Dr. Ebenezer Johnson

Categories:Buffalo Mayors
Historic Buffalo

First Mayor of Buffalo, NYDr. Ebenezer Johnson

Born: November 7, 1786; Middlebury, Vermont

Died: December 23, 1849*; Tellico Plains, Tennessee

Buffalo Mayor: 1832, 1834Mayor’s Salary: $250 per year

Political Affiliation: Democrat-Republican

Ebenezer Johnson was born to Ebenezer Johnson and Deborah (née Lathrop) Johnson on November 7, 1786, in Middlebury, Vermont. Ebenezer Johnson studied medicine in Cherry Valley, New York under Dr. Joseph White before moving to Buffalo in 1809 with this letter of introduction from Hezekiah Granger, the superintendent of Indian Affairs, as proof of his good character:


Cherry Valley, 31st August, 1809

Erastus Granger, Esq.,

Dear Sir: — The bearer of this letter (Dr. Johnson) is in pursuit of a place in order to settle himself in his professional business. I have directed him to call on you as the most suitable person to advise him of the propriety or impropriety of his settling in Buffalo. Doctor Johnson hath been a student with Judge White before and ever since my partnership with the Judge, and it is but doing my duty to Dr. Johnson to state that he is a young man of unblemished morals, well read in his profession, and justly entitled to the patronage of the public.

I remain, with respect and esteem,

Your much obliged friend,

Hezekiah L. Granger


Unfortunately, Dr. Johnson’s initial attempt to “settle himself in his professional business” in Buffalo by starting a drugstore and a medical practice was not successful; Dr. Cyrenium Chapin had already established a medical practice and drugstore in the village of Buffalo around 1805. Dr. Johnson applied to Joseph Ellicott for a loan to help start his own drugstore, arguing that the public would benefit from competitive prices for medicine and alternative medical advice.

On January 25, 1811, Ebenezer Johnson married his first wife Sally Maria Johnson (born 1783) in Cherry Valley, New York. Three children were born of this union: Mary Elizabeth, William, and Sarah Maria. Sally Maria Johnson died in June 1834, possibly a victim of the 1834 cholera epidemic. On December 7, 1835 Dr. Johnson married his son-in-law’s sister, Lucy E. Lord; they also had three children: Cecilia, Herbert Lord, and Sarah Louisa. Lucy E. Lord died on November 30, 1850.

During the War of 1812, Dr. Johnson received a commission as surgeon’s mate to Lieutenant Colonel Asa Chapman’s Niagara County regiment. He was eventually promoted to surgeon in the Niagara County Thirteenth regiment of infantry, then to hospital surgeon in the Niagara County Twenty-fourth division of infantry. Dr. Johnson was away on military duty when his house was burned with the rest of the village of Buffalo in 1813. Sally Johnson was forced to flee to Williamsville, New York with their infant child Mary Elizabeth; the only items Sally was able to save from being burned were three knives and forks, her bed and bedding, one teacup, three custard cups, a looking glass, and five plates. Eventually, Sally was forced to sell her looking glass to pay for supplies to make their house habitable again.

After the war, Dr. Johnson retired from practicing medicine and went into the real estate business with Judge Samuel Wilkeson; he made his first real estate purchase in 1814. Shortly after, Dr. Johnson purchased a 25-acre plot of land on Delaware Avenue, extending from Tupper to Chippewa, and west of the village line of Black Rock. On this land he built a stone cottage. In 1850, after Dr. Johnson’s death, the land was split into “Johnson Place” and “Johnson Park”, and was sold. The present-day Buffalo city street, “Johnson Park”, is named for Dr. Ebenezer Johnson. The cottage was demolished in 1919.

Johnson Cottage in 1833

Johnson Cottage; Oil on canvas by William John Wilgus, 1833.

Ebenezer Johnson was a member of the Niagara County Medical Society until 1821. He also joined Judge Samuel Wilkeson in successful trading and banking ventures, eventually becoming a banker and a broker; at one time Dr. Johnson and Philander Hodge had a bank named “E. Johnson & Company”, then “Johnson, Hodge & Company”. By 1832, Dr. Johnson was one of Buffalo’s most distinguished — and wealthiest — citizens.

When Buffalo was incorporated as a city in 1832, Buffalo’s first Common Council appointed Dr. Johnson as the city’s first mayor. Dr. Johnson was a competent leader; according to William Richard Cutter in Genealogical and Family History of Central New York: “On one occasion at least he was obliged personally to quell a riot with his own cane, and did it effectively.” Dr. Johnson’s medical expertise proved useful in 1832 during the devastating outbreak of cholera in Buffalo; he served on the Board of Health and helped establish a hospital for cholera patients in a brick building known as the McHose House. Dr. Johnson served again as mayor in 1834, and again helped Buffalo through a cholera outbreak that year.

The eldest daughter of Ebenezer and Sally Maria Johnson, Mary Elizabeth Johnson, was born in 1812. She was one of the founders of the ASPCA, Buffalo branch, when it was established in 1867. She had a diploma of honor from the Humane Society of Turin, Italy, and apparently liked to drive a team of six Shetland ponies around Buffalo.

