These registration features, damn.

Hannah Johnson

Dublin Core


Hannah Johnson


(ca. 1800 - 1883) "Black" or "Aunt" Hannah is a reputed fortune-teller who is visited by ladies of the area to have their future told. Born a slave in New York State around 1800, she comes to North Tonawanda in about 1834. 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 (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. 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.

A 2006 "Remembering Yesteryear" article in this collection puts her location as 338 Sweeney Street, although an 1875 map shows another, more likely "J. Chadwick" property much further east along Sweeney Street, on the other side of the Mile Reservation (he owned two farms on the creek and other land). This second "J. Chadwick" property abuts land owned by one J. Fonner. As articles in this set show, John Fonner has legal complaints against Hannah's husband John Johnson and John Chadwick in 1872, and against Hannah Johnson in 1878 and 1882. (The nature of these disputes is not disclosed.) Further, a 1927 Tonawanda News article describes "Chadwick's woods" as "between Sweeney Street and the Erie Canal" (around Mayor's Park), and puts "Black Hanna's woods...north of Sweeney Street and about directly east of the end of Tremont Street." Assuming the east-west borders of Chadwick's property on the 1875 map are correct, this suggests a location for Hannah Johnson's woods in the vicinity of present-day South Meadow Drive, closer to East Goundry.

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.