George Henry Martin Johnson was born October 1816 at Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. He attended residential school at the Mohawk Institute in Brantford, Ontario. George became a Chief on the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Council, succeeding his uncle Henry Martin as Chief. Throughout his life he worked as an Interpreter for churches and the Government. His first interpretive role was for the Reverend Abraham Nelles at Her Majesty’s Royal Chapel of the Mohawks, and later for Nelles’ successor, the Reverend Adam Elliott. George began living with Reverend Adam Elliott at the Tuscarora Parsonage and this is where he met his future wife, Emily Susanna Howells.
Emily Susanna (Howells) Johnson was born January 1824 in Bristol, England. She moved to the USA. with her family when she was only 4 years old. Her father was an abolitionist and moved to Ohio, USA to assist in transporting slaves into Canada. Emily later moved to Canada to live with her sister, Eliza Beulah, and her sister’s husband, Reverend Adam Elliott at the Tuscarora Parsonage. While living there, Emily met and fell in love with George H.M. Johnson. The couple were secretly engaged for five years and wed on the 27th of August 1853. George began building the Chiefswood National Historic Site the same year as a wedding gift to Emily.
George began construction on Chiefswood in 1853 using walnut that was milled from trees on the grounds. The house was built using the plank-on-plank technique, meaning the planks were staggered one on top of another. Chiefswood was then plastered on the inside and white stucco was used on the outside. According to Evelyn’s memoirs, it took three tons of nails to build Chiefswood.
The Johnson family home was modelled after the Lovejoys home near Cainsville because George had always admired the layout of their home. The home is made up of 4 rooms on the bottom floor, and 4 rooms on the top floor, with 5 fireplaces situated throughout the house. George later added on a summer kitchen wing to help offset the heat in the summer time.
Today, Chiefswood National Historic Site strives to remain accurate to George’s original floor plan. Chiefswood features replica wall paper by William Morris Company based out of England. The summer kitchen is now used as office/greeting space and a museum gift shop. The summer kitchen is a reconstruction of the original. The reconstruction took place in the fall of 2000/spring of 2001 to look like the original.
John ‘Smoke’ Johnson (2 December 1792- 26 August 1886): Although he didn’t live at Chiefswood, George Johnson’s father was a regular presence at the home and had a great influence on the family. Commonly known as John “Smoke” Johnson, his Mohawk name was Sakayanwaraton, translated as “disappearing of the Indian summer mist.” A veteran of the War of 1812, John “Smoke” Johnson became a Pine Tree Chief in the Six Nations Confederacy Council, and was renowned for his oratory skills. He was a Speaker of the Council for forty years, earning him the name the Mohawk Warbler. He also served as an interpreter at the Mohawk Chapel. John “Smoke” Johnson died at the age of 94, and is buried at the Mohawk Chapel.
Henry Beverly Johnson (18 July 1854- 13 September 1894): The eldest child of George and Emily, Henry Beverly Johnson was born at the Tuscarora Parsonage while Chiefswood was being constructed. Beverly was nick-named ‘Boney’ by his father after Napoleon Bonaparte. He was fond of music and played both the flute and the piano. He received his early education at the Mohawk Institute in Brantford, and excelled at music and athletics while attending Hellmuth College in London. Beverly worked for the Mutual Life Insurance Company in Hamilton, and later in Montreal. He died of heart problems at age 40, and is buried at the Mohawk Chapel.
Helen Charlotte Eliza Johnson (22 September 1856- 10 June 1937): Helen was born at the Tuscarora Parsonage while Chiefswood was being constructed, the Johnson’s second child was named for her paternal grandmother, her mother’s bridesmaid, and her mother’s sister, but better known as Eva or Evelyn. Evelyn’s Memoirs, compiled between 1927 and 1933, remain our best source for information on the Johnson family and Chiefswood. Her first-hand recollections provide insight into the family dynamics and what life was like when the family lived here at Chiefswood. Evelyn never married, and retained title to Chiefswood until her death in 1937, at which time she willed the estate to the Six Nations people. Evelyn is buried in the family plot at Mohawk Chapel.
