Johnson, Joseph

BORN 15 Nov 1738, Liverpool, Merseyside: Everton - DIED 20 Dec 1809, London
GRAVE LOCATION London: All Saints Churchyard, Pryors Bank, Bishops Park, Fulham (north-west corner, near tomb of Granville Sharp)

Joseph Johnson was the son of John Johnson, a Baptist yeoman from Everton, Liverpool. When he was fifteen years old, he was apprenticed to the bookseller George Keith in London. In 1761 he started his own bookshop. He started publishing cheap pocketbooks that sold well. He continued to do so until the 1790s. But like his parents he was a religious dissenter, and he was mostly interested in publishing books that were beneficial to society. He published religious books but also books about medicine.

In 1764 he met the painter Henri Fuseli, who became a close friend. The result of his friendship with Joseph Priestley resulted in giving up Baptism and becoming a Unitarian. He published Priestley books and Priestley introduced him to many other writers. He entered publishing partnerships with B. Davenport (1765-1767) and John Payne (from 1868). On 9 January 1870, a fire severely damaged his shop. His partnership with Payne ended, but he opened a large new bookshop at 72 St. Paul's Churchyard in August 1770.

He published scientifical works, but also political works and children's literature. During the 1780s his business grew, and his finances improved. His home became a meeting place for radical thinkers and visitors included John Newton, John Hewlett, Mary Hays, and William Godwin. He never married and his authors were like family for him. In 1787 John Newton suggested to Mary Wollstonecraft that she would ask Johnson to publish her work. Johnson helped her with her creditors and published "Thoughts on the Education of Daughters" (1787) and "Mary: A Fiction" (1788). He also gave her work as a translator.

In the 1790s he published many radical works, like anti-war and abolitionist publications or French works on the French Revolution. In 1798 he was put on trial for selling Gilbert Wakefield "A Reply to Some Parts of the Bishop Llandaff's Address to the People of Great Britain". He was sentenced to six months of imprisonment at King's Bench Prison in Southwark. After his imprisonment, his publishing business declined, and he ceased publishing political controversial works. After suffering from bad health for many years he died at his home and office in 1809. In his will he left two hundred Pounds to Mary Wollstonecraft's daughter Fanny Imlay.

Related persons
• employed Blake, William
• was a friend of Godwin, William
• was visited by Hays, Mary
• published work by Malthus, Thomas Robert
• was a friend of Wollstonecraft, Mary

13/4/1791First meeting between Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. They met at the house of Joseph Johnson, Mary's publisher, who was hosting a dinner for Thomas Paine. They didn't like each other at this occasion and didn't see each other for several years afterwards. [Godwin, William][Wollstonecraft, Mary]
0/1/1792Publication of "A Vindication to the Rights of Woman" by Mary Wollstonecraft. It was written in 1791 and published early in 1792 by Joseph Johnson. [Wollstonecraft, Mary]


The grave of Joseph Johnson at All Saints Churchyard, Fulham, London.
Picture by Androom (15 Apr 2024)


The grave of Joseph Johnson at All Saints Churchyard, Fulham, London.
Picture by Androom (15 Apr 2024)


• St Clair, William, The Godwins and the Shelleys, Faber and Faber, London, 1990
Joseph Johnson (publisher) - Wikipedia
William Godwin - Wikipedia

Johnson, Samuel

Published: 14 May 2024
Last update: 14 May 2024