These registration features, damn.

Hannah Johnson

Dublin Core


Hannah Johnson


(ca. 1800 - 1883) "Black" or "Aunt" Hannah is a reputed fortune-teller (teacup reader) who is visited by ladies of the area to have their future told. She is also said to have sweets and treats at the ready for the local children who visited often.

She is probably born a slave in Albany around 1800, coming to North Tonawanda in about 1825. One later writer relays the recollection of an old-timer that Hannah Johnson is part of a "small colony of blacks" that settles along the banks of Tonawanda Creek. According to this account, the blacks' cabins are burned in a raid by locals, and their belongings thrown into the creek; the white folks like Hannah because of her willingness to do housework, and she is permitted to stay. 

Hannah Johnson lives in a cabin near a medicinal sulphur well with her husband, John Johnson, in the vicinity of present-day South Meadow Drive, close to East Goundry (see maps in this set).

Other occupants, mostly black, appear from time to time on census reports. Sometime later John Chadwick takes ownership, and grants Hannah a life-long lease. After her death in 1883, it is rumored that non-native flowers grow on the site (unusual red trilliums grew during her lifetime). She is buried in Sweeney Cemetery.

It appears she leaves an impression on the imagination of the citizenry, as she figures for decades afterward in its ghost tales, and "Black Hannah's Woods" are whispered to be a haunted realm. Her story is resurrected and recast in a poetic and affecting 1961 News essay by Elizabeth Wherry. The tale is taken up again in a February 1982 edition of the local historical magazine The Lumber Shover.

Although it is not settled, it seems at least plausible that Hannah's North Tonawanda cabin may have served as a stop on the Underground Railroad for blacks escaping slavery. A document on the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Area website (page 192) offers the fullest discussion of Hannah we have seen to date.