Allen Wawanosh Johnson (21 July 2858- 19 June 1923): Allen was named after his god-father and Chief Wawonosh of the Chippewa. He was the first of the Johnson children to be born at Chiefswood. Like his brother Beverly, Allen was sent to the Mohawk Institute in Brantford at age ten, but soon ran away from the school. Allen enjoyed canoeing with his sister Pauline, and was the only Johnson child to marry. He married Floretta Katharine Maracle, who was an Upper Mohawk, in 1907. Allen and his wife lived in Toronto, until his death in 1923. Allen is buried at the Mohawk Chapel.
Emily Pauline Johnson (10 March 1861- 7 March 1913): George and Emily’s most famous child was named for her mother and at her father’s request, the sister of Napoleon Bonaparte. Pauline enjoyed the natural environment of Chiefswood’s estate, canoeing and snowshoeing whenever possible. These pursuits and her love of the natural environment inspired Pauline’s creativity. She began composing poems at the age of 10 and made her first public appearance in 1892. It is believed her love of poetry was inherited from her grandfather, John “Smoke” Johnson, who was well-known for his oratory skills. Pauline was also inspired by her mixed heritage, combining elements of her English education, with the stories she heard from her grandfather. Pauline died in Vancouver B.C in 1913, her ashes buried in Stanley Park.
Built between 1853 and 1856, Chiefswood has undergone several restorations throughout its history. Home to the Johnson family until 1884, Chiefswood was rented to tenants until the death of Evelyn Johnson in 1937 and was then willed by Evelyn to the people of the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory.
Chiefswood was federally recognized as a historic site by the Historic Sites and Monuments Act in 1953. From there, Six Nations Elected Council began fundraising efforts to restore Chiefswood and open it as a museum. In 1963 Six Nations Elected Council was able to open Chiefswood as a museum.
The museum was closed for restoration in 1984, and re-opened in 1997. During the restoration Chiefswood installed wallpaper that is a reproduction of wallpaper from the same time period that the Johnson Family lived at Chiefswood. The wallpaper is from the William Morris Company based out of England. The summer kitchen wing was reconstructed in 2000 using historical photographs and an archaeological dig that uncovered the original summer kitchen foundation.
Chiefswood National Historic Site has an extensive collection housed inside the museum and offsite. The collection includes furniture from the same time period that the Johnson family lived at Chiefswood, E. Pauline Johnson’s personal belongings, and many books and hand-written letters. The collection was inherited by the people of Six Nations from Evelyn Johnson, who maintained Chiefswood and its belongings. The collection is periodically rotated between our offsite storage facility and inside the museum so that guests have an opportunity to see something different every time they visit. Below is a list of some of the Johnson Family collection items you may see during your visit.
- Tekahionwake Collected Poems and Selected Prose, E. Pauline Johnson. Carole Gerson and Veronica Strong-Boad. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002.
- Legends of Vancouver, E. Pauline Johnson, Introduction by Robin Laurence. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1997.
- The Moccasin Maker, E. Pauline Johnson, Ed. A LaVonne Brown Ruoff. University of Oklahoma Press, 1998.
- Legends of Vancouver, E. Pauline Johnson. C 1911, Red Suede, embossed ‘Indian with Headdress’ on cover.
- Flint and Feather, The Complete Works of E.Pauline Johnson. First Edition. C 1912
- Flint and Feather, The Complete Works of E. Pauline Johnson. First Edition Inscribed to Allen at Christmas, C. 1912.
- “Hemans-Poetrical Works of Mrs. F. Hemans with Memoir” C. 1870, Green Hardcover.
- “Longfellow-Poetrical Works”, Thomas Yardly.
- “Shelley” Poetrical works, edited by Willm Michael Rossetti. C 1792-1822.
- Obsequies of Red Jacket at Buffalo October 9th, 1884, Vol. III From the Buffalo Historic Society, The Courier Co.
- Paradise Lost: a Poem in 12 Books & Paradise Regained. John Milton
- Swinburne Selections from Poetical Works from A.C. Swinburne C. 1884
- Pauline Johnson’s Doll, “Bella”
- Red Velvet with leather detailing purse, 1883
- Pauline Johnson’s Brooch
- Pauline Johnson’s Hairpin
- Pauline Johnson’s Calling Card Case
- Many photographs and artifacts