Josephus Shuff Johnson/Orpha Violindy Varner
Josephus Johnson is on the 1880 Iowa City, Iowa census as a young, single man. He is listed with his brother, Jahu, and his mother, Vernelius. Also in the household is a housekeeper, Orpha Crippen and her two children, John M. and Mary M. Some census transcriptions show Orpha in an adjoining household, but if one looks at the actual census record, it is clear they are all in the same home.
I first recorded this census in my own notes about 25 years ago. It contained the only Josephus I could find in Iowa City, but it did not make sense. He was supposed to have been married at that time with two small children. His wife was a Varner, not a Crippen If he was indeed related to Governor Hiram W. Johnson of California as family tradition indicated, he would have been born in New England or New York. His ancestry would not head to Tennessee as this record indicated!
Sometimes it takes an awful long time for simple things to sink in! After 25 years of following false leads, I looked at the census record again. Thank goodness, the light finally dawned! Orpha Crippen, the housekeeper, was Orpha Violindy Varner and Josephus's future wife; they were not even married yet!
We knew that Orpha had been married before. We also knew that she had worked as a housekeeper for the Johnson family before marrying Josephus. However, the family did not know the name of her first husband, nor did they believe there had been any living children from the first marriage. For this reason, we assumed that Orpha and Josephus had married before the birth of "their" first child, Mary. This confused the search.
The 1880 census record indicated that her first husband was a Crippen and that her first two children - Mary and John - long accepted as full brothers and sisters by the rest of the siblings were probably also Crippens and adopted by Josephus at his union with Orpha.
What a bombshell! Why? Because my husband and those of two cousins, Cynthia Allington and Pauline Ellis, who were also involved in this research, were descendants of this John who may never have been a Johnson at all, but a Crippen!
Was my husband, Terry D. Johnson in reality Terry D. Crippen? This family had yielded surprises before. Some years ago, Cynthia first contacted me. She was a descendant of John Milton Johnson through an illegitimate line - one unknown to the Johnson family until her contact. This relationship came through a Crippen cousin and John Milton Johnson. I do think that this knowledge helped me look at the Crippen name on the census record of Josephus Johnson with new understanding.
Crippens were "family." Therefore, Orpha Crippen was "family."
A-h-h--h Orpha Crippen was Orpha Varner - The future Orpha Johnson.
Viola! Revelation! Double relationships! New knowledge!
When I was looking through Greene county Pennsylvania records for the surname, Varner, Crippen, and Wildman, I stumbled across Josephus once again in 1850. He is there with his father, John or Jahu; his mother, Permelia (who we think was a Wildman. She was also called Vernelius in 1880.); his brothers, Jair and Jahu and a married brother, John, with John's wife.
Additional information! Additional leads to follow!
I then almost immediately found a quaker Johnson family with records going back to New Jersey who had descendants living in Greene County, Pennsylvania. Their founding father was Robert Johnson, who came to American with William Penn.
I also almost immediately found another researcher on the genforum, Eddene Hightower Thompson, who was interested in Jair Johnson. She sent me information from the 1860 and 1870 census records of Greene County. She also sent me a family register of the Jair Johnson family.
Now I want to connect John or Jehu Johnson, father of Josephus, to the Quaker, Robert Johnson. I am certain that he is a descendant of this man. I need the connecting link. If you have any information, please contact me. Thank you.
Pamela C. Johnson
Discuss this story
Orphy’s mother is listed in most documents as Rachael Lnu, 1802-1850, but his mother is also Rachael Lnu, 1889-? For this reason, I believe it is an error, contact me if it is not, and his mother and his bride are the same person. I have removed Rachael Lnu from Highland’s list of spouses. So Orphy’s mother is either Sarah Hill, if Highland’s name was really Hyram, or Catharine Wrick (according to other family trees, Catharine McClure Wrick 1808-1850.) Apparently Catharine died giving birth to Orpha and twin(?) Louisa. (Other records show Louisa born in 1835.)However, Highland has two more children after 1850 (?) I have McClure as her alternate name for her and I think that this is a later marriage. I haven’t proven it yet but I believe she did die in 1850 when Orpha was born. Orpha’ father died in 1880.
