Hilary R. W. Johnson

Hilary R.W. Johnson
Credit: J. Büttikofer

Hilary Richard Wright Johnson

Term 10th President: 1884 – 1892
Born June 1, 1837, Monrovia, Liberia
Died February 28, 1901, Liberia
Race/Ethnicity Mulatto, Americo-Liberian
County of Origin Montserrado
Profession Journalist, Professor
Political Party Unaffiliated (later True Whig Party)


The first settlers left New York in February 1820 on the Elizabeth, and among them was Elijah Johnson, a Methodist preacher of outstanding character. Johnson had served in the US military and fought in the war of 1812. Upon arrival at the colony he established the first Methodist Episcopal Church of Liberia. He is credited with defeating the natives in several battles with the Americo Liberians. Johnson also represented Montserrado County at the Constitutional Convention and was one of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence.

Hilary R. W. Johnson was born to Elijah Johnson in 1837. Hilary’s father was rather poor and died while his son was still young. He attended the local schools, committed to his education and hard work. He was the first president that was born on Liberian soil.


1857: Alexander High School, Day’s Hope, Monrovia, Liberia
1872: Conferred Master of Arts Degree by Liberia College
1882: Conferred Doctor of Law Degree from Liberia College

He also studied several languages and music, playing the piano, violin, flute and guitar.


1856 Private secretary to President Benson
1858 Principal of Baptist High School at Day’s Hope
1859 Editor of the Liberian Herald
1862 Member of the House of Representatives
1864 Editor of the Liberian Herald again
1864 Principal of the Preparatory Department of Liberia College
1865, 1866-1867 Secretary of State
1867 Professor of Philosophy and Belles Letters, and Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy at Liberia College (11 yrs)
1870 Secretary of the Interior under President E. J. Roye
1871 Secretary of State (provisional government)
1872 – 1873 Secretary of State and Secretary of the Interior under President Roberts
1884 – 1892 President of Liberia

Vice President
James W. Thompson

1892 Postmaster General

At 19, he became the private secretary of President Benson in January 1856. Johnson graduated from the Alexander High School in 1857 and a year later was appointed principal of the Baptist High School at Day’s Hope in 1858. He was also a skilled engineer, surveyor and a successful farmer. For many years he worked as editor of the Liberian Herald newspaper and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1861.

As President Roye’s Interior Minister, he travelled with the President to Europe in 1870 and participated in the northern boundary discussions. Their difference of opinion on the proceedings led to his resignation. He held other high ranking positions in the government and also served as a professor at Liberia College.



1884 – 1886
1886 – 1888
1888 – 1890
1890 – 1892

Johnson turned down several requests to run for the presidency and many cabinet positions. Eventually, he answered the call and his election was uncontested and brought together both True Whigs and Republicans, with native chiefs and others travelling far to attend the inaugural celebrations. He was considered a true patriot with talent, aptitude and aspirations inherited from his father.

He had to negotiate the boundary dispute with the British, losing a portion of the western border at the Mano River. Other problems arose with the French claiming part of the country beyond the Callava River and Germany also trying to take some of the nation’s land.

There were more schools in Liberia and they now included indigenous pupils. He organized teaching clinics, school improvement rallies and encouraged the tribal leaders to help in organizing more schools. Johnson wanted to beautify Monrovia and recommended superintendents to do likewise in their counties. The dispute over relocating Liberia College away from Capitol Hill continued without a resolution.

President Johnson served 4 terms and refused a 5th nomination, leaving the presidency in 1892. He was succeeded by Judge Joseph James Cheeseman.

Post Presidency

After his term, he dedicated his time to farming and became a successful coffee producer. The former president continued serving his country as he had done since his youth. He was the Postmaster General in the Coleman administration and when he fell ill, his son F.E.R. Johnson assumed his father’s responsibilities. The former president died in February 1901.


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