By Kim Lambert,
Editor of The Angier Independent
Prior to the 2011 holidays, a well-attended family reunion was recently celebrated at the Ottie and Robert Timothy Johnson home in Kipling.
The celebration was hosted in the pastoral setting of a lovely and historical, two-story commodious Southern Colonial farmhouse which dates back to 1918.
More than 50 descendants of Ottie and Robert Timothy Johnson gathered to reminisce a bygone day, perfectly suited for the Johnsons’ sprawling landscape on some 355 acres.
Extended family members credit Tapley Ormond Johnson, Sr., for establishing the family farm during the late 18th Century.
Not your typical family reunion, the nearly six dozen family members from the Johnson clan maintained a hectic yet fun-filled schedule for relatives who trekked to Kipling from as far away as Cairo, Egypt.
There were family members traveling across the U.S. from such venues as Atlanta, Ga., Richmond, Va., Asheville, Newport News, Idaho, Los Angeles, Baltimore and Detroit. It has been one of the first times since Tori Johnson Burnett’s wedding eight years ago or Ralph Johnson’s funeral five years earlier that the large clan had gotten together.
One relative said the last major gathering had taken place 22 years earlier during 1989.
Close yet diverse
The extended Johnson family, whose members took time out of their hectic and quite diverse vocations, expressed joy as they reassembled.
Alice Johnson, who had been residing in Egypt for the past 5. 5 years, has been serving as an ASL interpreter for refugees in such places as Dahshur, Somalia and Ethiopia. She traveled across the globe, making a 24-hour trek from Cairo, connecting in New York before reaching North Carolina.
“It’s been very satisfying to be able to fly back here and to be a part of this reunion,” Ms. Johnson, a UNC-Chapel Hill Anthropology alumnus, said. “I try to get home once a year and I was excited I was able to see the autumn leaves.”
For siblings Sam and Tim Johnson, two of six descendants of Ralph and Goldie Rowland Johnson, what was so remarkable was the historical impact of their recent reunion.
“It’s incredible to think that we had 10 generations on the Johnson clan on the same property,” Sam Johnson said. “Now we are including, though, the living and the dead and the several generations who were buried in the Olive Branch Cemetery on the property.”
The cemetery, believed to date back to the late 19th and early 20th Century, hosts modest headstones and footstones on the easternmost edge of the property.
According to legend, at least six generations had been interred at the family burial site, including Sam’s and Tim’s great, great, great, great-grandfather Tafley Johnson, Sr.; their great, great, great-grandfather Tafley Johnson, Jr.; followed by their great, great-grandfather William Johnson who was said to be a member of the Company B, 10th Battalion Black River Tiger Regiment during the Civil War, their great-grandfather Willis Johnson, their grandfather Bob Johnson and their father Ralph Johnson.
Family members said there remains only one survivor from their father’s generation, their Aunt Gertrude Parker Johnson, who currently resides in Wilmington.
The Ottie and Robert Timothy Johnson Home remains surrounded by cultivated fields, expansive forestry and pasture tended by the Johnsons for the past six generations. On the private property stand 30 buildings including a 1918 store, a hog scalder dating back to the early 1950s, gable-affronted garages, saddle-notched log corn cribs, livestock barns, woodsheds, grape arbors, a dynamite- and bulletproof home with ammunition once used to extract stumps, dig holes and shatter rocks.
Descendants report that a barn on the property was purchased by Ralph Johnson, a structure that had formerly been used as the old LaFayette High School gymnasium.
Of the hundreds of acres of farmland, the family farmed only 40 acres, leaving more than 200 acres to be managed by tenants and sharecroppers. Just east of the homestead, the rugged Old Post Road served as a major thoroughfare from Kipling to venues east including Lillington and Fayetteville. The family’s original country store, affronting Old Post Road, was established in 1885.
The Johnsons were noted for raising livestock, sheep, swine, chickens, horses, oxen and cattle. The family thrived in their harvesting of Indian corn, sweet potatoes, winter wheat, tobacco and managed their country store. The Johnson Farm, a private residence, was listed on the National Register of Historic Place April 15, 2010.
The more than 50 Johnson descendants stayed busy throughout their reunion weekend, many of whom enjoyed “sitting by the campfire,” partaking of the big pot of chili and, as they referred to, “sharing memories by the fire.”
Extended members said that their cousin, Bobby Lanier, was correct in his assessment that the reunion was, as he predicted, “a hoot.”
For those latecomers arriving Saturday morning, organizers fixed a “big, country breakfast” complete with breakfast casseroles, coffee cake and fruit followed by a hay ride down to the family’s old cemetery, on the southern portion of the large property.
At a site where one of their ancestor’s once stood, the large group assembled at the unofficial Olive Branch Cemetery, reading “their first cousins’ great, great grandfather William’s gravesite and what is believed to hold his father and grandfather.”
A delight to all history buffs, Robert Schaber from Spring Lake — coined as the family’s historian — discussed in detail the several Johnson descendants who lived on the Kipling homestead. Mr. Schaber cited specific dates pertinent to the Johnson’s family history including the fateful day Union soldiers burned down a home on the property, another time when one of his forefathers was captured by Union officers, their ancestors’ affiliations with the Black River Tiger Regiment/Heavy Artillery and homesites of previous family members.
Mr. Schaber amazed his family members, accurately citing from memorization such historical events that shaped their family tree including when and where one of the Johnson descendants, Green Johnson, committed suicide in 1918. “In between those two trees used to be the home’s front porch,” Mr. Schaber said, pointing to location encircled by a lone brick fireplace still standing. “That was where he killed himself.”
The farm tour culminated with helicopter rides hovering over the Johnson family farm followed by a cookout, cornhole competitions, bike rides, a festive bon fire and fireworks.
Despite their myriad of weekend activities, on the Johnson clan’s lists of priorities, however, included “catching up, sharing and creating memories.”
Sam Johnson, reminiscent of the weekend events said, “What a tribute to our ancestors.”