Orpha’s verbal history states that she married at 14 to a young man in West Virginia named Yeager. He was the brother of her sister in law. Orpha’s brother married Mary Jane Yeager in 1859. According to a number of peoples family trees on the internet, his name was Thomas. They got married and he ran out on her a few days after she gave birth to a child. At this point, she joined a wagon train. The baby died while on the trail and was buried on the trail. Here is the problem with Orpha’s account. Mary Jane did not have a brother named Thomas. (Oliver and Mary Jane had a son named Thomas). Mary Jane did have an older brother named John. That would make him rather old to be the Yeager that Orpha was married to.
Orpha then joined the Johnson home. I cannot find a listing for her in 1870 on the federal or the state Census. On the 1860 census, Josephus Johnson is listed as 13 and living with Jehu 64, Permela 47, John M. (this would be the first John Milton Johnson) 23, and Jahu N 1 month. No Orpha. On the 1870 census, I find Josephus at 23 living with his family in Pennsylvania again. Jehue 72, Permela 57, Joseph (Josephus) 23, Newton 11 living alongside John M. Johnson 33, Susanna 30, Mary Jane 8, James Hudson 5, Johnathan 4 and next to them J M Johnson 27 and Rose 17. This first John Johnson may have lived until the 1920s or died in the 1890s but I think he died before 1877.
Now I’ll tell you the story I read (between the lines). Orpha was born in 1850 and her mother died soon afterward. She left home at 14 or 15 and told everyone she had married her sister-in-law’s brother (whom I can find NO record of) and he had left her a few days after she gave birth to his child ( I can find no record of this child either). She did not return home to her father but joined a wagon train (I am searching for this information) and the baby died and was buried beside the trail. My thought is, she left home young, married or no, with a baby or not and ended up in Iowa by 1875. I think she may have just been a runaway or may not have left home until 1870 or so, correct me if you have other info.
She joined the Johnson family in 1875 in Iowa. She was supposedly an abandoned wife with the heart ache of a lost child. My best guess is that at this point, she was about 25 and Josephus was 28. They started a romance. They couldn’t marry because she was already a married woman. After a while she realized she was pregnant.
Now I’ll tell you about Crippen. There isn’t a “John” Crippen. There is a George R Crippen. He was 2 years younger than Orpha. I’m checking to see if he was Josephus’ cousin. George had a very sad childhood. His parents had three boys ( George, William, and David). When the boys were still young their parents marriage broke up on the grounds of Infidelity. Their mother(Nancy) remarried. Their father (John A.) remarried, 1861. Then he joined the army, 1862. In 1864, John A Crippen was discharged from the army and died. What happened to the mother falls under several different families family stories. She died a few months before John A. She disappeared at the side of a river, leaving only her shawl behind. Or she is the Nancy that the boys lived with for a time after their parent’s divorce. In 1870 (US Federal Census) he was living with the Jordans, which also fits several family stories. And then in 1877, he married Orpha and 6 months later she gave birth to her daughter, Mary Melissa “Molly” Crippen.
After their marriage there is no sign that George ever lived with Orpha or her children. They didn’t seem to even live in the same town. None-the-less, Orpha had another child, John Milton Crippen, a year later.
By 1880, Orpha’s mother and father and Josephus’ mother and father and older brother had all died. Not only that, in 1879 George married his second wife, Arthusa Mitchel.
In 1883, Orpha and Josephus were finally married.
So by my estimations, all of the children were Josephus. My only evidence is the fact that John Milton Crippen Johnson was named after Josephus’ brother. I don’t think another man would have tolerated that, even a cousin. But it makes perfect sense that Josephus would want to name his child after his brother. Orpha and Josephus couldn’t marry because she had been living with his family for some time and therefore, his cousin stepped in.
That means all of us are of Johnson decent. No one needs to change their name to Crippen And George R. Crippen was not a cad who deserted his wife and children, but was a hero who came to the aid of his cousin and his cousin’s girl and gave her children a name.