JOHNSON, LOUISA ANN (Brown; Bailey; Tillman), dressmaker, shopkeeper, and churchwoman; b. between 1829 and 1851 (her age reporting was inconsistent) in Halifax, daughter of John Johnson (Johnston) and his wife, Clarissa, whose family name may have been Robinson, African American refugees of the War of 1812; m. first John F. Brown (d. in or before 1871); m. secondly 9 Jan. 1877 Alexander C. Bailey (d. 1886) in Halifax; m. there thirdly 4 Feb. 1911 George Washington Tillman; no known offspring; d. 29 Dec. 1911 in Halifax.
During a portion of her first widowhood Louisa Johnson Brown resided with her younger brother, William, a shoemaker and a leader of the African Canadian community in Halifax, who spelled the family name Johnston. She also lived for many years with their twice-widowed mother, Clarissa Johnson Smith, a variety store proprietor on Gottingen Street. The three of them owned the property, for which they had obtained a mortgage in 1869. Louisa worked as a dressmaker until her marriage in 1877 to Alexander Bailey, a city truckman and Baptist pastor in Halifax County, especially Beech Hill. Both her brother and her second husband were related to the Thomas family, the leading black Baptist family. When its white patriarch, the Reverend James Thomas, died in 1879, Alexander Bailey, whom he had ordained, took charge of his Halifax church for a year and several of Thomas’s county churches until his death.
On her mother’s death in 1881 Louisa Bailey took over her property and store. She developed a line in second-hand clothes in the later 1880s and at various times branched out into herbs, roots, and groceries. Her retail undertakings, mostly on Gottingen Street, with an interlude at Alexander Bailey’s house on Creighton Street after he died in 1886, occupied her until her death, as did the rental of the three properties she had inherited, which were brought under one mortgage in 1890. She may also have cared for Alexander’s mother, Nancy, an ex-slave, who lived in one of her properties until she was admitted to the poorhouse shortly before her death in 1890.
As the wife of one of the last of the local, untrained pastors of the African Baptist Church, Louisa Bailey became deeply involved in the concerns of the African Baptist Association and her own church, Cornwallis Street Baptist Church. She made financial contributions, served as a Sunday-school teacher, promoted temperance, acted as a delegate to the association’s annual meetings in 1892, and was instrumental in the establishment of the Pastor’s Aid Society, of which she was president. In church ceremonies she received recognition as the spokeswoman of the church and was described as a “zealous worker,” who devoted a “great part of her time to gospel work.”
Drawn into the public sphere of women’s rights, Louisa Bailey voted in the municipal elections of 1895 and 1897 at a period when her brother was contemplating entering city politics. In 1898 she participated in the arrangements for the visit to Halifax of the African American congressman George Henry White. After a male member of her church gave a lecture on “Women’s Influence” in 1899, she was one of the five respondents (and the only woman) to commend him. Presumably she agreed with his emphasis on “the influence of woman in the home, in moulding at the knee, the lives of the great men of the future.” Later, her financial contribution to a projected vocational school for black children suggests that she was also a strong supporter of practical education.
Louisa Bailey seems to have lived alone after Alexander’s death. Her independence took a rebellious turn towards the end of her life when she married a Baptist clergyman from Boston who was over 30 years her junior in a Church of England ceremony. She appears never to have lived with George Tillman. Despite her eccentricities, her interest in the welfare of the black churches and the progress of the race was captured in her will, in which she made bequests to six of the churches and left most of the rest of her estate, consisting of the three mortgaged properties, to two of her brother’s well-educated sons, James Robinson Johnston and William Robinson Johnston. These properties became involved in the family battles which followed James’s murder in 1915. The estate was finally settled in 1917, after the properties were sold, the mortgage paid off, and the proceeds divided between James’s widow and William, who was by then a sergeant in the No.2 Construction Battalion, the military unit for African Canadians commissioned in 1916.
Halifax County Court of Probate (Halifax), Estate papers, nos.3422, 7260. Halifax County Registry of Deeds (Halifax), Deeds, 167, no.1273; 269, no.406; 276, nos.340, 346 (mfm. at PANS). NA, RG 31, C1, Halifax, 1871, Ward 5, sect.2: 15; 1881, Ward 5, sect.2, subdiv.1: 168; 1891, Ward 5, sect.E: 27; 1901, Ward E, sect.2: 14. PANS, MG 20, 516, no.6, 20, 23, 26, 28 Feb. 1885; RG 32, M, Halifax County, nos.3, 24/1877, no.53/1911; WB, Halifax County, no.5/1867, no.3/1877, no.53/1911; RG 35, A, 5, 1892, Ward 5; RG 39, HX, C, box 592, file B-1285. Acadian Recorder, 20 April 1881; 19 Jan. 1886; 13 Nov. 1890; 25 April 1895; 11, 13 March, 18 May 1897; 7 Dec. 1898; 20 Jan., 13 Oct. 1899; 30 Dec. 1911. Evening Mail (Halifax), 29 Dec. 1911. Halifax Herald, 27 Sept. 1916. African Baptist Assoc. of Nova Scotia, Minutes (Halifax), 1877–1907 (copies in the Atlantic Baptist Hist. Coll., Acadia Univ., Wolfville, N.S.). Almanac, Belcher’s, 1877–86. [J.] B. Cahill, “The ‘Colored Barrister’: the short life and tragic death of James Robinson Johnston, 1876–1915,” Dalhousie Law Journal (Halifax), 15 (1992): 336–79. Directory, Halifax, 1872/73–1911. Judith Fingard, “Race and respectability in Victorian Halifax,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth Hist. (London), 20 (1991–92): 169–95. [P. E. McKerrow], McKerrow: a brief history of the coloured Baptists of Nova Scotia, 1785–1895, ed. F. S. Boyd, assisted by M. I. Allen Boyd (Halifax, 1976). Suzanne Morton, “Separate spheres in a separate world: African-Nova Scotian women in late-19th-century Halifax County,” in Separate spheres: women’s worlds in the 19th-century Maritimes, ed. Janet Guildford and Suzanne Morton (Fredericton, 1994), 206–9. A. P. Oliver, A brief history of the colored Baptists of Nova Scotia, 1782–1953 . . . ([Halifax, 1953]), 39. C. W. Ruck, The black battalion, 1916–1920: Canada’s best kept military secret (rev. ed., Halifax, 1987).