Mary Elizabeth Johnson also had a rebellious streak: She eloped with Reverend John Chase Lord on December 9, 1828, and according to William Richard Cutter, “it was the great social sensation of early Buffalo”. In Samuel Manning Welch’s memoir Home History: Recollections of Buffalo, he includes the humorous village gossip regarding the lovebirds’ wedding story:

It was said, that the marriage of Doctor Lord with Miss Johnson, a daughter of Dr. Ebenezer Johnson, our first Mayor, was a case of elopement. Their union not being approved by the Governor at the head of the household, they fled from the paternal mansion, (the Italian cottage on Delaware Street). The evening was drizzly and dark; the young lady escaped out of one of the rear windows. It seems that directly below the window was a covered cistern of rain water; that in jumping from the window into the arms of her lover, she slipped through his arms, and one of the loose covers of the cistern into the water. Here was a complication of difficulties, which must be met; the lover was compelled to haul her out in a very moist condition. This did not dampen their ardor: getting instantly into the carriage in waiting for them, in the Park Lane, wet and bedraggled as they were, they drove to the house of the Misses Kimberly on Main Street, and by their aid and sympathetic maiden assistance, the bride was arrayed in dry, borrowed, improvised finery, fit for the ceremony, and before the morning watch, they were launched into matrimony.

Before leaving the home of her childhood, Miss Johnson penned and left the following note as P.P.C., for her cruel parent:

“The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away;

blessed be the name of the Lord.”

However, William Richard Cutter states that although Mary Johnson Lord was “famous for her wit”, her “descendants doubt this story” as described by Samuel Manning Welch. Dr. John C. Lord and Mary Elizabeth Johnson never had children of their own, but they adopted a daughter, Frances Johnson Lord, who married William Sherwood; they had three children.

In 1826, Dr. John C. Lord delivered the address at the semi-centennial celebration of the founding of Buffalo. His extensive library was given to the Buffalo Historical Society after his death on January 22, 1871. Mary Elizabeth Johnson died on May 26, 1885.

William Henry Johnson, son of Ebenezer and Sally Maria Johnson, was born in Buffalo on April 25, 1816. He was a civil engineer before moving to Fredonia to start a farm. William Henry Johnson married Mary Anne Wheeler, who was born in New York City on November 5, 1820. They had two children: Charles Ernest (born August 27, 1840) and William Sherwood (born May 12, 1844); William Sherwood Johnson married Kate Francis. William Henry Johnson died in Fredonia in May, 1825, at the age of twenty-nine. Mary Anne Wheeler died in Centralia, Illinois on September 4, 1887.

Sarah Maria Johnson, daughter of Ebenezer and Sally Maria Johnson, was born in Buffalo on February 22, 1821. She married Dr. Smith Inglehart on January 22, 1842. They moved to Cleveland, Ohio and had five children: two daughters who died in infancy; George Nelson, who was born in 1847 and married Margaret Cuthbertson; Fred M., who was born in 1851 and married Lizzie Stevens; and Maria Smith, who was born in 1852 and married James B. Gill.

Cecilia Johnson, daughter of Ebenezer and Lucy Lord, was born in 1838. She married Horace Utley in 1863. They had no children together. Horace Utley died on December 3, 1873. Cecilia Johnson lived at 45 Hodge Street in Buffalo, and died on December 6, 1914.

Herbert Lord Johnson, son of Ebenezer and Lucy Lord, was a lawyer; he practiced law in Kansas City and Chicago.

Sarah Louisa Johnson, daughter of Ebenezer and Lucy Lord, died in childhood.

Discovery of Benjamin Rathbun‘s bank note forgeries in 1836 and the Panic of 1837 caused many — Dr. Johnson included — to lose their fortunes. He and his brother, Elisha Johnson (former mayor of Rochester), moved to Tellico Plains, Tennessee and bought a mine, hoping to make money. Dr. Johnson died in Tellico Plains on December 23*, 1849.

*Contemporary and modern sources disagree on Dr. Johnson’s exact date of death. Some say December 23, 1849, while others say September 23, 1849 or even February 8, 1849. Of course, each source claims their information is correct and others are mistaken. The search for a death certificate or gravestone continues, and this webpage will be updated when concrete proof is finally discovered.

Sources and Further Reading:

Cutter, William Richard. Genealogical and Family History of Central New York. Vol. 2. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1912. (Can be found online here: https://archive.org/details/genealogicalfami02cutt)

History of the City of Buffalo and Erie County. Vol. 2. Buffalo: D. Mason and Company, 1884. (Can be found online here: https://archive.org/details/historycitybuff01smitgoog)

Welch, Samuel Manning. Home History: Recollections of Buffalo during the decade from 1830 to 1840, or fifty years since. Buffalo: Peter Paul & Bro., 1890. (Can be found online here: http://resolver.library.cornell.edu/moap/any7453)