New Castle, Delaware
Community History and Archaeology Program 
John Johns

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John Johns   (1796-1876)

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Title/OccupationBishop of Virginia
President W&M
President Va. Theol. Seminary
Address2 E 3rd
ArtistJames Reid Lambdin
Date painted1856
CreditMuscarelle Museum of Art at The College of William & Mary, in Virginia
MarriedJulianna Johnson (1820, d <1836)
Margaretta Schaaf (1838)
Angelina Southgate (1856)
ParentsKensey Johns Sr. & Ann Van Dyke
ChildrenJulianna: Julianna, 1822, Catherine Ross, 1823, Kensey (1825-1909), John Henry, Ann Van Dyke, 1829, John

Margaretta: Arthur (1843)


Courtesy Muscarelle Museum of Art at The College of William & Mary, in Virginia

John Johns was a respected and loved minister who served in Maryland and Virginia. Although he was born (July 10, 1796) and grew up in New Castle, his entire adult life was spent outside the state.

John Johns
Unknown Artist, c1820
Courtesy Muscarelle Museum of Art at The College of William & Mary, in Virginia
After graduating from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) in 1815 and Princeton Theologial Seminary in 1819, he immediately took a position at All Saints Church in Frederick, Maryland. In 1828 he left to take over churches in Baltimore where he remained until at least 1837. It was presumably during these years in Maryland that his portrait to the right was painted by "Miss Peale", presumably Sarah Miriam Peale, who painted in Baltimore between 1818 and 1847.

He moved to Virginia where he became Assistant Bishop (1842), then Bishop (1862) until his death in 1876. It was during his time as Bishop that he helped to rescue the College of William and Mary. He became president (1849-1854), reopened the closed college, donated his salary as bishop to pay for another professor, and increased the student body from 21 to 84 students.

During the civil war when he was in his 60's, he rode through Virginia and neighboring states ministering to the soldiers and the families in the towns near the battlefields.

After the war, he lived in Richmond at the Virginia Theological Seminary and served as its president until his death in 1876.

Rev. John Johns
From Painting by Miss Peale

Rev. Henry V. D. Johns

Both images from "The Virginia Bishop" by J. S. Wood

The book The Virginia Bishop, A Yankee Hero of the Confederacy by John Sumner Wood, 1961, raises interesting questions about the relationships in the Kensey Johns Sr. family.

It is noteworthy that despite being the son of a wealthy and prominent Delaware family, John Johns never took a position as a minister in Delaware. The history of the Virginia Seminary does not mention John's family connection in his biographical description. Wood recounts the statement from Elizabeth Booth in "Reminiscences of New Castle" that Johns returned to New Castle in 1816 and conducted weekly prayer meetings that year, but makes no mention of ever seeing him again in New Castle.

John John's brother Rev. Henry Van Dyke Johns followed in his footsteps to Maryland and then Virginia. He also never took over a church in Delaware. One wonders if both brothers became estranged from Kensey Sr.

Wood states that Kensey "disowned" a daughter, Henrietta for marrying James Byrne Jr., an Irish plantation manager in Paris, Virginia. Wood's grandmother knew both Henrietta's second husband Bryne and the son by her first husband Thomas South. The grandmother recounted the family's anger at her treatment by Kensey. There is however no direct proof tying Henrietta to Kensey. The Johns family had members of both the Presbyterian and Episcopal churches. Wood reports that there are gaps in details for "vital records" for the period both for both churches and thus provide no help. There is an entry in the federal census for 1810 consistant with an additional female being in the household, but since there are no female names, this could be someone else. As Wood wrote, "the full story of why Kensey Johns disowned and banished his daughter Henrietta will not be known..."

Jim Meek
nc-chap.org 2014, 2015