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Unveiling of marker highlights gathering

August 11, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

BARDANE, W.Va. - One hundred and fifty-five years ago, a community where blacks lived freely was started about five miles northwest of Charles Town, W.Va.

Although most of the members of the Berry, Johnson and Fox families that made up Johnsontown no longer live in the community, it is by no means forgotten by the descendants.

On the second Sunday of August every year, descendants of the families return to the 105-year-old Zion Baptist Church for a homecoming. For this year's ceremony, a state historical marker formally was unveiled.

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Founded by George and Betsy Johnson, Johnsontown was started in 1848 on about 14 acres that was given to the couple from the Quakers, who did not believe in slavery.

The community thrived, and shortly after its establishment, a one-room log schoolhouse was built to hold community and religious activities, said Carl Johnson, a descendant of George and Betsy Johnson. The schoolhouse was used for religious activities until Zion Baptist Church was built in 1898.

The descendants gathered around the new marker at the edge of the Zion Baptist Church cemetery and listened as speakers described family histories that stemmed from Johnsontown.

The church and other buildings that made up Johnsontown are off Hite Road, which turns off Wiltshire Road near the USDA Appalachian Fruit Research Station.

Johnsontown was a place where residents looked after each other, speakers said Sunday.

They raised their own vegetables and livestock, which often were distributed to families in the community, speakers said.

"They didn't worry about money because they had trust in God," said Viola Johnson, Carl Johnson's sister and the granddaughter of George and Betsy Johnson.

"When we lived up here, it was all family," Gladys Davenport-Smith said.

More than 100 people have come to the homecoming over the years for a church service in the morning, followed by a meal and another service in the afternoon, said Carl Johnson, who flies out to Jefferson County every year from his Los Angeles home for the celebration.

As people listened to the speakers, others walked around the cemetery and through the church. Darius Johnson walked into the church and began recalling its history.

Darius Johnson, along with his father and grandfather, once preached in the church.

"I'll be buried out there in that cemetery just like my grandfather and father was," said Darius Johnson, who now lives in Newark, N.J.

Other descendants at Sunday's ceremony also talked about their plans to be buried in the cemetery.

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