Black History: From slave to sought-after Waddington stone cutter

From slave to stone cutter
Published: Feb. 24, 2023 at 6:01 AM EST
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WADDINGTON, New York (WWNY) - Isaac Johnson was born in 1844 in Kentucky. His mother was a slave and his father, the slave owner. At the age of 7, his own dad sold him at a slave auction.

“He was separated from his mother and brothers,” Waddington historian Kathy Putney said, “and he never saw them again.”

He was sold to a tobacco farmer and tried escaping several times. During the Civil War, when Union troops swept Kentucky, he saw his out.

“He fought in the union army,” Putney said. “He was wounded. And after the war, he did make his way to Canada and then the U.S. again.”

In Canada, he became a talented stone cutter. Work opportunities brought him to Waddington... where he lived for several years constructing the town hall.

“At the same time, he was building the Chamberlain Corners Bridge, which is a five-arch bridge not too far from us,” Putney said.

These were two of his best accomplishments and both still hold strong today. He also worked in Ogdensburg on what was the asylum, hospital, and orphanage.

“He was a very sought-after stone cutter because he was very accomplished.”

He had respect to his name. He had a wife and he had seven children.

“When he couldn’t work anymore,” Putney said, “he retired and wrote a book about his life.”

His legacy lives on in his descendants and in his stone works. Enduring the tests of time, just as Johnson had endured: with unwavering strength.