William H. Johnson, (d. January 28, 1864) was a free African-American, and the personal valet of Abraham Lincoln. Having first met Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, he accompanied the President-Elect to Washington, D.C.. Once there, he was employed in various jobs, part time as President’s valet and barber, and as a messenger for the Treasury Department at $600 per year.
On November 18, 1863, Johnson traveled by train with Lincoln to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, where Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. On the return trip, Lincoln became ill with what turned out to be smallpox.
Johnson tended to him, and by January 12, 1864 was himself sick with the disease. By the 28th, he was dead.
Lincoln arranged for and paid for Johnson’s burial in January 1864. Burial records from the time were not well kept and at least three competing locations have been proposed for Johnson’s grave. The most popular is a William H. Johnson who was buried in 1864 at Arlington National Cemetery, although his common surname makes a conclusive match impossible. Contrary to a popular myth though, Lincoln did not purchase the headstone that appears there. Neither did he order it inscribed Citizen, which was the label used to distinguish civilian graves from soldiers before Arlington became an exclusively military cemetery.
In Popular Culture
William H. Johnson was a character in the 2012 film Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter played by actor Anthony Mackie. In the movie, Lincoln and Johnson were childhood friends and a young Johnson is featured in the film’s opening scene where a young Lincoln comes to his aid against an agressive adult. Johnson goes on to work in the Lincoln White House and assist President Lincoln in his fight against the vampiric forces of the Confederate Army.