Lilly Library Manuscript Collections


The Johnson, J. mss., mid-eighteenth century, are the materials devised by Jane (Russell) Johnson, 1707?-1759, of Witham-on-the-Hill, Lincolnshire, England, primarily for the instruction of her son, George William Johnson, 1740?-1814, High Sheriff of Lincolnshire in 1784, and presumably for the two other sons and daughter as well. Jane Johnson was the wife of the Rev. Woolsey Johnson, 1696?-1756, who built Witham Hall in 1752, and the daughter of Richard Russell who acquired Packwood Manor in 1715 (subsequently heired by Jane to her sister Lucy) which was eventually sold to Sir Horace Mann.

The materials, arranged in 23 groups, consist of 438 pieces. Present are six sets of alphabet cards, many with vowel sounds, syllables, words and short lines or verses (which could serve as modern flash cards); three sets of word cards, also with vowel sounds, syllables and lines; two booklets; three sets of lesson cards in verse and anecdotal form on religious and secular topics; five card sets, largely secular and contemporary in nature with some traditional story-verses; and three card sets of religious and moral instruction, along with a set of word chips.

The largest group of materials is that of set no. 7 which includes the 78 word chips denoting chiefly food products such as Ale, Almonds, Bacon, ... , Veal, Water, Wild-fowl, housed in a small paper box decorated with playing card symbols cut from a Dutch-made paper.

References to contemporary personages and secular topics include George Berkeley, bishop of Cloyne, who advocated the curative powers of tarwater (no. 14 - Doctor Berkeley and Enoch Martyr cards); John Thomas, Bishop of London (no. 14 - Master Isaac Seabright); George Wright, member of Parliament (no. 14 - Two tame swans); the French dances, ridotto (no. 19 - Lord Mountjoy) and rigadoon (no. 19 - Miss Carpenter); anti-French bias (no. 17 - Hark the drums and no. 21 - Such short gowns); an acrobat (no. 21 - This Girl to get money); a woman's independence (no. 21 - Pray Madam come this way); toothache (no. 18 - A Boy and a Girl).

The stories, briefly noted, include those of the faithful dog betrayed (no. 14 - A farmer came home); A Fable (no. 15 - The Old man and Death: he calls upon Death but when he appears, asks for help with his load); The Eagle and the Child (no. 15 - As a hungry eagle: it seizes the child from the cradle); and a nonsense rhyme (no. 18 - If all the world was [sic] paper).

The last two sets, nos. 22 and 23, contain many identical religious and moral statements, including five of the Ten Commandments.

Factors for dating the material are derived from a figure on a card which bears a printed identity (set 1, item 36: Sir John Bernard, alderman and Lord Mayor of London, 1738); one of the booklets (no. 11 - George William Johnson, his Book, Printed and Bound by his Mamma [Jane Johnson] 1745); and a card (no. 14 - Simon Lord Lovat) which notes that Lord Lovat was beheaded on April 9, 1747.

The materials are sturdily constructed of two or more pieces of paper pasted together, some of which bear partial watermarks, with the wording hand-printed on grooved lines in black and red ink. Bordered or decorated in brown, orange, and green multi-colored paper of Dutch origin, the cards frequently are illustrated by figures (plain or hand-colored) of people, birds, animals, and objects cut from printed sources. One of the illustrations retains its printed source (set 21, item 15: Sold by John Bowles at the Black Horse in Cornhill). Many of the cards have small string or cord hangers.

A complete inventory on file describes more fully the individual groups. A finding aid for the collection is available.

The collection was formerly in the possession of Charles T. Owen, No. 1756.

Collection size: 23 items

For more information about this collection and any related materials contact the Public Services Department, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405. Call (812) 855-2452 or send an email using our Ask a Question form.