Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Jacobus Johannes Bennink Johnsonius (1859-1930)

Portrait from the Biennial Report of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, 1911-12.

  This interestingly named man is one Jacobus Johannes Bennink-Johnsonius, a native of Holland who found his business and political fortunes in his adopted state of Tennessee. Little could be found online in regards to this oddly named man other than the following information, which came to light via the discovery of the 1923 work Tennessee, the Volunteer State, Volume 4.
   J.J.B. Johnsonius was born at the Hague, Holland on March 29, 1859, and immigrated to the United States in 1878. His early years in America were spent prospecting out west, and he eventually settled in the New Era, Michigan area. He married Ms. Cornelia Veltman (1864-1927) in July 1881, with whom he had seven children: Minnie (1882-1953),  Ralph Alexander (1884-1962), Fannie (1886-1953), Louisa Dora (1888-?),  Charles Stuart (1892-1955),  Alexander L. (1894-1959) and Hobson Merrimac Johnsonius (1898-1968).
  In 1885 J.J.B. Johnsonius migrated south, eventually settling in the town of Paris, Tennessee. Within a few years, he had firmly established his name in his new home state, operating a general insurance business, with which he "won a notable measure of success in the insurance field and has long been numbered among the prosperous and influential citizens of Paris."
   Johnsonius first became active in politics in 1900, when he won election to the Tennessee State House of Representatives. Here he ably represented Henry County for two years and in 1910 won re-election to this body. In 1913 Johnsonius continued his political ascent when he was named to the position of Immigration Commissioner of Tennessee. His three-year term in the office was marked by Tennessee, the Volunteer State as one of distinction, with Johnsonius helping to "bring in the first Belgian immigrants, numbering thirty-seven, from Ellis Island."
   At the outset of American involvement in WWI, Johnsonius became Henry County's Red Cross chairman, serving throughout the duration of that war. In addition to his civic and political pursuits, Johnsonius was also a prominent member of several fraternal organizations in Tennessee, including service as the Grand Commander of the Golden Cross from 1917-1920 and was also a Knight Templar Mason, serving as a Right Eminent Past Grand Commander in 1928.  
  J.J.B. Johnsonius died at age seventy on April 3, 1930, and was subsequently interred next to his wife at the Maplewood Cemetery in his hometown of Paris, Tennessee. The rare portrait of him shown below was found on a Tennessee Legislative composite portrait published during his second term in the House of Representatives in 1911.

1 comment:

  1. It is my understanding that JJB was fairly much a n'er-do-well until he met the Veldtmann family in Michigan and married a Jewess... and that, because of that fortuitous marriage, he was able to move to Tennessee with the in-laws and his wife, and that was how he became funded for his insurance business. Thereafter, he joined the "fraternal organization," known then and now as the KKK. I suppose that allowed him to "pass," and to be elected to public office, even though his in-laws were Jews. My great-grandfather Veldtmann played "Santa" at Christmas for the Johnsonius family because he never gave up his faith, according to family legend. Certainly, in Paris, TN, there was no place for him to practice his faith. One of great-grand-ma's daughters, (or would that need to be great-great grand-ma's?), named Veldtmann, became the first female doctor in Tennessee, (or was it in my county?) and she was so intrepid!! She started medical college at Vandy, but while she was there, the school decided they didn't want females in their medical school. First, she cut her hair and started wearing men's clothes, but they quickly found her out. SOOO, what did she do but get on her horse and RIDE? (I like the sound of it, but it was probably really a train...either way, what COURAGE it shows!) All the way to Chicago, where she finished her medical training. Subsequently she came back to Henry County and proceeded to deliver HUNDREDS of kids, regardless of race, and to make records of births before the county was making official records of births, and her records later became the best source that Henry County had of birth records. BUT: She rode a horse like a man; (Western-style); she wore pants so that her riding style was not entirely ungraceful; she kept her hair very short; she never married; she adopted and raised two orphans. PLUS, she was a Jewess. So I never got a chance to know her personally. My family... mother and father, and grand-parents on the Johnsonius side, were really, really embarrassed by her. I never knew why until I started-- at my great old age-- paying attention. I realize now that her "blood" is more a part of who I am now, than the Johnsonius side... as much as I love them too. I just wish I had known the Veldtmanns better. And I am sad that I was not allowed to know her, and that she was never welcome in our home. Now, a funny story about JJB: My father, (Stark's)cousin Camilla, (which we pronounced "Camille-ya), came over to Mama's house, (Stark's widow),one day at my invitation to talk about the family, as she remembered them. What a funny woman! In re. JJB, she said, "Cuss?!?!... Wy, blue smoke would come out his mouth!" How good is that??