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George M. Johnson Papers,1850-1920

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Processed by: Lynne Hollingsworth; machine-readable finding aid created by:Eric Weig


George M. Johnson Papers




Kentucky Historical Society. Special Collections & Archives. Frankfort, Kentucky 40601-1931

Conditions Governing Access note

Access at KHS only. Use microfilm, transcriptions or images when available.

Preferred Citation Note

[Identification of item], George M. Johnson Papers, 1850-1920, 83M01,Library Special Collections and Archives, Kentucky Historical Society, Frankfort.


1 box, .5 c.f.


These are the papers of George W. Johnson, the first Confederate Provisional Governor of Kentucky, and his family. Johnson was born near Georgetown, Kentucky. He received Bachelor's, Master's, and Law degrees from Transylvania University. After his marriage to Ann Viley in 1833, Johnson practiced law in Georgetown. The Johnson's later moved to a farm in Scott County.

In addition to managing his lands in Kentucky and a large cotton plantation in Arkansas, Johnson served three terms in the Kentucky House of Representatives and was a candidate for Democratic elector in 1852 and 1860. He also headed the Committee of Sixty, which seized Cassius M. Clay's press and shipped it to Cincinnati in 1845, thereby removing Clay's emancipationist newspaper, the TRUE AMERICAN, from Lexington. With the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency in 1860 and the formation of the Confederacy by seceding Southern states in 1861, Johnson, long an advocate of states' rights, believed Kentucky should also leave the Union. He was sent to Richmond, Virginia to request Confederate respect for Kentucky's position of neutrality in 1861.

Johnson, along with other Confederate sympathizers, sponsored a States Rights convention in Frankfort after neutrality was abandoned. He soon fled the state for safety behind rebel lines, but returned to Kentucky as a volunteer aide to General Simon Bolivar Buckner in Bowling Green. A sovereignty convention in Russellville in November, 1861 denied the authority of the government in Frankfort and declared a revolutionary right to create a provisional government that they viewed as more representative of Kentuckians. Johnson was unanimously elected as the first provisional governor. The new government was soon admitted to the Confederacy, despite misgivings about its legality. Johnson and his council spent less than three months in Bowling Green, the official Confederate capital, after taking office. The government went into exile when General Albert Sidney Johnston retreated from Kentucky. The governor was with Johnston's forces at Shiloh where both were fatally wounded.

Scope and Content

The materials include business and personal correspondence of George Johnson, dating from 1850 to his death. Of particular interest are the letters he wrote to his wife when he was attached to Buckner's command, first as aide, then as Provisional Governor. They contain his thoughts on secession, his devotion to the South, his feelings about the war, and the officers he knew. The letters omit specific military details for the sake of security. He liked to write poetry and some of his verse is also present.

There are also letters to Ann Viley Johnson giving accounts of her husband's death from the wounds he suffered on the battlefield at Shiloh and a number of newspaper clippings about Johnson's death. The remainder of the collection contains family correspondence of Johnson's wife and children. Many of these letters describe war conditions and the Reconstruction period.

Other figures whose letters are represented in the collection include George Johnson's brother, William Henry Johnson, who owned Bell Isle, a plantation near Yazoo City, Mississippi; Ann Viley Johnson; George's son Junius, who became an engineer and helped build the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad; and two of his daughters, Eliza Johnson Johnston (Mrs. J. Stoddard Johnston) and Martha Johnson Payne (Mrs. George V. Payne. There are a few letters and notes written by Anne Payne Coffman, Johnson's granddaughter.

Two portraits are also present. One is an undated photograph of Governor Johnson and the other, circa 1845, is a portrait of Ann Viley Johnson and her son, Junius.

Variant Title: The collection is also known as the Coffman Collection.

The series are arranged by the family member receiving the correspondence found in the collection.


  • Johnson, George W. , 1811-1862 -- Correspondence
  • Johnson, Ann Viley -- Correspondence
  • Johnson family -- Correspondence
  • Confederate States of America. -- Army -- Officers
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Personal narratives
  • Reconstruction -- Kentucky
  • Black-and-white photographs
  • Scott County, Ky

User Restrictions

Permission for commercial use must be requested from the Kentucky Historical Society. Special Collections.

Collection Inventory

Series 1 - Administrative Materials
George W. Johnson - Inventory and Notes
[box: 1, folder: 1]
Series 2 - George W. Johnson
Correspondence, poetry, 1850-1855
[box: 1, folder: 2 ]
Correspondence, 1856, 1858-1859
[box: 1, folder: 3 ]
Correspondence, 1860
[box: 1, folder: 4 ]
Correspondence, 1861
[box: 1, folder: 5 ]
Correspondence, 1862
[box: 1, folder: 6 ]
Letters, resolutions, clippings and notices concerning the death of George W. Johnson
[box: 1, folder: 7 ]
Series 3 - Mrs. George W. (Ann Viley) Johnson
Correspondence, 1860-1864
[box: 1, folder: 8 ]
Correspondence, 1865-1875
[box: 1, folder: 9 ]
Series 4 - Eliza Johnson Johnston
Correspondence, 1854-1875
[box: 1, folder: 10 ]
Series 5 - George & Martha Johnson Payne
Letter from G. Payne October 30, 1870
[box: 1, folder: 11 ]
Correspondence, 1859-1870
[box: 1, folder: 12 ]
Correspondence, 1872-1891
[box: 1, folder: 13 ]
Series 6 - Other Family Members
Junius Ward Johnson; Correspondence 1864, 1903
[box: 1, folder: 14 ]
Viley Papers
[box: 1, folder: 15 ]
Wilkins, Walter; "Bachelor's Club"
[box: 1, folder: 16 ]
Coffman, Mrs. William H. (Anne); Letters to, 1898-1920
[box: 1, folder: 17 ]
Letters by Franklin Johnson to John Lewis, 1839; 1845
[box: 1, folder: 18 ]
Madison C. Johnson; Letter to William H. Johnson, Dec. 23, 1868
[box: 1, folder: 19 ]
Madison C. Johnson,; Letter to, n.d
[box: 1, folder: 20 ]
Series 7 - Miscellaneous
Miscellaneous documents
[box: 1, folder: 21 ]
[box: 1, folder: 22 ]

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