Thomas Johnson: Who Was He?

The Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States.

John Hesselius

The Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Sawyer Kalbaugh, Writer

Most people at Governor Thomas Johnson High School (GTJHS) would know that Thomas Johnson was a former Governor of Maryland since it is in the name of our school. But who was he, really? Not many people know he was actually the first Governor of Maryland and he was one of the main revolutionary war leaders. But is he worthy of our school being named after him?

Thomas Johnson was born in Calvert County Maryland in 1732. He grew up in a British ruled America where he took interest in being a lawyer. By the time he was an adult he was a part of the Maryland provincial assembly and the revolutionary war was about to begin. Thomas Johnson, Benjamin Franklin, and Benjamin Harrison V were initially named to a committee in favor of separating from Great Britain. In 1775 he drafted the declaration of rights adopted by the Maryland assembly and later included as the first part of the state’s first constitution. He also commanded a militia and made ammunition with his brother for the war.

Despite all of Thomas Johnson’s heroic acts in the war and his role in our early government, people still think he doesn’t deserve to have a school named after him. The goal of naming a school after an important character in history is to have a role model for the students attending that school.

Looking at Thomas Johnson’s heroic and successful past you can see why GTJHS was named after him, except for the fact that Thomas Johnson was actually one of the largest slave owners in Maryland. Many people ask why you would want the kids attending GTJHS to look up to someone who owned another person. Johnson’s children also owned slaves at the Johnson’s property at Rose Hill Manor, which is now a museum in close proximity to GTJHS.

Dr. Emilie Amt, a local historian, said “At TJ Middle and High Schools, Thomas Johnson’s name and initials are everywhere — for example, student athletes wear his initials on their uniforms. What message does this name send to students of color, some of whose ancestors may have been forced to work in Thomas Johnson’s fields?” Even though slavery ended in Maryland in 1864 many people want to stop honoring it’s legacy by continuing to have different buildings and organizations named after slaveowners like Thomas Johnson.

There’s actually already a large population of Frederick that have signed petitions and have spoken out about renaming the school. The manufacturing of ammunition that Thomas Johnson contributed to the revolution was no doubt done by slaves. So, are these heroic contributions really that heroic? Knowing all of this you can only think why is he a role model for the kid’s at GTJHS if his success was all built off of slavery. And more importantly you should ask why is Frederick celebrating a slave owner.