Yankee Sailor Becomes Kensett Medicine Man

Reprinted with permission from a 454-page history of John Peter Rogers. A copy has been donated to the Arkansas Room of the Searcy Public Library. To purchase a copy, send a check or money order for $45 to Georgia Rogers, 121 Heights Road, Romance, AR 72136.


John Peter Rogers was born on August 15, 1826. His life before 1860 is all hearsay, as we have no facts – just memories of stories passed down. Some of the family said John was two years old when his family came to America [but] in the 1860, ’70 and ’80 census, John says he was born in New York. It is believed that John’s family came to New York by way of Hamburg, Germany, about 1828. His parents were from Prussia and called Dutch German. They might have arrived as early as 1823 or about 1825 when the second wave of Germans immigrated to the United States because of the Napoleonic wars and harsh conditions in Germany. We do not know the names of John’s parents. The name Rogers may have been taken from the captain of the ship. The family settled in New York City … [and according to family legend] owned a brick manufacturing company. When John was 14 he received or was about to receive punishment he felt he did not deserve. He ran away from home and became a stowaway on a ship, becoming a cabin boy and later a merchant marine for about 20 years… John spoke with a German accent. He could speak five languages fluently. He was called "Dutch John." John married Josephine T. Pettigrew [and settled in White County, Arkansas] prior to June 1, 1860. The 1860 census lists John Rodgers age 33 and Josephine age 21. His occupation is listed as carriage maker… His shop was in the basement of a hotel in Searcy. They owned two lots in block A of downtown Searcy. This land was sold on October 2, 1862, to Humphries Turner. In the census John does not have any real estate value, only $500 for personal estate. This leads me to think that Josephine’s parents had given them the two lots in block A. They moved to Judsonia … but [went to Illinois] with other northern sympathizers from Judsonia about 1864. [It is known that their third child] Joe was born in Illinois on April 12, 1865, and then they returned to Searcy. On October 13, 1869, John made a down payment on a home at Higginson. On May 17, 1870, Josephine received a warranty deed for the home place of 80 acres. Josephine died soon after Charlie’s birth on January 3, 1874… In the 1870 census, John is listed as a farmer with $300 in real estate and $800 in personal property. We do not know when John quit the carriage-making business…

On April 15, 1877, John married Mildred "Millie" Winifred Waddy Goodwin. He was 49 and she was 25.

John became a medicine man. He made several different medicines and traveled around the country selling. John had a wagon he took on his selling trips; also he took [his sons] Ham and Jake with him. Ham would do a jig to get the people’s attention, and then John would say, "The only thing he likes better than dancing is brown sugar." Then John would put Ham into a barrel. Ham would rise up with both hands full of brown sugar and start eating it. Jake was the fighter and John said sometimes they would have to leave a town in a hurry. Mildred said John later had a large tent with an Indian chief on it.

John had a money belt he wore around his waist and carried a pistol that he knew how to use. Because John was a fast draw he was able to meet the challenge of would-be robbers. When John came home from a trip he would pour out the money on the table and he and Mildred would count it. As they counted, Mildred would wipe some of the coins off into her apron. The kids would look at John to see if he knew what she was doing. John would wink at them, letting them know it was okay.

John Peter Rogers had six sons and one daughter with Josephine: John P. (June 1862 – died between 1896 and 1900) who married Josephine Walker; James Julius (January 1863 – died after 1880); Joseph T. (April 12, 1865 – March 29, 1930) who married Mary Frances Ward; Jacob F. (July 1867 – died about 1907_ who married Jennie Goss; Sarah (1868 – 1869); J. Ernest (June 1, 1871 – 1888); Charles Graham (January 3, 1872 – December 18, 1961) who married Cora Ann Carter. John Peter had four sons and two daughters with Mildred: Mary Virginia "Jennie" (October 12-1878 -February 1, 1960) who married Russell Marion Knight then T. Pate Stanford; Edmond Hamburg "Ham" (August 19, 1880) – June 27, 1966) who married Nellie Macy Coston then Lottie Elizabeth Plant; William Gant (April 15, 1883 – May 5, 1969) who married Nannie Bell Crotts; Samuel Casper "Cass" (January 28, 1884 – May 22, 1939) who married Grace Louetta Breeding; Emily Rebecca "Becky" (September 29, 1888 – March 25, 1953) who married Joseph Monroe Bevill; Taylor Mons "Doc" (September 29, 1888 – 1897). John Peter Rogers died July 20, 1893, at the age of 66. John was ill and a young doctor came to the house to visit him. The doctor gave John a shot, and John rolled over in the bed, dead. His youngest children, twins Becky and Taylor, were only four years old. Mildred died July 25, 1927, and was buried beside John Peter in Goodwin Cemetery at Ellis Chapel. vvv