Collection is primarily correspondence between Robert Garrett Johnson (1895-1987) and Lilian Hancock Nance (1898-1990), both of Moneta, Virginia. Also included are letters from family members and friends which include Lilian’s sister Julia Nance. Nicknames that are used periodically or throughout the letters include “Rob,” “Robbie,” “Johnnie,” and “Jonney” in reference to Robert Johnson; “Lindy” in reference to Lilian Nance; and “Ju” in reference to Julia Nance.
Robert Garrett Johnson was born on November 29, 1895 in Bedford County, Virginia to parents William Thomas Johnson (1855-1936) and Anna Lee “Annie” Garrett (1857-1927). Lilian Hancock Nance was born on April 22, 1898 in Bedford County, Virginia to parents James F. Nance (1866-?) and Ada Burroughs (1869-?). Both Robert and Lilian resided and grew up together in Moneta, Virginia.
The letters in the collection that span from 1914-1924 are the correspondence between Robert and Lilian, first as friends, and later as a dating and then engaged couple. The bulk of these letters date from 1923 and are ones written from Robert to Lilian, which were bundled and tied together in a green ribbon (which can be found in Folder 2) when the collection was obtained. Topics of the correspondence include discussion of Robert and Lilian’s relationship, friends, family, parties and events, Robert’s cat named Jack, World War I (including letters dated May 1917; June 28, 1917), the movie “The Birth of a Nation” (see letter dated November 6, 1923), cars, records, tobacco planting, care for chickens (Lilian’s letter of October 12, 1922 is written on “Buff Orpington Chickens” stationary), flu and sickness, trips to Bedford, and Robert’s appendicitis (see letters of January 1924).
From 1914-1917, Robert attended the Chatham Training School in Chatham, Virginia. Lilian became a teacher sometime during this period and taught at a local school in Moneta. Upon returning to Moneta in 1918, Robert kept up a living by growing tobacco and regularly wrote about his work in the tobacco fields to Lilian. On October 25, 1924 Robert Johnson and Lilian Nance were married. After their marriage, the letters between Lilian and Robert stop.
The remaining correspondence in the collection after 1924, which is significantly less in quantity, is from friends or family members to Robert and Lilian (usually addressed to Mr. and Mrs. R.G. Johnson). In early April 1926, Robert and Lilian had their first child, a son, Robert Garrett Johnson Jr. Several letters in the collection from this month are messages of congratulation for their new born baby. A number of Christmas cards from family and friends appear in the collection as well from the years 1924, 1925, and 1928.
Robert and Lilian had two other children during their marriage, Ada Burroughs Johnson (born sometime between 1926 and 1930) and William James Johnson born November 12, 1930. William James Johnson is usually referred to as “W.J.” in many of the letters. William died on June 29, 1946 at the age of 15. Several sympathy cards and letters of condolence appear in the collection from July 1946 regarding W.J.’s untimely passing (see Folder 6).
As evidenced by a 1933 receipt for lodge dues, Robert Johnson was a member of the freemasons.
Robert Garrett Johnson died in August 1987 in Moneta, Virginia. Lilian Nance Johnson died on June 16, 1990 in Bedford, Virginia.
Each letter is arranged in the collection as to be followed by its accompanying addressed and postmarked envelope (unless otherwise noted in the finding aid). Undated letters, empty envelopes, and an assortment of other documents appear in Folders 7 and 8.