Biography of Hon. Darlington J. Johnson
Humboldt County, CA Biographies





HON. DARLINGTON J. JOHNSON. - Though Petrolia, Humboldt county, is so named because of the fact that it lies in a region manifestly rich in petroleum, the oil fields in that vicinity have never been popular or profitable for the reason that up to now no means have been found of separating the product from the earth it saturates. From time to time, however, capitalists and others interested in its possibilities have come here to investigate, and one of the prominent citizens of that section of the county so attracted is Hon. Darlington J. Johnson, member of the firm of Hart & Johnson, the oldest and most prominent merchants of Petrolia, and for two terms representative of his district in the state legislature, where he was influential in securing the passage of some of the measures of vital importance then before that body. It is almost fifty years since he first came to this vicinity, and with the exception of nine years' residence in Tulare county has made his home here since.

Besides the Johnsons Mr. Johnson counts among his ancestors others prominent in the Society of Friends and of old Pennsylvania stock, the Darlingtons and Jeffries notably. All three families were of English origin and resident in Pennsylvania from Provincial days, about 1711. There their descendants also lived contentedly until after 1850, when some moved west, though Darlington J. Johnson and his sister are the only members of his immediate family in California. Simon Johnson, his father, was a native of Fayette county, Pa., and married Jane Jeffries, who was born there, her father moving to that county from Chester county, Pa., among the first settlers. Simon Johnson and his wife lived and died in Pennsylvania, following farming. Of the twelve children born to them only four now survive, Mifflin still living in Fayette county, Pa.; Ellis Bailey residing at Charlestown, W. Va.; and Mrs. Sarah Elizabeth Plaskett in San Luis Obispo county, Cal.

Darlington J. Johnson was born August 29, 1839, near Uniontown, in Fayette county, Pa., where he grew to manhood. Like the Friends generally, his parents prized education, and the boy had excellent advantages, attending Waynesburg College, in Greene county, Pa. After teaching for a time in Fayette county, Pa., he went westward to Illinois, and followed his profession in Lasalle county. While in the latter state he responded to the first call for troops in the Civil war and the day after the call was made, on April 15, 1861, he enlisted in Company H, Eleventh Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry, under Col. W. H. L. Wallace, who was killed at Shiloh, and Capt. Theodore Gibson, being enlisted in the three months service at Ottawa, Ill. He served in Missouri until after the term expired, when he was honorably discharged at Cairo, Ill., and returned to Lasalle county and continued teaching. Though all were reared in the Quaker faith, besides Mr. Johnson four of his brothers served in the Civil war, as follows: Joseph served in the Eighty fifth Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry all through the war and rose to the rank of lieutenant; Bailey was in the same regiment and was orderly sergeant; Jesse was a mounted orderly to General Rosecrans and his dispatch carrier, and in an engagement in West Virginia was three times wounded and was taken prisoner to Libby prison; Samuel was also in the Eighty fifth regiment during the entire war.

In the fall of 1864 D. J. Johnson was one of a party of thirty five which started across the plains for California, with fourteen ox teams of four yoke each. They arrived at Salt Lake City too late to cross the Sierras, owing to the frequency and violence of snowstorms and snowslides, and remained there until spring. Meantime a copy of the Humboldt County Times (1864), of Eureka, happened to fall into Mr. Johnson's hands, and the account it contained of the oil lands at Petrolia determined his location when he arrived in California, reaching the region of his choice in the fall of 1865. For nine years he taught school in Humboldt county. In 1889 he became a member of the firm of Hart & Johnson, general merchants at Petrolia, with which he has been connected continuously since. In all his relations to his fellow citizens, whether as educator, business man or public servant, he has been markedly progressive, a leader of thought and action, and thoroughly trusted on the record he has made by his conscientious, upright life.

Mr. Johnson's ability and qualities of leadership have been demonstrated in the various responsibilities he has undertaken. In 1892 he was elected to the legislature on the Republican ticket, and reelected in 1894, and during his two terms had the privilege of obtaining and supporting some particularly good laws for the benefit of public education. As an experienced educator he was appointed chairman of the committee on education. A great many bills relating to schools and educational features of all sorts were introduced by various members, and the committee condensed them, using the best points of each, into the bill called the educational bill, passed in 1895. This celebrated measure has proved a wise piece of legislation in the test of two decades, and the authors deserve the thanks and praise of the state for their care in framing its provisions and in eliminating undesirable clauses. Mr. Johnson also introduced the high school bill, which was brought up and passed as a separate measure. The joint bill known as the butter bill was introduced in the state senate by Senator Frank McGowan and Mr. Johnson had charge of it in the lower house, the bill passing in 1895. It has been a material help to the dairy industry in California, a great protection to one of the important interests in Humboldt county, where Mr. Johnson was warmly applauded for his efforts.

Mr. Johnson has his home about two miles north of Petrolia, on a ranch of ten acres which he purchased in 1886 and which he has put under excellent cultivation, having a fine orchard, fruits and flowers in profusion and all the accessories of a delightful home. He was married, near Petrolia, November 21, 1872, to Miss Rosina M. Wright, who was born April 7, 1852, near Lake Geneva, Wis., daughter of Lucian and Lucy A. (Farnsworth) Wright, late of Petrolia; they were among the earliest permanent white settlers in the Mattole district, settling here in the spring of 18W. The father was born in Quebec, Canada, his parents having migrated there from Massachusetts. He was married near Lake Geneva and brought the family with horse teams and wagons across the plains to California in 1859, and in 1860 they settled in Mattole valley, locating on a farm two miles north of Petrolia, a part of the place now owned by Mr. and Mrs. Johnson. The father died in 1886 and the mother in 1913. Of their seven children five are living, all in Humboldt county. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson are leading members of the Methodist Episcopal Church at Petrolia, and he was a member of the building committee which had charge of its new house of worship, just completed. They are highly esteemed in church, social and educational circles generally, being recognized as hearty supporters of the best influences which have affected the life of this community, and as able advocates of any cause which they consider worthy of espousal. Mr. Johnson's unquestioned integrity in all his transactions has made him especially valuable in the many positions of trust to which his ability has made him eligible.

Petrolia is an inland town, without railway connections at present. Oil was discovered here in the early '60s, but the field remains undeveloped, though some wells have been struck which have yielded as much as ten barrels a day, of a very fine grade of paraffin base oil. Though oil seeps through the ground in innumerable places, no large pockets have ever been struck in drilling, all the free oil being in small finds. Gas has been struck in many places. When some method of extracting it not too expensive to eat the profits is found there should be fortunes for many in the vicinity.

From:
History of Humboldt County, California
With a Biographical Sketches
History by Leigh H. Irving
Historic Record Company
Los Angeles, California 1915


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