top of page

Young man of color named Johnson struck it big in the Klondike; Saved kindly Hannibal tailor from fo

This illustration was published in the July 23, 1897, edition of the St. Louis Post Dispatch.


The nation was abuzz in 1897 with the news that gold had been discovered in a remote area of Alaska. Just as had occurred during the California Gold Rush circa 1849, adventurers flocked to the scene, dreaming of quick riches. This time, the destination was the Klondike area of Alaska, accessible by steamer from the northwest coast.

To accommodate these gold seekers, The Pacific Coast Steamship Co., announced the scheduled sailing of the steamship George W. Elder, to leave Portland, Ore., destined for Alaska, on July 30, 1897. A rush on the steamboat office took place as soon as the announcement was made, and soon thereafter, half of the passenger accommodations were sold. The ship capacity was 200 cabin passengers and about in 300 steerage class.

No part of the United States was immune from the excitement.

The Hannibal Journal, in a story reprinted in the Quincy Daily Journal on Nov. 16, 1899, tells of a young Hannibal man of color who not only made his way to the Klondike, but also returned with cash in his pockets.

George Johnson was the name of the young man described by the newspaper as recently returned from the Klondike. When interviewed by a newspaper reporter on Hannibal’s west side, he was sporting the finest of tailor made suits, “a fine watch, bosom jewelry of the best and a thousand dollar finger ring studded with a brilliant diamond.”

A child of Hannibal, he was a bright student, the newspaper reported, and studied under the tutelage of Prof. Pelham at Hannibal’s Douglass School.

By and by, he made his way to San Francisco, working there as a janitor and hotel cook. “In the course of time he … drifted into the Klondike and happened to meet former California friends who took an interest in him and he became a prospector and miner, his first ‘lead’ being a find which he sold for $8,000. And then he located one, which readily sold for $7,000. Immediately after the sale of his mines mentioned above, he located two more, which he, in company with two others, is working – 175 men being employed in one of them.”

When he returned to Hannibal in November 1899, flush with cash, he made gifts to friends and family. One particular gift however, stood out from the rest.

He paid off a mortgage for a former employer. A white man named Phillip Tucker.

A correspondent for the St. Louis Post Dispatch caught up with Johnson – referring to him as Tom Johnson – and published an account in the Dec. 2, 1899 edition.

“He formerly worked for Phillip Tucker, and when he returned a few days ago he learned that Mr. Tucker was about to lose his home, as the mortgage on it was past due. Johnson paid off the indebtedness and presented Mr. Tucker with a clear receipt, and this was done without Mr. Tucker’s knowledge.”

Indeed, a check of records at the Marion County Recorder’s office in Palmyra shows that Phillip Tucker’s mortgage was paid in full in December 1899. The original mortgage, taken out 10 years prior, was for $2,000. The house was located at 1576 Broadway in Hannibal.

Phillip Tucker

For 52 years – from roughly 1857 until his death in 1909 – Phillip Tucker worked as a merchant tailor in Hannibal. Born in Trowbridge, England, circa 1826, he married, and then immigrated to the United States with his wife Susan and their two children, Phillip Jr., born in 1850, and James Tucker, born in 1847. The family first settled in Keokuk, Iowa. Soon thereafter they moved to Hannibal, which Phillip Tucker would call home for the remainder of his life.

The role of a merchant tailor during the last half of the 19th century was to measure and custom-make men’s clothing, including shirts, vests, trousers, suit coats and overcoats.

The Tucker tailor business was listed on Fourth Street between Bird and Hill in the 1859 Hannibal city directory. His wife, Sarah, died during the Civil War in Hannibal, leaving him to raise some eight children. He married Mary Anna Tucker the following year. From 1873 to 1894, he conducted business in a store fronts in the 200 block of North Main Street, settling at 205 N. Main from 1885 to 1894.

Living on Fifth Street

In 1875, Phillip Tucker, his new wife Mary, and some of the Tucker children lived at 204 North Fifth, on the east side of the street. At 5 a.m. on the morning of Jan. 8, 1875, an intruder entered their home, snatching Mr. Tucker’s vest, which had his watch in the pocket.

The Hannibal Journal reported: “Mrs. Tucker, who observed the movements of the thief, jumped out of bed and seizing a boot assailed the thief so vigorously as to cause him to drop his plunder and make a hasty exit from the house. Such pluck in a woman is truly commendable.”

By 1888, The Tucker family had moved west on Broadway Extension, locating on the northeast corner of Broadway and Griffith.

It was during the era of 1890-94 that the paths of Phillip and Mary Anna Tucker and George (or Tom) Johnson likely crossed.

Odd jobs for

neighbor boy

The Hannibal journal reported: “Johnson made his appearance first as a little colored boy in the home of Mrs. Phil Tucker, doing chores. There he was trained in the way he should go, in the good way of morality and temperance.”

And it was Johnson’s debt of gratitude to pay off the overdue mortgage owed by the Hannibal tailor.

Generous man

Phillip Tucker lived to be 86 years of age, passing away in 1909. His death notice, published in the Hannibal Evening Courier-Post, offers a reflective look upon the man who was considered Hannibal’s premiere tailor, but who had one weakness.

“… his kindly heart and charitable and generous nature prevented his amassing a fortune, his gifts to charity being always beyond his means. In the memory of hundreds of friends he will live long as a type of high-minded Christian gentleman.”

What is known about George (or Tom) Johnson.

He was a “young man” in 1899, suggesting a man in his early 20s.

He attended Douglass High School, which was constructed 1884-85

He studied under Pelham, and was a good scholar.

In 1899, his aged mother was a widow, and he promised to buy her a cozy house in the “Sunset” area of town.

He worked for Phillip Tucker’s wife when a boy, doing odd jobs.

In 1899 he had two brothers in Hannibal, each whom received gifts of $100.

To help find the identity of George – or Tom – Johnson, begin a conversation with Mary Lou Montgomery,

This illustration was published in the July 23, 1897, edition of the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

 Recent Posts 
bottom of page