Smoke Johnson was born in 1792 in Ontario at the Six Nations Indian Reserve, the son of Jacob Tekahionwake Johnson (July 16, 1758 – December 1, 1843). Jacob was born in the colony of New York, in what became the United States. He was the son of Molly Brant, a Mohawk woman, and Sir William Johnson, the renowned British Superintendent of Indian Affairs in New York from 1755 to 1774, the year of his death. Sir William Johnson amassed an estate of 400,000 acres and founded the village of Johnstown, New York. As Loyalists, Johnson's common-law wife Molly Brant and descendants resettled in Canada during the American Revolution. The Mohawks and most of the Iroquois nations were allies of the British.
George Henry Martin Johnson also advanced to be a Mohawk chief. Fluent in English and Mohawk languages, he became an interpreter for the government and a leader on the Reserve. He helped facilitate relations between the British and Native communities. He married Emily Howells, a native of England whose family had immigrated to the United States in 1832. They were the parents of four children, including the well-known poet Emily Pauline Johnson.