There is no mention in Johnson’s account of the 12 June signing of the Declaration of Independence but his presence was reported by a San Francisco Chronicle correspondent, reprinted in a Hawaii newspaper”
“Leading natives made patriotic speeches, the Insurgent flag was cheered and Aguinaldo’s only regimental band played martial music. The reading of the proclamation declaring the Philippines to be free from Spanish tyranny was greeted with wild cheering. The strange battle-cry of the rebels rang out above the din and the truest enthusiasm was general.
The last speech of the day was made by Colonel L. M. Johnson, Chief of Ordnance on the staff of Agulnaldo, who is an American. He first declined to make a speech, but was carried to the platform. He likened the cause of the Filipinos to that of the American colonies in 1776, and said their liberation was as certain. When his stirring sentences were interpreted to the pleased crowd the cheering was louder than ever.”
Johnson’s service to Aguinaldo would explain why he was given the honour of being a signatory to the Declaration of Independence. By the time Johnson wrote his account the relations between Aguinaldo and the Americans was collapsing. Then, in early December, Johnson hit the Hawaii press headlines again, for a different reason:
His loyalty to the US, which formally annexed Hawaii during the Spanish-American War, was in question, and he had more to lose than his liberty.
“The next morning we marched on Bakor, which fell after two days’ fighting, and from there on for nearly three weeks It was marching and fighting day and night, until we had captured or driven all the Spaniards front Bakor, Polverine, Zapote, Las Pinas, Paranaque, Pasay and Tambo. Spanish loss 750 killed, 900 wounded and 1,500 taken prisoners to Cavite. We also captured four field pieces (Krupp) small amount of ammunition, nearly 2,000 rifles (Mauser) and Spanish Remingtons, with 500,000 rounds of cartridges. We were thus enabled to equip more of our men, who hitherto had been fighting with the Bola, which is a large- knife somewhat after the style of the Cuban machette, and a very ugly weapon at close quarters.
“You can readily Imagine that after May 1st, Manila was not the most comfortable place in the world for an American. Our house wits constantly watched, but we were not openly abused.
“May 20th, the English Consul, Mr. Rawson-Walker, arranged to take us aboard of the Immortalité. we packed a few things in a hand bag, and taking a closed carriage were soon safely on board the English launch. A half-hour’s run brought us to the Immortalité, and we were kindly received by Capt. Chichester, who offered his launch to take us to the Baltimore, where the United theism Consul, Williams, received us, and then passed us on to the transport Zaifro. We were there made comfortable in her fine saloon. A little later Admiral Dewey sent a launch with a message that he would be pleased to see me on board the flag ship Olympia. I immediately complied with his request. He tendered me very cordial reception and wished to know the state of affairs in Manila. I gave him all the
In early 1898 Johnson was preparing to leave Manila for Paris and was waiting for his wife to recover from the birth of their daughter, Marcella Carmencita Johnson, on 10th April 1898, by the end of that year he had become chief of staff of Emilio Aguinaldo, raised to the rank of Colonel, trained Philippine forces in artillery, and taken part in the fighting against the Spanish. Two friends in Hawaii persuaded him to write an account of his experiences. Sadly, at least for now, the photographs that accompanied his letter have yet to surface.
The letter was written while the Malolos National Assembly meeting was underway, having started in mid-September and disbanded in mid-November and after the Paris Treaty negotiations had begun on 1 October that year so it was most likely written during October.
“You wished to know how I fated in Manila after the U. S. Consul and all Americans with the exception of Mrs. Johnson and myself had left the city.
He next pops up in 1896 as manager of the rather posh Astor House Hotel, established in 1846 as Richards’ Hotel and Restaurant on The Bund in Shanghai, which existed until 1 January 2018 when it was shut to turn into office spaces. Apart from being supposedly the finest hotel for foreigners in the city at the time, it was also a meeting place for smugglers. Authorities in Hong Kong were strict on smuggling, including arms, but Shanghai was very different.
on 7 July that year, he married Ms. Marcella Olsen in Shanghai, who had previously lived in Hawaii, at the Astor House Hotel.. Meanwhile, about the same time, the Philippine Revolution against Spain got underway.
Lewis Marcina Johnson was born in Maine, USA, to George W Johnson, who was a US national. Hannah, his mother was Canadian. George Johnson had a successful business, Burrell-Johnson Iron Co. Ltd., making steam engines and vessels for Yarmouth’s busy maritime industry, was part-owner of the Yarmouth Steam Tug Company and set up the first insurance company in Nova Scotia. Some sources describe him as ‘Canadian-born’, in fact, the family lived in Canada but Johnson’s father had taken his mother to Maine so that Lewis could take American citizenship.
We cannot yet be sure when he was born but his parts celebrated their Golden Wedding in September 1908 which suggests he might have been born in 1859. He may have been named after his mother’s father, Lewis Bradbury.
We do know that Lewis became an adventurer, occasional soldier of fortune, smuggler, hotel manager and movie mogul. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
His first known military adventure, at about 20 years old, was during the Chile-Peru conflict of 1879-1883. He may have been involved in other conflicts in South America. He is known to have served in the navy of an, as yet undetermined, South American Republic navy.
In an article in the Philippine newspaper Inquirer of 13 June 2012, Rodel Rodis wrote: “Dewey, under specific orders from Navy Undersecretary Theodore Roosevelt to not make any commitments to Philippine independence, dispatched an artillery colonel, L.M. Johnson, to represent him….”
Dewey did no such thing. Johnson’s identity has generated a number of fallacies, from being Dewey’s secretary to being a US Army colonel to being a retired US Army veteran.
Stanley Karnow’s In our image: America’s empire in the Philippines gets it wrong:
“Colonel L. M. Johnson, an obscure retired officer then in business in Shanghai, who had come to Manila to exhibit a newfangled contraption known as the cinematograph. Aguinaldo, eager to have an American on hand to symbolize U.S. recognition of his endeavor, had persuaded him to participate.”
As does James C. Bradford in his 2016 book America, Sea Power, and the World when he says “Johnson had no official role in the Philippines”
There there is the conspiracy theory silliness of Ritchie Quirino’s Pinoy Jazz Traditions: