John N. Conna was born in San Augustine, Texas of mixed parents. His father was reputedly named John Conner. We pick John Conna up on April 3, 1863 when he enlisted in the 1st Louisiana Colored Infantry to fight in the Civil War. He was honorably discharged on May 4, 1865. Family lore says at this time or shortly thereafter he tired of being called a "Black Irishman" and changed his name to Conna. He next turns up in Hartford, Ct, where he married Mary Davis who was reputed to be half Black and half Native American. They lived in Hartford until 1879 when they moved to Kansas City. By this time they had five children. In Kansas City he was named "Captain of the American Rifles" and served in the National Guard until 1883 when they moved to Washington Territory in the Tacoma/Auburn area.
He owned some 257 acres of land in the Tacoma/Auburn area, and worked for Tacoma's first millionaire, real estate magnate Allen C. Mason. He eventually set up his own real estate company which included a notary public service. He was a practicing Attorney and worked intermittently for James J. Hill and the Northern Pacific Railway Company. He also oversaw the National Guard facility in Tacoma, and was a member of the G.A.R. He was also a friend and confidante to Judge James J. Wickersham. John and Mary had additional children born in both Missouri and Washington bringing the total to 14 children. A staunch Republican, he was elected Assistant Sergeant At Arms to the State Senate in 1888, and Sergeant At Arms in the 1889
session. He introduced the first Public Accomodations Law which passed during the 1889/90 session.
Sometime around 1901/2 he, along with Judge Wickersham and several others, boarded a ship to Alaska. Judge Wickersham was going north as an appointed Judge to bring order from chaos, and John Conna joined the voyage as an adventurer; the quest for gold thirsting in his mind.
Alaska was tough for John Conna. The Alaska Gazeteer chronicles his journey from being a janitor at the courthouse in Fairbanks to owning his own mining and supply shop at the time of his death in October of 1921. Probate records show that he owned six pieces of rental property in downtown Fairbanks at the time of his death, as well as an interest in the Placer Creek Mine, one of Alaska's great gold producing streams. Probate Records show that the Executor sold off the rental property and the Placer Creek Mining interest over the years. The probate was closed in 1934 with some creditors at the time of his death still being owed money!
Mary Davis Conna died in Seattle in 1907.
John Newington Conna was the maternal grandfather of the author of this biography. Anyone with more information about Mr. Conna is invited to write to the author at
Yukon & Alaska Pioneer Biographies