Johnson, George (1564-1605) (DNB00)

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JOHNSON, GEORGE (1564–1605), puritan, born in 1564 at Richmond in Yorkshire, was son of John, and younger brother of Francis Johnson (1562–1618) [q. v.] He matriculated as a pensioner of Christ's College, Cambridge, in 1580, commenced M.A. in 1588, and, after leaving the university, taught in a school at the house of one Fox in St. Nicholas Lane, London, on the site of the present congregationalists' memorial hall. This house was often used as a place of meeting by the separatists (Harl. MS. 7042, f. 107), and for the part which he played at those gatherings Johnson was, in the spring of 1593, committed by the Bishop of London to the Fleet prison, where, according to a petition addressed by his father to Lord Burghley, he was for a time subjected to extreme ill-usage (Lansdowne MS. 75). In 1597 his sentence was changed to one of banishment, and he sailed for America, in the company of several other separatists. The ship, however, met with disaster, and returned to England with its convoy, without having landed any of its passengers. Johnson now hid himself in Southampton and London, until he was able, in the autumn of the same year, to effect his escape to Holland, where he settled with the colony of banished Englishmen in Amsterdam.

His brother Francis was at this time pastor of the church there; but the two brothers soon violently quarrelled. George resumed attacks begun in England upon what he considered the vain and unseemly conduct of his brother's wife. In appeals to his brother he declared that Mrs. Francis Johnson and the Bishop of London's wife ‘for pride and vaine apparel were ioyned together, that she wore 3, 4, or 5 golde rings at once, moreover her busks and her whalebones in her brest were so manifest that many of ye saints were greeved’—statements which Francis took ‘in so ill part, that he returned taunts and revilings, calling his brother fantasticall, fond, ignorant, Anabaptisticall, and such-like.’ George continued his attacks on Mrs. Francis until Francis brought the three specific charges of being a nourisher of tale-bearers, a slanderer, and a teller of untruths against his brother at a church meeting, and declared that either George should be excommunicated or he would not continue pastor. It was not until 1602, after several years' wrangling, that the church chose the former alternative, and George Johnson was excommunicated, together with his father, who had come over to Holland with a view to composing the strife. In 1604 attacks on Mrs. Francis's mode of dress were renewed by George's followers (cf. Gardiner, History, iv. 145). George had in the meantime returned to England, and there prepared a sort of Apologia, entitled ‘A Discourse of some Troubles and Excommunications in the banished English Church at Amsterdam,’ which was published at Amsterdam in 1603, and, though unfinished, extends to 214 pages quarto of dense black letter. Two years after its publication Johnson died in Durham gaol, ‘in finishing the book which he had begunne.’

Ainsworth, in his ‘Counterpoyson,’ spoke of Johnson as having been ‘cast out of the Church for lying, slandering, false accusation, and contention;’ Robinson, in his ‘Justification of Separation from the Church of England,’ alludes to him as a ‘disgraceful libeller;’ and Richard Bernard [q. v.] uses the same terms, though elsewhere, in his ‘Separatists' Schisme,’ he says that ‘he is to be beleeved,’ and advises his reader, ‘if thou canst possiblie, get his booke.’ On the other hand, his brother Francis spoke well of him after his death, and Clyfton vigorously defends him in his ‘Advertisement concerning a Book lately published by C. Lawne and others against the excited English Church at Amsterdam.’ Mr. Dexter (Congregationalism of the last Three Hundred Years, p. 273), after a careful study of his book, the sole known copy of which he found in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, concludes that he was honest and conscientious, if somewhat weak-minded, jealous, and over-scrupulous.

[Cooper's Athenæ Cantabrigienses, vol. ii.; Strype's Annals, iv. 134; H. M. Dexter's Congregationalism; Waddington's Congregational Hist. vol. i.; Johnson's Discourse of some Troubles and Excommunications.]

T. S.