JOSEPH JOHNSON was born in Orange County, New York. A farmer in early life, he served as Captain of a company of Virginia rifleman during the War of 1812. He went on to serve as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates at various times between 1815 and 1822 and was elected to five non-consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, serving from 1823 to 1827, January to March of 1833, from 1835 to 1841, and 1845 to 1847, after which he once again joined the Virginia House of Delegates before being elected governor by popular vote–the first governor of Virginia to be elected by the people of the state. During his administration, turnpike and railroad development proliferated, particularly in western Virginia. Upon leaving office, Johnson retired to private life.
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