Anglicans, Baptists and Mormons – the Johnson family

On 26th February 1837, two-month-old Sarah Fountain Johnson from Northall (Bedfordshire) was baptised at Tingewick parish church along with her parents.  Adult baptisms – although unusual – are not unheard-of: my late father-in-law’s father was born in Padbury in 1871, shortly before the family moved to Tingewick.  He was, as far as I can discover, never baptised until a week before his 60th birthday, when he travelled to the family’s original parish (Lacey Green near Princes Risborough) for the ceremony.

Sarah’s parents were Benjamin and Charlotte (nee Budd); her grandfather, William  Johnson, was baptised at Tingewick in 1775, as had been his sister Ann in 1771.  Ann had married in the parish church in 1795, (witnessed, perhaps, by another sister, Catharine) but neither William nor their father John is recorded in Tingewick in the Posse Commitatus of 1798.

An email two years ago directed me to a history of the Johnson family on the FamilySearch website.  The link at the time failed to load … or it may be that, as now, the file viewer takes so long to display that I had given up.

That history quotes “The Baptists of Northall 1802-1969” by R.F. Broadfoot:

“In one of these churches [founded by John Wesley], at Eaton Bray, in Bedfordshire, a young lay preacher, William Johnson by name, was actively engaged in his itinerant ministry among the surrounding villages.  For some time his superintendent minister and the circuit officers had been critical of the young man’s independence of outlook, and sought to confine his preaching activities to those places to which he had been allocated by the Methodist ‘plan’.  To this he could not agree and accordingly, late in the year 1802, he left the Methodists and, together with some twenty others, formed an ‘independent church’ at Northall, just over the borders of Buckinghamshire.”

In 1805 he was pastor of the new church, and in 1807, when the group adopted Believers’ Baptism, William was in the first group to be baptised.

Why, then, did his son and daughter-in-law take their new baby  30-miles back to Tingewick in late winter – and be themselves christened at the same time?

One family story says that the child was named after a maternal aunt, who promised a legacy; another suggests (wrongly) that only children who appear in Church of England registers can inherit property from their fathers.  The second reason is wrong – it is the legitimacy of the parents marriage which matters, and  even if Benjamin and Charlotte believed it to be the case, they would surely have gone to the local church where they were living.

The obvious explanation is that they had become unhappy with William’s Baptist church, but – to avoid embarrassing William by a public split – had gone to a church where his parishioners would be unlikely to learn of it.

Matters did not end there, though.

In April 1846, Benjamin was baptised into the Mormon church Whipsnade by an American missionary; three weeks later, Charlotte joined him in their new faith.  By the end of the year, Benjamin had been ordained and under his leadership the Edlesborough branch became the largest in nineteenth century Buckinghamshire.

Benjamin died in 1853, just weeks after his father.  Charlotte sold everything, intending to to move to Utah to join the church community there.  Alas, all the money was stolen by a missionary entrusted to take it to Liverpool to pay the families sea passage.  It would be another eleven years before they finally embarked and, eventually reached Salt Lake City.

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