William Johnson was born the son of a mulatto slave woman in 1809. At the age of eleven, William was emancipated by his white slaveowner, also named William Johnson, who is presumed to be his father. The boy's mother Amy and sister Adelia had been freed at an earlier date.
James Miller, a free black barber, trained young William as an apprentice. Following completion of his training, Johnson purchased his first barbershop in Natchez in1830.
He would eventually own and operate three barbershops and a bath house in the city. Clients received services from Johnson himself, from free blacks hired by Johnson, from apprentices, and from slaves owned by Johnson.
State laws concerning property ownership did not prohibit any free person from owning slaves, even if that person had formerly been a slave. In Johnson's world, slaveownership was a signal of economic and social status.
By reaching a certain level of financial success, Johnson was able to purchase slaves and profit from slave labor in his business, in his farm lands, and in his family's home.
The William Johnson House complex features a visitor center, public restrooms, bookstore located in the adjacent McCallum house, and a first floor exhibit rooms with interactive programs and universally accessible displays. The second floor living quarters is restored and furnished with many of the Johnson family’s original pieces.
The William Johnson House is part of the Natchez National Historical Park and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.