Joshua Foster Johnson, farmer, minister, lawyer, and politician, was born in Rutherford County, Tennessee, on September 28, 1824. He studied law at the University of Tennessee in Nashville, then moved to Texas in 1845. He settled in Clarksville, where he established a law practice, first in partnership with Burrell P. Smith and later alone, and raised thoroughbred racehorses. In 1846 he was elected captain of a local militia company, the Clarksville Blues. He returned that year for a visit to Tennessee, where he married Amanda C. Wright on March 8; the couple had nine children.
In the fall of 1847 Johnson and his family moved to Titus County, where he purchased a farm near Mount Vernon. In 1849 he was elected representative from Titus County to the Third Legislature; at age twenty-five, he was the youngest member. He had been an ardent advocate of annexation in 1845, and he consistently supported measures that would ensure peaceful relations between the national and state governments. After his term in the legislature he returned to his expanding farm, which by 1860 was worth more than $38,000 and was worked by twenty-five slaves. In 1852 Johnson was baptized at New Liberty Baptist Church in Mount Vernon. The next year he was ordained a minister there. For the rest of his life he divided his time among farming, politics, and preaching at numerous small Baptist churches in Northeast Texas.
As an elected delegate to the Secession Convention in 1861, Johnson was one of the eight members who voted against secession. He also signed the "Address to the People of Texas," which urged citizens to vote against the ordinance. With the outbreak of the Civil War he returned to his farm, refusing to fight for or support the Confederate government. At the end of the war provisional governor Andrew Jackson Hamilton appointed Johnson county judge of Titus County. After his judicial term Johnson was elected a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1866 from Titus County. He supported neither the radical Union nor the extreme secessionist factions.
In 1869 Johnson ran for Congress from the Second Congressional District, campaigning as an independent in the four-way race, which included a Democrat, a Radical Republican, and a more moderate Republican. Although the supporters of John C. Conner, the Democrat, labeled Johnson the "scalawag iron-clad parson," there is no evidence that he allied himself with any of the Republican factions in his district. Johnson ran third, receiving 3,540 of the 15,217 votes cast. In 1875 he played a prominent role in the successful effort to have Titus County divided. The division placed Johnson's farm in Franklin County, and that same year Franklin County voters elected him to represent them at the Constitutional Convention of 1875, where he again took moderate positions. He was prominent in the successful effort to block the imposition of a poll tax as a requirement for suffrage, and in the unsuccessful effort to have 10 percent of the state's total revenue permanently allocated to public education.
After the convention Johnson returned to his ministry. Ill health forced him to retire from the pulpit in the summer of 1876. That winter he contracted pneumonia and died at his home near Mount Vernon on February 15, 1877.