Who was Captain Peter Johnson?
By JACKIE SHAW
Friends of History Center for Aransas County
Capt. Peter Johnson was born in Denmark in the early 1800s. He was a true Viking, reaching a height of 6 feet 7 inches. He put out to sea at an early age as a cabin boy on a large ship.
One of his first ports of entry in the Americas was the city of Mobile, AL. It was here he was able to purchase the threemasted schooner, The Belleport.
Capt. Peter used his ship, “The Belleport,” to navigate the southern coast of the United States, bringing settlers and supplies during the Republic of Texas. His very first port of entry into the Republic was Galveston. He called Galveston his home for a while, and it was here an incident occurred which had a lasting effect on him and his work.
He met Theodore Johnson, known as Charlie Johnson. Charlie was shipwrecked at Galveston and was looking for a job. Charlie met up with Capt. Peter and they became steadfast friends for the rest of their lives. Charlie was hired on as a sailor and became his partner.
Capt. Peter and Capt. Charlie decided to move their transportation operation to Indianola. Here Capt. Peter met Wilhelmina Rabel Herrer. Wilhelmina was from Alsace Lorraine and spoke in fluent German. She and her daughter Bertha (in addition to her husband who died on ship) had come with a German colonization to settle Texas through the port of Indianola.
She was about to return to Alsace when she met Capt. Peter. Wilhelmina and Peter married in a civil ceremony at Saluria in 1852 and a couple of years later had their marriage blessed in the Stella Maris Chapel in Lamar.
The young couple started their life together on St. Joseph Island. Capt. Peter and his partner Capt. Charlie ran the ferry that transported passengers between the barrier Islands, and their stagecoaches across St. Joseph.
When Bertha grew up and became of age, she married Capt. Charlie. The two families were very close.
Peter and Wilhelmina built a nice home on St. Joseph Island on the bay side across from the lighthouse. The home was called the Station House. Capt. Peter and Capt. Charlie provided the transportation for passengers trying to travel from Indianola to Corpus Christi. The passengers would board Capt. Peter’s Belleport at Indianola and sail to Saluria. Then they would travel on the stagecoach provided by the two sea captains across Matagorda and board their ferry at Vinson’s Slough, to cross Cedar Bayou. After crossing Cedar Bayou, the passengers would stop at one of the five Rest Posts provided by Captains Peter and Charlie. Then, they would travel on to the station house for an overnight stay. The stagecoach was pulled by Capt. Peter’s mules Susan and Sally.
The station house provided housing upstairs for passengers and the family of Capt. Peter. The downstairs was the Commissary and warehouse. This arrangement for passengers went on for more than 12 years as a successful business for the two Captains Johnson.
Capt. Peter also had an agreement with the U.S. Postal Office to deliver mail to Port Isabel. All of this kept him quite busy.
The Station House was built in the Village of Aransas on two acres. Several families lived in this area. One prominent citizen in the Village was James Babbitt Wells who commanded the Texas Navy Yards at Galveston during the Revolution. The channel in front of the Lighthouse was named for his wife Lydia Ann.
In 1862, the Blockade occurred. About this time the Union forces appeared on St. Joseph Island. The families became endangered as the Union began to shell the homes from a close proximity, making it dangerous for those living in the Village.
At this time, Capt. Peter decided it was time to leave St. Joseph Island and to go to Lamar. After they left, the Union forces burned the station house to the ground.
After the arrival of the Johnson family at Lamar, they rented a shellcrete home owned by the James Byrne family on St. Charles Bay and later rented a home from Capt. Newcomb who had a home on the point on Copano Bay. This area is now called Newcomb Point in Holiday Beach. Capt. Peter eventually bought Outlot One at Lamar where Pop’s Place is today. At this site, he built a home below the hill. It was at this site he became the Postmaster of Lamar.
The Johnson families knew they could not go back to St. Joseph Island. During the Civil War, Capt. Peter kept the Belleport hidden, along with his other boat - the Fairy. After the War, he sold the Belleport and traded the Fairy for the Frances.
Captain Peter and Wilhelmina lived the rest of their lives at Lamar. They had eight children together. Peter died in July 1895. He and Wilhelmina are buried in the Lamar Cemetery.