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The Buffalo History Museum

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Updated June 11, 2015

George Washington Jonson (1801-1880) Diaries

George Washington Jonson (sometimes spelled Johnson), a Buffalo, New York, lawyer, land agent and abolitionist, kept detailed diaries for most of his adult life. A prominent attorney in Buffalo, he was an associate of Millard Fillmore. In his will, he designated that his diaries and other personal papers and effects be placed in the hands of Hon. Justin Smith Morrill (1810-1898), to be given to one of his nephews or grand nephews "then living as shall have in point of merit and scholarship be, in his opinion the most suitable to receive and have charge of the same, taking from a written promise to keep them together and preserve them. And although I have no legal right...it is my wish that such nephew or grand nephew should transmit them in the family line, so that they may continue as heirloom in the line for all future time."

                

Jonson was born in Enfield, New Hampshire and attended Dartmouth College. He came to the Buffalo area around 1832. He read law with Millard Fillmore in East Aurora and ran a school there. He later became an agent for the Holland Land Company in Buffalo. He was a member of the Liberty Party, later the Free Soil Party. A wealthy man with unorthodox views, he maintained a rather low profile as a public figure. However, his citizen activism included work with the Underground Railroad, opposition to debtor's prisons, and participation in the movement to impeach President Andrew Johnson. He retired to the town of Royalton in Niagara County, where he died in 1880.  He is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, NY.

                

Several of the diaries were presented by Dr. C. S. Swan to the Historian of Enfield, New Hampshire, who in turn presented them to Dartmouth College. Dartmouth also acquired a volume from the estate of Justin Smith Morrill. The Buffalo History Museum (TBHM) acquired several volumes by purchase from a rare book dealer in Middleborough, Massachusetts.

Many thanks to the State University of New York at Buffalo, University Archives for allowing us to reprint this biographical note.



Below is our best attempt to map out the locations of Jonson’s original volumes and the extent to which they have been transcribed or microfilmed.  None have been digitized or put online.

TBHM        = The Buffalo History Museum

UB         = University at Buffalo Archives

Dates

Contents

Owner/Location of Original Volume(s)

Microfilm?

Transcription?

1817-1824

Journal

Dartmouth

Not filmed

Not transcribed

Jan.1, 1825-Dec. 31, 1831

Journal

Dartmouth

TBHM

M65-4, Reel 1

Not transcribed

1832-1833

Letter book

TBHM, vol.1

Not filmed

Not transcribed

1833-1835

Letter book

TBHM, vol. 1A

TBHM

M65-4, Reel 2

Mss. A65-37

Oct. 1, 1833-

Dec. 28, 1835

Jan. 1, 1836-Oct. 31, 1837

Journal

Dartmouth

TBHM

M65-4, Reel 5

Not transcribed

1837-1838

Letters

Swan Family Papers,

Massachusetts Historical Society

Ms. N-1644

Unknown

Unknown

Nov. 1, 1837-Dec. 31, 1839

Journal

Dartmouth

TBHM

M65-4, Reel 3

Not transcribed

Nov. 1, 1840-June 30, 1843

Journal

Dartmouth

TBHM

M65-4, Reel 4

Not transcribed

July 1, 1843-Dec. 31, 1844

Journal

Dartmouth

TBHM

M65-4, Reel 5

Not transcribed

1847

Journal

Dartmouth

Not filmed

Not transcribed

1848

Day book

UB

UB Mf23

Not transcribed

1849

Journal

Dartmouth

Not filmed

Not transcribed

1850

Day book

TBHM, vol. 2

Not filmed

Mss. A65-37

Jan.1-June 30, 1850

1852

Day book

TBHM, vol. 3

Not filmed

Not transcribed

1854

Journal

TBHM, vol.4

Not filmed

Not transcribed

1855

Journal

TBHM, vol. 5

Not filmed

Not transcribed

1856

Journal

Dartmouth

Not filmed

Not transcribed

1857

Yearbook

UB

Not filmed

Not transcribed

1858-1878

Journal

Dartmouth

Not filmed

Not transcribed

Secondary Sources on Jonson

Link if online

Citation

Not online

Donald, Ada Pace, ed.

The diary of an abolitionist: George W. Jonson

Niagara Frontier, vol. 3, pp 45-52, Spring 1956-Winter 1957

Not online

Douglass, Harry S., ed.

A journey to Arcade by Buffalo abolitionist, 1844: From the journal of George Washington Jonson

Historical Wyoming, vol. 27 no. 2, pp 45-47, October 1980

Not online

Heintzman, Nelson Terry

Not a scintilla of abolition in Buffalo: the rise of a liberty man as revealed in the journals of George Washington Jonson

Thesis (M.S.)--State University of New York at Buffalo, 1990

Excerpt

Powell, Elwin H.

Dialectics in the street: Disputation and assembly

Buffalonian.com, Feb. 2001

Not online

Powell, Elwin H.

News from the Aceldama: Black and white relations as revealed by the journal of George Washington Jonson (1832-68)

[Buffalo : s.n., 1976]

Full text

Powell, Elwin H.

Street as School: Ideas and Assembly in Buffalo, Seen through the Diary of George Washington Jonson (1835-1849)

Urban Education, vol. 18 no.4, pp 413-25, January 1984

Excerpt

Powell, Elwin H.

Talking abolition: Frederick Douglass speaks in Buffalo’s Front Park

Buffalonian.com, n.d.

Not online

Winner, Julia Hull

George Washington Johnson, Lawyer, and the Holland Land Company office in Buffalo

Niagara Frontier, vol. 10, pp 56-61, Summer 1963

This guide is online at http://tinyurl.com/BECHS013

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