Hallelujah Band and became a member of the Oldham Free Church.

James Johnson later worked as a blacksmith's striker and became a respected evangelist in the Oldham area. In 1869 he married Sarah Preston, who taught him how to read and write. After her death he married Mary Ann Cook in 1891, with whom he had a daughter, Alice Johnson. Following the death of her father in 1914, Alice had this pamphlet published. James Johnson is buried in Royton Cemetery, Oldham, in an unmarked grave.

This information was provided by curators from Gallery Oldham.