Robert Johnson

Governor April 1717 – December 1719
Governor December 1730 – May 1735

Robert Johnson was born in England about 1676, the son of Sir Nathaniel Johnson (governor 1703-1709). He was appointed governor by the Lords Proprietors, and succeeded deputy governor Robert Daniel at the end of April 1717.
Johnson’s first year in office was marked by friction with the Commons House of Assembly, but he won the colonists’ loyalty when he went on the offensive against the pirates who blockaded Charleston Harbor with increasing frequency. Governor Johnson sent a naval force against Stede Bonnet, who was captured in North Carolina, tried in Charleston, and hanged at White Point December 10, 1718. This effectively ended the pirates’ threat; Johnson’s actions were compared favorably to the proprietors’ earlier unwillingness to tackle the bandits.
As antagonism to the proprietors increased, Robert Johnson was caught between them and the assembly. The assembly met in December 1719, declared itself a “Convention of the People,” and asked Johnson to take over the colony in the name of the king. He refused the convention’s governorship, because he already held the position by proprietary appointment. The Convention instead offered the post to James Moore, Jr., who accepted. Robert Johnson was pushed out of office on December 21, 1719.
The British royal government accepted responsibility for South Carolina, and selected Francis Nicholson to be the first royal governor. Shortly before he arrived, Robert Johnson and his allies marched on Charleston and demanded the surrender of the revolutionary government. Provisional governor James Moore defended the colony in the name of King George, and Johnson’s forces withdrew.   
During the transition from proprietary to royal government, Robert Johnson traveled to England, where he lobbied for a commission as royal governor. In 1727, when the proprietors finally announced their decision to sell the colony, he negotiated the transaction. In December 1729, Johnson was appointed governor of South Carolina. When he arrived in Charleston, December 1730, acting governor Arthur Middleton relinquished power peacefully. During his successful term in office, Robert Johnson implemented a township system which drew hundreds of immigrants to interior South Carolina.
Upon Robert Johnson’s death in Charleston on May 3, 1735, lieutenant governor Thomas Broughton, who was his sister’s husband, became acting governor.

Smith, Samuel C. “Johnson, Robert.” Walter Edgar, ed. South Carolina Encyclopedia. University of South Carolina Press, 2006.
“Johnson, Robert.” The National Cyclopedia of American Biography. Volume XII. New York: James T. White & Company, 1904.


Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

“Johnson’s Return, 1720.” This ca. 1876 engraving presents a more hospitable welcome than Robert Johnson received when he attempted to reclaim the governorship for the Lords Proprietors in 1720; it was in 1730 that he was “joyfully received” as royal governor.

Henry Mouzon, “An accurate map of North and South Carolina … from actual surveys by Henry Mouzon and others." London, 1775. American Memory, Library of Congress

Silk Hope Plantation, 1775. Governor Robert Johnson inherited his father’s Silk Hope, as well as the much larger Seewee Barony on Awendaw Creek, and sold both to Gabriel Manigault in 1739. Nathaniel Johnson’s efforts to cultivate silkworms would have been forgotten if he had not named his plantation “Silk Hope.”

Mills Atlas, Charleston District, 1825. American Memory, Library of Congress

By 1825, Silk Hope was a prosperous rice plantation owned by Nathaniel Heyward, husband of Henrietta Manigault. 

"The Georgian Period…. Measured Drawings of Colonial Work." American Architect and Building News Co., 1902

Governor Robert Johnson used Governor’s House, which was much closer to town than Silk Hope plantation, as his country residence. In March 1721, ownership of the 144-acre plantation and house “commonly called the Governor’s House” was vested in Johnson. His son Robert Johnson sold the Governor’s House property to Gabriel Manigault in 1739. The house shown here, known as Belvedere, was built after 1796.

Road to Watboo Bridge, from Charleston, by Goose Creek Bridge & Strawberry Ferry. 1787. American Memory, Library of Congress

Thomas Shubrick bought the Governor’s House farm in 1749. It became known as Belvedere during the Shubricks’ ownership; in March 1796, “Belvedere, the elegant seat of Thomas Shubrick Esq., three miles from this city, was destroyed by fire.”